I have an idea. OK, I have lots of ideas but this one seems particularly appropriate to write about on a Monday after there were no Premier League matches because the FA Cup was taking it's turn as the competitive focal point for the weekend. This idea has the potential to solve a few big issues that are currently being discussed at various levels of intensity and realism within English football (i.e., some combination of the FA, Premier League, managers and the media). It would also be a lot of fun. I've written about this concept before but it's been a while and I'm pretty sure I've never done it for Rotoworld so it may be new to many of you. If you have seen it before, it's still a good idea and should be repeated until someone who can do something about it notices and acts. Here goes...
The Winter Cup
Here are the details of my proposed Winter Cup:
- The Premier League would keep it's New Years Day schedule of matches but the rest of January would be dedicated to the Winter Cup.
- The Winter Cup would replace the League Cup (no one really respects it as a competition these days so why not experiment with it)
- FA Cup matches currently scheduled for January would be pushed earlier in the year to fill the open dates left by current League Cup matches
- The Winter Cup would consist of one pre-January qualifying round among lower division teams to wean the January field to 64 teams from the current 92 that are eligible for the League Cup.
- After the last Boxing Day Premier League match, the 64 qualifying Winter Cup teams would be drawn into four brackets
- Over the first four rounds of the Winter Cup, each regional group would be played at a different international (warm weather) location - examples that would make sense in the rotation over multiple years would include Goa (India), Miami/Los Angeles/San Diego (US), Sydney (Australia), Cape Town (South Africa), Dubai (UAE), etc.
- On New Years Day, clubs would have the option to unveil new Winter Club kits with sponsors specific to the regional assignment that they have been assigned to.
- Teams would return to the UK and Wembley for the semi-finals and finals as is traditional.
- There would be a significantly improved cash prize for winning in each successive round.
So, if this is the outline for the reformatted tournament, why would anyone say "yes" to it? I think there are a bunch of answers to this one:
- Unique Fan Experiences - For clubs who aren't regularly in the Champions League and Europa League and maybe don't have the finances to have pre-season training camps in exotic locations, this represents a solid opportunity for them to have supporters travel to interesting destinations that represent a different experience than the proverbial "rainy Wednesday night in Stoke".
- Going International Without Adding to the Schedule - The Premier League has been discussing adding a 39th match to the schedule to be played internationally to capitalize on the worldwide popularity of the league with matches that matter rather than the pre-season exhibitions that the rest of the world have to content themselves with. Adding to an already congested fixture list would be a poor choice but pushing matches that are currently the least interesting on the schedule for Premier League teams to solve this problem would take advantage of market interest without adding to the playing burden of current squads.
- New Sponsors/Monday for Lower Leagues - Matches staged on foreign soil in a Winter Cup would mean the opportunity for new sponsors and increased revenue for more clubs than just the Premier League which, I think we'd all agree, are rolling in money after the new TV deal.
- A Winter Break - Lots of managers, especially those new to the Premier League, tend to bemoan the lack of a winter break. The Winter Cup could represent an opportunity for bigger clubs to deprioritize the competition (as they already do) and rest some of their key players for an extended period of time rather than just getting a few mid-week breaks in the early months of the Premier League schedule (as the current League Cup schedule currently allows for). Those players could still be required to travel with the squad for training camp and supporter events so that no one can complain that they spent a lot of money to travel with the club only to get to see a reserve squad play.
- World Transfer Headquarters - With other key European leagues on winter break and most of English football co-located in a few locations for the month of January, the media could make the transfer window an even bigger event that could be covered in-person rather than with the reporting of he said/she said rumors and inuendo. I'm quite certain that the media wouldn't object to being in a warm weather spot for the better part of a month with better access to club insiders at all levels to fuel the insatiable transfer rumor mill.
