A football story: how big money remade the people’s game
Football has its roots in the working class but big money has reshaped the so-called “people’s game”, a market worth over $35 billion across Europe in 2019, according to Delloitte. The tension became apparent during the fallout over the European Super League.[Arsenal fan Dave Daniels, saying:] “I’m just fed up of the way that football fans are treated by so-called billionaires. ISo how did working class entertainment become a coveted business which remade fans into customers with billion dollar deals?The first football clubs formed in England during the 19th century, between workers in the new industrial economy who would eventually export the game abroad.Miners brought it to Spain, and sailors to Argentina.By 1904, an international body to organize the sport was founded: FIFA.Football went global, but still reflected the local traditions.British fans often sang, inspired by working class songs and popular music.TV audiences for the beautiful game swelled after the first games began to be broadcast in 1937.The 1990 World Cup semi-final between Italy and Argentina drew a record audience of 27.5 million in Italy.This is perhaps the turning point when competitions changed to fit owners’, and advertisers’, needs.In 1992, the English top flight teams in the UK’s Football League broke away and formed the Premier League, supported by a new lucrative TV deal.The same year, the European Cup was replaced by the Champions League, which added teams and new group games to draw larger TV audiences.A pay-per-view model and more televised games attracted bigger investors.In the beginning club members were the owners of their teams, stadiums and training facilities.But as business grew, the model changed.Now, only 12% of Europe’s top-tier clubs directly own their stadiums. Club ownership across Europe’s top divisions has swung private, as foreign investment flooded in.[Anonymous Manchester United fan, saying:] “They’ve took one-and-a-half billion pounds out of our club, they’ve loaded a profitable club with debt, their own debt, they’ve not put a single penny in, they’ve took one-and-a half-billion out. We want our club back.”Stadiums are now named for companies and players wear advertisements on their shirts.Merchandising sales became an important revenue stream, and ticket prices for big games have soared.With this, has been the loss of a competitive element.New deals grant the biggest clubs more money from their TV rights.With it, they can attract the best players, secure spots in the biggest games and expand their base.But a new pay-to-win investment model has also brought big debt.Now, a poor season and an early exit from big competitions can be disastrous for a team’s finances.[Liverpool FC Manager Juergen Klopp saying:] “I know the supporters think they play more games, they get paid a lot of money, but we are already on the edge, believe when all the coaches think the same…”That’s where the European Super League comes in.To secure their revenues against that risk, 12 of the most famous clubs in Europe tried to create a league format in which they couldn’t ever be relegated.The backlash was fierce.[Tottenham fan Simon Hutchings, saying:] “… all the European Super League is, basically, is money. It’s just generating more money and it’s greed, basically.” For now, British fans have won a stay with the league abandoned and the UK government promising to review whether new restrictions are needed.[British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, saying:] “I don’t think it’s good news for football in this country and don’t forget these clubs they’re not just great global brands; of course, they’re great global brands. They’re also clubs that have originated historically from their towns, from their cities, from their communities. They should have a link with those fans…”But the new business model continues to threaten fair competition at the heart of the people’s game.