Of Money and Modernity

Stoppage time: where you’ll find frank assessments and comments of footballing states-of-affairs and philosophies. Find yourself tired of listening to football pundits saying the same thing over and over again? We take a different stance, talk about issues that may just be beneath the surface.

Yeah, saying exactly the same things, but in different words.

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Of Money and Modernity

The winds of change sweeping through the world of football have been particularly conspicuous in recent weeks. The season was meandering to the usual thrilling ascent of the powers that be, and all of a sudden there were a changing of the guard in the pair of Champions League semi-finals, followed by a spate of retirements. An English generation that included Carragher, Beckham, Owen and Scholes, and of course Sir Alex, all bidding their adieu in a begrudging resignation towards the passing of time and changing of era. The triumph of newly-born-but-yet-to-take-shape, phoenix-poking-its-head-out-of-ashes called Modern Football.

There was a subtle manifestation in what admittedly isn’t hallowed turf in the annals of football. But the Emirates Stadium is a very modern stadium, and it was here that Arsenal last week managed to overcome both their own anxiety and a fighting-for-survival Wigan on their way to even more anxiously claiming entry into the Champions League promiseland (aka not-a-trophy). The irony of course was Wigan entered the game having laid their collective fingers on just that: a trophy. The trophyless spell has been mentioned so much I’ve lost track of what it’s at now. 7 years? 8? 9?



Roberto Martinez did not, however, need a first hand taste of the whole Emirates experience to remind him of the gulf in stature between the two clubs. Arsene Wenger’s fourth-place-is-a-trophy comment has been the subject of a lot of mockery and derision, and rightly so. Football, above all, is a sport. And we need to remind ourselves (especially when placed against broader moral normativity, rights and wrongs), that sport is fundamentally about winning. Perhaps that’s why we love sport so much – there is something so primitively simple about winning.

Modern Football may not be.

Let me clarify. We must recognize that sport competes with other sources of entertainment, and must successfully do so in order to continue growing as an industry. All forms of revenue is directly or indirectly generated from consumption, be it in the form of TV deals, ticket or merchandise sales. It must succeed as a spectacle to maximize these sources of revenue.

Let’s look at it from the perspective of individual clubs. A quick glance at the books of Real Madrid, the highest earning club, shows its revenue broken into the broad categories of Broadcasting, Matchday, and Commercial. Broadcasting is the result of TV deals with La Liga and the Champions League, and along with Matchday is directly contingent on on-field success; the further you go in the Champions League, the more gate receipts you sell and the more you make in TV deals. A large part of the Matchday category, however, is influenced by average attendance, and along with Commercial, must be dependent on the size of the fan base. Which means at least half (loosely speaking) of a big club’s revenue is dictated by the size of it’s fan base.



Aha. Pre season tours to south-east Asia, and now the United States. The Nou Camp this season witnessed the oddity of a midday kickoff, just for the Asian market. It all is making sense. But the idea of maximizing fan base first begs an interesting question.

Is it always the case that a team is fun to watch if, and only if, it is a team that wins?

For the large part, yes. Winning means competing in the biggest games in the Champions League. Winning means celebrating a title rather than meandering to a mid-table finish. Winning is exciting.

But we live in times of post-modern identity crises and nuanced fans, who want a reason to identify with their team to harness their loyalty. Perhaps this sense has been heightened by the distinctive footballing identity forged by the free-flowing, artistic, aesthetically pleasing Barcelona. In online conversations from Latin America to the Far East, fans quoted the “Barcelona style” as vindication of their choice of club.

As more people came to understand past the binary (good and bad, Barca and Madrid) of footballing styles, there was much more talk about styles, some being more attractive than others. Spain took the same game and for some made it boring. Dortmund and Napoli became hipster favourites. The Liverpool owners showed their faith in Brendan Rodgers. Michael Laudrup was the new golden boy of the Premier League, and Stoke’s patience finally ran out with the Tony Pulis way of life.

Over at the Emirates, despite being condemned to relegation after having just escaped twice before, Roberto Martinez knew his managerial stock has risen considerably. Presenting Modern Football.

It is a world where the status of a club is contingent on establishing a steady (preferably steadily increasing) revenue stream. So it is one of Arsene Wenger’s less spoken about successes that he has taken a club that has over the last few years grown to be one of the more financially viable clubs, while maintaining a prudent business model. For those who dismiss the economics and care only about the football, it is worth bearing in mind that future footballing success is contingent on current financial solvency. So even if he departs after another season of frustration, there is an existing platform for the next manager to take the club back to the heights it enjoyed not so long ago.

The football global market continues to grow, so there is opportunity for more clubs to establish themselves as financial powerhouses. It’ll be interesting when it does become saturated, when existing clubs have to resort to converting fans from other clubs in order to expand their own fan base. The message to chairmen and boards is clear: on-field and off-field performance must go hand in glove to in order to ensure that their club remains in a position to overcome a period of underperformance.

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