- A Focal Point - The issue "selling" the League Cup internationally as it stands is that it happens sporadically, isn't particularly high profile in the UK, and includes a lot of clubs that no one outside of the UK has ever heard of. The NCAA Tournament faces the same sort of issues with many participants being relative unknowns but the difference is that a single "preview" issue providing snapshots of all the participants can cover an entire month-long competition and narrative. With the current League Cup format we have to learn, go away for a few weeks, and then go back and re-learn about the lower level teams that survive. For those of us in foreign markets where the League Cup is on a different network than the Premier League is on (as is true in the US) we also have to remember that the cup is happening and find the channel where it is being shown. With a month-long Winter Cup, we'd only have to adjust our viewing patterns twice - at the beginning of the cup and at the end.
- February PL Restart With New Players - The final obvious benefit over the course of a long Premier League season is that taking a break from league competition while the Transfer Window is open would provide a great jumping off point to re-launch the season with the same enthusiasm that accompanies the August start of the season. All new transfers would be completed and there would be approximately half of a season to go. Media outlets and club web sites hungry for page views and engagement would have a logical time to roll out second half previews rather than them leaking out over the course of January while matches are actually happening.
So there you are. Benefits for domestic supporters across multiple levels of English football, benefits for foreign supporters who want to see meaningful English football live, benefits to the bottom line of a wide variety of clubs, benefits for the media, lower prices for domestic season ticket holders who don't want to pay for League Cup matches but are forced to to maintain their tickets, more sponsors, and a huge party in four warm-weather locations. Who exactly says "no" to this? Certainly not the proliferation of empty seats that we saw at Ewood Park this past weekend when Blackburn beat up Stoke City.
A few additional notes from the FA Cup weekend that was:
- How is it that Rovers have enough strong forwards that they can get a hat trick from a reserve yet there are a bunch of Premier League teams that can't find even one decent forward? (We're looking at you Aston Villa)
- Speaking of Villa, do you think that the on-site statistician was a bit out of breath having to tally twice for Villa after not having to exercise his wrist that many times total for their Premier League efforts since December 20. Breathless stuff indeed.
- Arsenal really could have scored 4 or 5 but one wonders why they didn't pull Alexis Sanchez at halftime with the result pretty well in hand. Perhaps I'm just overly paranoid from injury crises in seasons past but that felt like the right time to encase the Chilean in bubble wrap on the sidelines rather than risk another unintentional knock of the sort he picked up against Leicester City.
- Arsenal did do well to rest Bellerin, Mertesacker, Monreal and Coquelin with a busy upcoming schedule.
- Gabriel is certainly not the finished article yet. He had some ups and downs, showed some promise but I'm not sure I'd feel very good if he were in the starting line-up against a top half Premier Leauge side right now.
- Mario Balotelli looked good coming on as a substitute for the second match running. It wasn't exactly Spurs out there this time around but with Liverpool, United and Arsenal the most likely to capture the Cup, the Reds will have to be feeling better with Daniel Sturridge coming around and Balotelli looking like he could contribute.
- I have no idea why Brendan Rodgers insists on playing Emre Can as a central defender when he's clearly better off playing in the holding midfield role. He may have the physical qualities of a center back but positionally, he's used to playing higher and at his age, it seems wise to get him used to one position, his best position, before asking him to branch out and be tactically aware in a second role. I guess Dejan Lovern is really THAT out of favor.
- Brown Ideye! Twice! The resurrection continues. Great to hear him receive an ovation from the supporters as he departed (I was listening on the radio or I'd have said it was great to see him receive an ovation).
- Slow central defenders + lightning fast opposing forward should NEVER equal "Let's play a high line" but apparently that was the math that Mark Hughes did on his way to visit Rovers and he paid for it. Even worse that he didn't change the equation at halftime after going down a goal and a man. I've been high on the job Hughes has done for most of the season but this was a poor effort.
- Speaking of poor managerial efforts - Gus Poyet had lost the match before it even started by complaining so bitterly about the pitch at Brentford. Why give your players an excuse for a poor performance when they might already be overlooking a lower division team. It isn't like Sunderland have been lighting the world on fire and throwing a ready-made excuse into the mix was just asking for what Poyet got which was a poor effort.
With Manchester United traveling to Preston North End later today that will be a wrap on this round of FA Cup action (unless PNE forces the round's only replay). Look for our usual Premier League schedule of columns this week as we prepare for Week 26 starting on Saturday.