May 14th, 2012
08:04 PM GMT
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The title was won at the Etihad Stadium. The players wore shirts emblazoned with the Etihad Airways logo - the Abu Dhabi-based airline. And the match was watched by an estimated TV audience of 4.7 billion people.

It was, in short, the brightest indicator yet of the Middle East's growing influence within European football.

So how much did Manchester City's dramatic victory on Sunday, that snatched the English Premier League championship from bitter rivals Mancester United, pay back the hundreds of millions of dollars invested by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan?

Caroline Cheese examines the numbers and looks at the Gulf's growing influence in "the beautiful game".

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Filed under: Business

May 14th, 2012
07:35 PM GMT
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It's not often you witness a valuable commodity become even more valuable, live on television.

But that's what happened on Sunday afternoon when the English Premier League title was decided in the 94th minute of extra time in Manchester.

The league itself was also the big winner when the title went to Manchester's blue side.

It's come a long way since 22 teams formed the Premier League in the summer of 1992, with the backing of the fledgling satellite channel, BSkyB, controlled by Rupert Murdoch.

The first TV contracts were modest, but now the league gets more then $3bn over three years, just in the UK for both live and taped rights.

It's not an exaggeration to say many people, and pubs, pay for the Sky satellite package in order to watch top-flight football (I personally pay just over $100 a month when you add in ESPN to get the remaining Premier League matches, and baseball of course). Equally, if Sky were to lose the rights to the football league it helped make the most watched in the world, many people would drop Sky. And Sky knows it.

But it did take a decade for the world to wake up to the value of the Premier League. That all changed with a certain Russian billionaire.

Critics and disgruntled fans were up in arms when Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 and pumped it full of stars (and reportedly spent more than $100 million JUST on numerous managers). And they won the league. Needless to say few Chelsea supporters could stay angry for long, if they ever were, with silverware coming in the door.

Then there was the take-over of Manchester United from the American Glazer family in 2005. Many United fans still haven't gotten over that, even though the growing debt has not stopped the side from competing more years for the title, and in Europe.

Not long after Manchester City was taken over in 2007 by controversial former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. His troubles opened the door to a new bid from the Gulf.

Since its purchase in 2008, the Abu Dhabi group has pumped more than $1 billion into Manchester City, so its not a surprise they were battling for the top. City has surpassed the Russian-fueled Chelsea side, already showing its age, and the American-debt ladened Manchester United side who continue to impress, whomsoever they buy or sell. Its other rival, Liverpool, has had a number of American owners in the past five years and only continues to slide down the table. Liverpool spent more money on a failed stadium plan than it did on quality players.

But you can't underestimate where City has come from in the past decade and you can't dismiss this win as a one-off title, like Blackburn Rovers.

In 1999, Manchester City was playing the mighty Gillingham in the play-offs for promotion from England's old third division (now called League One).

City was an also-ran club that slowly climbed back up the table, but it had one thing that could be nearly priceless: the name Manchester. When the Abu Dhabi group was looking to buy a club, and City became embroiled in the scandal surrounding its then owner, former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the name Manchester was surely a draw. It would be recognized around the world, thanks to its Red neighbors (the less noisy neighbors).

Manchester sounds better then say, Scunthorpe or Hull or Blackpool or even Port Vale, a team named for a non-existent place.

Now, the Premier League is ready to tender a new contract to air live matches in the UK from 2013-2016. The current deal for live rights in the UK is worth about $2.8bn to the league and the 20 teams that now make up the top tier. Sky is not allowed to gobble up all the rights, thanks to a European Commission competition ruling. While Sky and ESPN will certainly bid for the rights, but so could the likes of Qatari-based Al Jazeera, if you believe the rumors. I'm not sure Sky is going to be outbid, but it could mean the world's most valuable football league will only get more valuable. Manchester City has seen to that.

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