Culture of Soccer Week 2 (Professionalism and Globalization)

Week 2 covered how the game spread throughout the world due to English imperialism and then the impact that economics has had on the game.

Week 2 Readings:

Here is my extended post for week 2:

Reading the chapters by Giulianotti, Szymanski, and Kuper, I was again reminded but how much the game has changed in the last twenty years.

Flashback to 1993.  Manchester United has won their first English First Division Championship for 26 years in the newly formed Premier League, embarking on a run of domestic dominance that lasts to this day.  The rebranded Champions League was only in its second campaign, as it moved from a straight knockout competition to a league and cup format.  The burgeoning TV explosion was seized on by huge clubs, especially in Italy and Spain, that negotiated their own deals, and the economic infusion has led to growing sense of the haves and have nots.  And player movement was largely up to the clubs rather than the players, due to contractual restrictions.

One of the big stories during the mid-90’s at Manchester United was who would be the first player to break the £100,000 pounds a week barrier, as the club tried to keep a strict control on wages.  Eventually that ceiling was destroyed and now players earn upwards of £200,000/week.  This evolution in policy came to a head in the fall of 2010 when Wayne Rooney’s little temper tantrum saw him challenge the club and get a huge pay raise.  Such a stance was unthinkable 20 years previously as player power was relatively weak and the sums accessible were pitiful.

In terms of player power, the clubs held most cards.  The Bosman ruling eventually paved the way for greater player movement and a global market which Giulianotti discusses on pages 27-29.  He lays out the tiers worldwide that clubs occupy in the search of building their squad and building their brand.  His stratification makes sense—players from smaller South American countries (tier 4) go to Brazil and Argentina (tier 3), then to lesser European leagues (tier 2) and then finally to the big 5—and a couple of instances came to mind—the original Ronaldo, Suarez, Di Maria, and Deco and Kanu, McCarthy and Kalou—went to smaller clubs in Portugal and Holland before making moves to the Big 5 (England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France).

As clubs focused on growing and expanding revenue streams (Giulianotti 22), the spread of innovation (Guttmann 42) was evidenced particularly in England.  Manchester United renovated Old Trafford and pushed its capacity to one of the largest in Great Britain, while at the same time maximizing shirt sponsorships and branding efforts.  Compare this with Liverpool, who fell behind quickly and are now stuck with a stadium that handicaps it in the economic arms race despite their great tradition. Giulianotti lays out “inequalities” among English clubs on page 25, and the authors of Soccernomics spend the end of chapter 3 examining the struggle that owners go through—making a profit and or winning trophies.

The disparity in economic resources and the owners’ struggles can be seen at Arsenal Football Club.  The club was falling behind economically and took the corrective measure of moving from historic Highbury to the modern venue of the Emirates.  This move hampered their transfer dealing to a certain extent but within a few years the Gunners will have paid off a state of the art stadium and have a strong financial footing.  Unfortunately that has come at a sporting cost.  The club cannot pay superstars and have lost several in the last couple of seasons, so they risk losing out on future stars because they cannot offer them elite competition.  This means they have to overpay for players, which could undo the fine financial work they have done and put them back on the course described by Szymanski and Kuper: “The only way to win matches is overspend.  Nobody runs a soccer club to turn a tidy annual profit.” (Szymanski and Kuper 59)

And Europe is the prize now.  Twenty years ago the World Cup was the pinnacle of soccer achievement but as the European Cup/Champions League grew in stature, both in financial and sporting terms, the focus has shifted.  Clubs have seen the impact on their brands and bottom lines as they face off year after year, attracting the best players from around the world.  Clubs are gaining power away from national and global organizations due to their financial might, their ability to influence player involvement in international play, and the frequency of competition (yearly as opposed to every four).   Giulianotti addresses some of these points and others on pages 29-31 of his chapter.

Another example is in La Liga.  Unlike their opposite numbers in Italy, who recently moved to a more collective TV deal, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid receive over half of the TV income for the league.  Without going into all the details, this inequality has caused the two clubs to have a resource that no team in Spain, or Europe for that matter, can compete with.  The long term health of the league is a cause for concern as this imbalance, combined with an economic downturn and low crowds, could see the league become a fading force in Europe.

If the money from TV and sponsors does not dry up the next twenty years bring could bring even greater changes.  A couple on the horizon: how the game is consumed, how players interact with the clubs and fans, how players are “owned”, the nature and repayment of club debt, and the de-emphasizing of international competition.

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