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English Premier League Breaks Spending Records

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let's stay with football for a few more minutes. Around the world, though, it was that other football that made the headlines. That's because Wednesday was the transfer deadline, the day when clubs have to complete their summer spending. And the big news was the big bucks - or rather pounds - that changed hands in the English Premier League, the most-watched watched soccer league in the world.

Altogether, the club spent a record billion pounds - that's $1.3 billion - to buy new players. And that doesn't even include the players' salaries. We wanted to know more about why this record and why now. So we rang up Roger Bennett. He's one of the men in "Blazers," which is a podcast and a TV show on NBC Sports, which focuses on - what else? - soccer. We reached him in New York. Mr. Bennett, thank you so much for joining us.

ROGER BENNETT: Oh, Michel, it is a delight.

MARTIN: So, Roger, Americans are familiar with trade deadlines. Is the end of the transfer window essentially the same thing?

BENNETT: It is essentially the same thing. And this transfer deadline day was staggering just in the sheer amount of cash splashed by the English sides.

MARTIN: This is the first year the transfer spending surpassed the billion pound mark. Can you just kind of give us a sense of what that means and why now?

BENNETT: I mean, the amount of money that is pouring out of it, which have now topped $11 billion from broadcasters around the world, including America, and you look at the Super Bowl here - because Super Bowl pulls in 115 maybe 120 million viewers - the Premier League boasts a viewership of 3 billion people around the world in 225 countries. These clubs have become global billboards through which brands, sponsors and the marketing eco-culture that surrounds modern football can be distributed globally in a way that nothing else can touch.

MARTIN: Does this spending figure this year signal something about the growth of the game?

BENNETT: The thing that's fascinating - when I grew up, the business model of English football was all about bums on seats. They'd fill the stadium - 20, 30,000 people. And what's changed since Rupert Murdoch bought the rights to football in 1992, created the Premier League and realized he could start broadcasting it around the world and engaged the world in the narrative of football in a way religion used to engage the world, in a way politics used to engage the world. And it's that scale, that kind of money, that has begun to even do the impossible, which is engage the American sports fan.

MARTIN: Has this money changed the game?

BENNETT: My good Lord, it's completely unrecognizable. English football, which used to be watched locally, they now care as much about the fan base in Los Angeles or in Lagos as they do in Liverpool, so their ambitions have become incredibly global. I mean, the game itself is almost secondary. It's the narrative of the game itself.

The larger English football gets, the more money goes into it. The more money that goes into it, the bigger the players are, the bigger the managers that they can engage. It's almost stopped being a sporting pursuit, and it's become, like, the greatest telenovela that's ever been broadcast around the world.

MARTIN: Before we let you go - so the season started a couple of weeks ago, but confession - a lot of us were watching the Olympics.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So now that we can focus, give us a few things to look for this season.

BENNETT: The amount of money that's been spent is a magnet for the greatest managers in the game. Premier League football has never engaged better managers, better coaches, than it has this season. September the 10th, Manchester City play Manchester United - two enormous teams, both with perfect records. And on September the 10th, they will clash. It's like a battle between good and evil where both good and evil are soaked in unbelievable amounts of cash. And it's going to be an absolute not-miss sporting spectacle.

MARTIN: (Laughter) All right. Well, I can't wait. That was Roger Bennett of "Men In Blazers." That's the soccer podcast and show on NBC Sports. We reached him in New York. Roger Bennett, thank you so much for joining us.

BENNETT: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: And are you wearing a blazer?

BENNETT: Always. No shirt, but a blazer.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Or pants...

BENNETT: It's hot here.

MARTIN: ...Right?

BENNETT: Yeah, never pants, never pants. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.