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Premier League embarks on global expansion

LONDON - The Premier League is set to embark on an ambitious global expansion after revealing hugely controversial plans to stage a round of 10 competitive fixtures across the world.

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The international round, scheduled to be introduced from the start of the 2010-2011 season, would offer endless marketing opportunities in the cities they are staged in for the league and the clubs to promote their brands.

The cities would be spread across time zones in January, allowing UK viewers to watch five back-to-back games on the Saturday and Sunday.

The international matches would be in addition to the traditional 38 home and away matches each of the 20 Premier League Clubs currently play. Under the proposal, the fixtures would be assigned randomly, but with the top five seeds kept apart and the points counting. Possible cities include Los Angeles, Singapore, Dubai and Bombay.

Richard Scudamore, chief executive of the Premier League, said: "The globalisation of sport is both an opportunity and a challenge; one that needs addressing in a responsible way. We are a better competition for being a cosmopolitan league and have benefited from our increased international reach.

"The idea of a single game, say Arsenal v Manchester United, being held in New York was anathema to us [but] if we are going to move this league forwards than we are going to have to do something, because standing still is not an option."

However, the Premier League risks creating a public backlash in the UK, as fans, who were left feeling more distanced from the game than ever before, voiced strong objections to the plan.

Malcolm Clarke, the chairman of the Football Supporters' Federation, said: "We have no doubt whatsoever that the vast majority of supporters are against this and we believe it would drag the Premier League into the realms of farce.

"When this ludicrous idea was first mooted in October, we ran a poll on our website... 80% were in complete opposition to this. I think that figure will go even higher now that the full ridiculousness of the proposals has been revealed."

The plans also received a lukewarm response from the government and Fifa, the world governing football body, who may yet block the plans.

The government's stance was voiced by Andy Burnham, the culture secretary, who said "careful consideration" should be given before any decision is made.

The plans are similar to recent attempts by the North American Football League to export American football to the UK; the league staged its first competitive game outside of the US in October at Wembley and there are plans to stage further games over the next three years.

However, the Premier League is more popular around the world than the NFL and claims to be the most watched sporting league, followed by 500m people in 202 countries.

It is generally watched on networks owned and or controlled by News Corporation, which owns BSkyB and thus the primary UK and Ireland TV rights. In the US, coverage is shared between News Corp's Fox Soccer Channel and Setanta Sports North America.

The Premier League is particularly popular in Asia and live games in China regularly pull in television audiences of more than 100m.

Top flight clubs have sought to capitalise on football's overseas popularity before, having held pre-season tournaments in Asia since the early part of the decade.

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