Football is blindly walking into its biggest ever crisis. Part 1



By Tony Attwood

In the world of economics, there is a phrase – “late-stage capitalism” – which is used by some to describe the current situation.  In this view we find more and more hi-tech development, a huge growth in the amount of capital there is available for purely speculative ventures, and more and more income inequality.

Put another way, the rich get ever richer which allows them to experiment with new developments, most of which centre on using digital technology – which they themselves increasingly control.   Meanwhile, poverty increases.

And it is said by some that “late-stage capitalism” is exactly where football is now.  Football has money and billionaires who are willing to speculate with that money by owning clubs and in some cases the media as well.    Meanwhile, TV has moved from something that was feared as a way of losing an audience, on to something that is now welcomed as a way of making ever more money.

So the people with money get richer, while gradually more and more lower-income people are priced out of watching the sport in person.  Eventually getting a couple of tickets to watch a match in person is a big-time prize on a TV quiz show on a channel owned by the person who owns the club – and the TV rights to the club.

And there’s another factor with football.  So universal is its appeal that it is an ideal place to do one’s sports washing.  Which in essence means primarily using football as a way to improve the image of a country or an organisation.  Qatar and the world cup is a perfect example.

Of course, sports washing could not have happened without broadcasting buying into football in a big way.  In the course of 100 years, we have moved from Arsenal refusing to allow the BBC to do radio broadcasts from Highbury because they feared it deterred people from coming to the game to the offering of more and more matches every season live on TV channels around the world.  Indeed in the 2021/22 season, Manchester City earned over £146 million from the UK TV rights alone.

This approach demands the biggest clubs and countries meeting each other regularly in matches shown live around the world on TV.   That’s not new, for “The first Champions League, in 1992-93, incorporated many of the same ideas, right down to branding and an anthem” as an article in the Independent says.  It’s just that the scale has increased by 10,000%.

But… it is not quite as simple a progress as some would like us to believe.  The Independent article also includes this statement…

“It should not be overlooked that the decrepit nature of football in the 1980s – which ultimately descended into real-life tragedies such as Heysel and Hillsborough – made so much of this necessary. The game badly needed updating and badly needed the funding to do so, as well as ways to raise that funding.”

“Decrepit” might not be the word now, but when we think of the Qatar world cup, this season’s Champions League final in Paris and the final of the Euros at Wembley it is still very clear indeed that all is not well under the present leadership of the international game.  “Incompetent,” perhaps is the best word to use in relation to the staging of these events.

Thus the desire of the big clubs to wrest away control from those corrupt and/or incompetent bodies is now the biggest factor there is.   Hence the concept of Super League, invented by the clubs, but excluding the likes of PSG with its absolute tie-up with Uefa.  The League and FA fought to kill SuperLeague not because it tarnished the traditions, but because they would not be in control any more.  The media fought it because they knew it would result in doubling the cost of covering games.  Some fans fought it because it got such a bad press.

Meanwhile, clubs that are playing in the Champions League are very keen not to drop out of the league by having a couple of bad seasons – as has happened to Arsenal.  On a smaller scale, the money that comes from being in the Premier League makes that League something from another planet when compared to the Championship.

So what next for the Premier League?

Export it to more and more countries, certainly, and then have top Premier League teams also playing in more European tournaments, obviously.   Next, Premier League games played in the US.  That’s probably a lot closer than most fans think.

Merely turning up in the group stage this season earned clubs €15.25m this season. Getting to the Istanbul final will be worth €62.25m – plus all the add-ons.  Tottenham earned £100m or so from getting into the Champions League this season.   Money they urgently need to earn again next season.  It’s a constant drive for more.

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