by Tony Attwood
In a recent article I asked a question about “why does no one dare let the image of football slip?”
The point was that football is not about the game of football and the support of the club anymore. It is about selling products to people. Football, in fact, is only about economics, marketing and advertising. Nothing else.
En route players get richer, fans get poorer. But that’s not the main thing. It is the fixers who get the most out of this. Players play til they are about 35, and then many can look forward to going bankrupt at 40. Us fans just get double-crossed each season by being told we are supporting our club, when in fact we are just bit-part players in a marketing arrangement.
Indeed those of us who care about football are just little pawns in the game of the marketing men and the billionaires who own the clubs. Football is merely the mechanism used by the owners of clubs and those who work for them, for generating more and more money. We’re just part of the financial process. Nothing else.
It was Richard Bevan, CEO of the League Managers’ Association, who let this slip, perhaps thinking that in his online interview he was just talking to those who are engaged in marketing, not realising that his interview might be seen by your actual fans. And you may recall from the earlier article, he said that concerning football there were three questions that he put above all others:
a) In three years will football be in 360 million households around the world?
b) Will it still be sought after by every commercial broadcaster?
c) Will the best and biggest brands in the world want to associate themselves with football?
It was so stark; there was nothing about issues such as how are the clubs looking after the fans – the people who actually make football what it is. In fact, I am starting to get the impression that if only the clubs can do a deal with TV to compensate for the lack of fans, they will simply drop the notion of the fans, and just turn the stadia into giant executive restaurants with a football pitch in the middle.
I also got the feeling that there was an air of disbelief about these crazy economics of football, in that no one cares what happens next. I mean, if Real Mad or Barcelona declared themselves bankrupt would they actually be wound up, or would some economic sleight of hand come along to make it all ok again?
Certainly, there is no thought that us fans might wake up one day and say, “actually we are fed up with being taken for mugs.” Clearly the media think that way with their refusal, in England at least, to deal with the real issues like match-fixing, Fifa corruption, Qatar and Saudi Arabia human rights abuses, and PGMO’s unique approach to refereeing – preferring instead to mutter a lot about copyright and marketing deals. They set the agenda to match the marketing demands of Richard Bevan etc.
Would football be sustainable in a world in which a fair number of people think something is seriously wrong with refereeing? Not with the present model, no.
So no newspaper or broadcast company dares take up the issue of PGMO and its strange practices, because…well because it might damage the brand. It is about marketing and treating supporters as mindless twirps who will buy anything if it is associated with their clubs.
Hence when Uefa announced that it could no longer keep up with the match fixers and needed help from independent companies, the English press never even reported it.
So we can approach a world cup in Qatar, while knowing that the men who fixed the vote to give the finals to that country have been found guilty of corruption or are heading for trials, and that the stadia have been built using slave labour. And we can say “not our business” because it is not in the media.
Football is now such a fantasy land, where we find all the senior people in Fifa and the Swiss judiciary come from one canton, and are now, at last, being put on trial (although there is precious little about it in the English media about this either). And when we see the head of Fifa fiddling his expenses – again no one bothers.
And this is because football is now just about selling advertising around an image, which means the image must be kept pure. So if that means not reporting any of the corruption in Fifa, or the strange doings by PGMO, so be it.
In fact, football is not a game or competition any more. It is now simply an image control business in which the media and the footballing authorities work as one to take our money and pretend everything is fine.
If there is ever to be a change then journalists need to start doing their job and demanding that football Starts Making Sense. Because it sure doesn’t at the moment except to say that it is about taking money from the fans while using journalists as the advertising middlemen who conveniently put the owners’ story across.
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