By Tony Attwood
Why would anyone want to put money into football? Why would the Chinese want Liverpool, the Arabs want Manchester City, and anyone want Leeds United?
The people who have continuously talked about why (although not directly) are the Glazer family who suggest that all will be ok soon because the new internet and media roll out of football. It might not do much for Manchester United but it certainly could save the Glazer family (or so they say).
Football in modern times has been about endlessly finding new sources of income. In the old days there was only one source of income – the gate money. I doubt that Arsenal’s books in 1919 looked much different from their books in 1959 – income from matches, outgoings the wages and the ground.
But then along came TV, and there was a rush to grow the income and everyone thought it was wonderful. Except that all these growth scenarios have a way of coming to an end – and because by then the clubs have all built their business on growth, they get desperate to find the new source of cash. (And because most clubs are run by the Silly Gang, they always think each one will last forever, and costs will never catch up.)
Just think how it has gone:
1: The Cup Final on TV and that was your lot.
2: Match of the Day and that funny programme they had on ITV.
3: Live football instead of recorded highlights, but with only BBC and ITV to bid for it, the income stayed low.
4: Lots and lots of live football – because Sky was in the scene – initially with analogue and then with digital. This is the latest source of revenue to reach the top of the mountain at just under £600m a year for the EPL.
5: International television rights still shooting up and now at £460m. In the UK watching overseas football has never been big time (Channel 4 started it showing Italian TV, now the Italians can hardly give their rights away, and with Spain becoming a pale imitation of Scotland, the interest there has gone too). But the EPL is on the up, and it might well go on rising – but again there will be a limit.
6: Europe. The Champs League has the money as is where everyone wants to be. Without it, you have no income. But, imagine this… supposing the clubs sponsored by benefactors (Man Arab, KGB etc) say, “we don’t really care about the Champs League – the EPL is bigger than the Champs League” and don’t even bother to curtail their buying in order to qualify, then at once the Champs League gets devalued.
7: Matchday income – static or declining for many. Arsenal are one of the few who have managed to push this up to new levels with the Ems, but the Ems is full, so there is nowhere to go, except with more on-site retail.
8: Shirt sales – the way that Real Madrid was supposed to buy C Ronaldo. I can’t work out when shirt sales started, but putting out two or three new shirts every season looks to be the end of the line. Sales can’t go up much more, and once the fashion ends they decline. The notion that a player could be bought by income from shirt sales was so silly, it must have been based on marketing experimentation – as in,
Marketing Director: “I know the punters are cretins, but do you think they are so stupid to go for this story?”
Chairman: “Only one way to find out – let’s try it.”
9: Clubs’ own TV stations – Arsenal have just announced that Arsenal TV is to become Arsenal Media and, according to the blurb that means “different broadcast and media channels. In English, HD broadband. And that is what Stan Kroenke knows about, and why he is there. There’s no point in thinking about take-overs and Kroenke going to 30% ownership – he owns half of Arsenal broadband – and that’s where the club thinks the next round of money is.
We will be offered background programmes in the UK and Ireland via Arsenal Media, and actual games for the rest of the world. Forget the crummy pictures from Austria this summer – this is HD, once the cables are in place.
It starts this season (although not in HD) with a step up in terms of programming but I suspect it would be a mistake to consider whatever is put out this season as anything other than a modest start. “The new Arsenal Media brand reflects the paradigm shift from a traditional television-centric approach, to one that is focused on creating broader, multi-platform content and programme formats that can be effectively delivered and re-appropriated across different broadcast and media channels,” says the blurb. Make of that what you can (and if you have an English translation, please do let me have it).
10: Bang. There is a problem with all this. I love Arsenal, but even when Arsenal TV was on Setanta I only watched it sometimes. I liked the reserve games and occasionally an old match, but not much more. I only have 18 hours a day to play with, and I have books to write, a family to love and enjoy, dances to go to, movies to watch, books to read, friends to visit… There is in fact only one thing missing at the moment in football terms – and that is the away match which is not televised live on Sky. Once I have that, that’s it.
Marketing around the club is huge in the US, and it could be so here, and that is what people are banking on. If it happens Arsenal will be there, worldwide. If not, fortunately we are not dependent on it, and we can go back a step.
Remember, nothing grows forever – just as our friendly high street bankers forget, and then found out, but never had to pay the price for.
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