Swansea's American Revolution

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Francesco Guidolin was reportedly given 3 games against City, Liverpool and City again to save his job by Swansea’s new American owners. Predictably, he ended up sacked. Guidolin hasn't set the PL alight this season but he's certainly not alone (looking at you Moyes, Bilic and Hughes). When he was immediately replaced by Bob Bradley, the first American to manage in the Premier League, it started to make a bit more sense. Swansea's American Revolution has begun, and as while the NFL moves closer to having a team based in the UK, it might even lead to Swansea ending up going the other way.

While Swansea are by no means the first club to have an American influence on their ownership, (Liverpool have had American ownership since 2010), the appointment of Bradley suggests they may be the first to truly try and mould a club in their image. With the greatest respect to Swansea fans it’s one thing fundamentally changing the way the South Wales club do things; it's another to do it with Liverpool, one of the most storied clubs in the world.

The US audience for 'Soccer' has grown so dramatically in the last few years that it now represents the most lucrative Premier League audience. We've already seen clubs clamour to tour the US in the pre-season to start to build a fan base there. But could the Bob Bradley appointment suggest that Swansea are about to become an American outpost in the Premier League, and just what could that look like?

Since the ownership group has already gone as far to change the manager, it's pretty reasonable to suggest that the US football audience might start to dictate some of their on-pitch appointments as well. That isn't to suggest that Swansea are about to become a feeder team to the US National side. American fans appreciate the big names as much as we do, so Swansea will still ultimately be looking to sign the best players they can. But don't be surprised to see a few of the better American prospects make their way to South Wales in January transfer window. Perhaps even Bradley’s own son Michael. And if you want a really out there prediction, there is a certain former England star who the Americans already know pretty well whose been rumoured to be returning to the Premier League. Could the Swans new ownership group get in his ear (and his bank balance) and tempt Gerrard to South Wales? I'll just leave that there.

On the same day that Guidolin was taking charge of his final game as Swansea coach thousands of NFL fans were packing into Regents Street as part of the NFLs continued expansion into the UK market. The UK's designated 'home team', the Jacksonville Jaguars have, in recent years, been spearheading the move to London in an attempt to build themselves an overseas fan-base. As the Swansea ownership group watched on from whichever side of the Atlantic they were based at the time, they might just have felt that it looked like rather a good idea. The talk of playing Premier League games overseas has quietened down a bit over the last few years, but with the growth of the US market I have no doubt that talk of playing a Premier League game in the States will pick up again, particularly as both the NFL and NBA are now regularly playing on this side of the Atlantic. Tottenham’s commitment to host NFL games is another example of attempting to grow their brand in the US. If talk of playing overseas does pick up again, look for Swansea to be leading the charge to be involved. The NFL’s ultimate objective of having a team based overseas doesn't seem to be something the Premier League are interested in, but who knows, if it starts to be considered, Swansea could be the favourite to make the move the other way.

All of the above, aside from the far-fetched, (at least for now), suggestion of the team itself moving overseas, is relatively innocuous. Fans will take the American dollar if the only consequence is a few more American accents, the occasional game played overseas and some cross-promotion. However, where the owners could get into trouble, is changing the look of the club itself. Hull’s owner Assem Allam notoriously caused an almighty backlash when he attempted to rebrand the club Hull Tigers. It was a move intended to appeal to audiences like the US that are used to sports clubs being branded in this way. The backlash has been pretty intense, but I won't be surprised if the new Swansea owner isn't thinking about something similar. The South Wales Swans? The Swansea Eagles? Whatever it would be it jars massively with both the history of Swansea FC and English football culture generally. This is where the new owners need to be careful. Fans will tolerate a lot, but starting messing too much with the essence of the team and as we learnt at Hull, they can be real trouble.

The hiring of Bob Bradley might not even be related to the nationality of the owners, it might just be a coincidence and not a sign of things to come. But I'm betting the Swansea American revolution might be just beginning, and who knows where it could go next.

 

James Fenn

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search