David Dein – The Man Who Created The Premier League

The Premier League started 25 years ago this season, and while globalisation may be a controversial concept among economists and politicians, it has been transformational for English football.

It is hard to remember, even for those of us who used to watch the game in black and white, just how much football has changed beyond recognition over the past quarter of a century. The fundamental game remains the same – 11 vs 11, with two sets of goalposts, but around the game is a whole new landscape.

The decade before the Premier League's inception had seen English football reach its nadir, with disasters at Heysel and Hillsborough, and the hooliganism in general keeping fans away from grounds.

At one point in the mid-80s there was no football at all on television because of a dispute between the clubs and broadcasters, who were paying a pittance to show the very occasional live game and highlights packages.

When you hear fans complain that TV calls the shots today, it is worth remembering that broadcasters held all the aces in their negotiations over 30 years ago.

But then the big five – Arsenal, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester United and Tottenham (not Chelsea nor Manchester City) – began talking about a breakaway in order to take back control, and the seeds of the Premier League were sown.

One of the principal architects of the biggest shake up in English football, and a man who went on to enjoy huge success in its first dozen years with his club, is David Dein, who was vice-chairman of Arsenal and the driving force behind their rise to one of the biggest clubs in the world.

Greg Dyke, who was in charge of ITV at the time and went on to become chairman of the FA, described Dein as “the most revolutionary bloke I've met in football. David Dein created the Premier League. It was his idea.”

Since leaving Arsenal in 2007, Dein has continued to extol its virtues around the world, and he has seen first hand how it has grown exponentially from an insular English institution to a truly global product.

“When we started out, English football was being televised in only a handful of countries around the world, and now we are in 189 territories,” he says with no less enthusiasm for the league now than he had in 1992.

“Let's face it, television drives everything, and the Premier League has never been bigger globally. We now have over 1.2 billion viewers around the world, in over 900 million households. Around 65 per cent of them are in Asia and Oceanica.”

Increasingly north America, too, is an important market, as the game's growth in the United States is reflected in viewing figures for English football.

When I went out to the 1994 World Cup, it was near impossible to watch ‘soccer' on network television, and to see the whole of the tournament they were hosting, we visitors and the US audience had to watch the Spanish language channels on ESPN.

Fast forward two decades and the continent is now a huge and growing part of the global audience.

“There are 140 million viewers of the Premier League in north America and the Caribbean,” adds Dein. “NBC now hosts all the games simultaneously so you can take your pick.”

The figures being paid by the likes of NBC to buy the rights to Premier League football have been rising exponentially since those early days.

Their latest billion-dollar deal is only one of many that has created a situation where the overseas rights deals have been getting closer to the value of the domestic deals, which themselves have rocketed since 1992.

Sky's first deal as the Premier League's exclusive broadcaster, which was encouraged by the then Spurs chairman Alan Sugar in order to “blow them (ITV) out of the water” was £191.5million, which was a phenomenal amount at the time but seems like chickenfeed in comparison to today's deal, with Sky paying £4.2billion of the £5.14billion domestic deal along with BT.

The last round of deals, in 2016, saw the amount of money coming into the Premier League almost double from £5.5 billion to over £9 billion – and rising.

At each bidding cycle every three years, the forecasts for a slowdown in spending are shot to pieces as the figures continue to rise, and Dein sees this continuing.

“TV is so important to the rise of the Premier League, and I can only see it getting bigger and bigger,” he says.

The next phase of growth could come from the Silicon Valley behemoths that are taking over the world through social media.

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Amazon recently bought the rights to the ATP tennis tour, and with Facebook launching its Watch video platform recently, they are all hungry for the world's most popular sporting event.

And they are not just tuning in to watch games – people all over the world want to bet on them.

“The total global betting market is around $1trillion and 80 per cent of that is on football,” says Dein.

“The Premier League has about 1 billion dollars bet per game. It is the biggest betting market on the planet.”

While English fans complain about Richard Scudamore regularly raising the prospect of hosting Premier League games abroad, the evidence is overwhelming that people want it. Digital consumption of English football is far bigger abroad than in the UK .

“The Premier League's website has 15m monthly users, and 67 per cent are from overseas,” says Dein.

“Its Facebook site has 97 per cent of users overseas, while 78 per cent of its Twitter followers and 85 per cent of Instagram's Premier League traffic is from overseas.

“That is where the future lies.”

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Avatar of Gavin Davison
Gavin Davison

Gavin is a full-time copywriter based in the UK and has developed in-depth knowledge of the igaming world by working in the betting industry for over five years. During this time, he has written thousands of articles covering various topics, including bookmaker reviews, ‘how to’ guides, bonus comparisons and much more.