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Will English soccer be slide-tackled by the economy?

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The unthinkable scenario: if the billionaire owners of the elite clubs start to cash in their chips.

"The game is extremely vulnerable to the whims and interests of a small number of very rich people," Professor Cannon adds. "The fundamental business base is increasingly dependent on television revenues, [ticket sales] are declining, merchandising is declining, sponsorship is declining – you have clubs who can't get sponsors. All those fundamentals raise questions about the nature of the business."

Predictions of the spectacular implosion of English soccer are not new. As the game has become richer and richer over the past 15 years – easily surpassing rival leagues in Italy, Spain, and Germany – a minority of naysayers have constantly grumbled that the money sustaining the game would evaporate one day, resulting in a terrible reckoning.

Not everyone thinks of English soccer as a debt-inflated bubble. "Football is not built on nothing – it's built on huge popularity among supporters. There is no real sign of that waning," notes David Conn, a columnist for the Guardian newspaper and the author of "The Beautiful Game?"

The rise and rise of English soccer has been one of the defining cultural narratives of the past generation.

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