Despite its delight in the power of money, it’s hard to think of an industry that is frequently so disobedient to free market discipline as football.
For a start, profit is only a secondary motive. Most of the clubs at the top of the game would leave accountants unimpressed by their profits and or their potential for successes on the various stock exchanges. Glory and respect is the recognised currency here. Trophies not balance sheets rule.
It seems curious then that football clubs seem so obsessed to chase a corporate ideal. The recent revelations in Der Spiegel about the umpteenth attempt to form a European Super League follows on from talk of a regular (every four years) World Club tournament under FIFA’s auspices.
Both ideas have met (or are likely to meet) with resistance from key member constituencies. In the case of the European Super League, supporters of the clubs rumoured to be involved are now amongst the most militant in their opposition against their clubs’ tendency to break with football’s traditional structures.
Good luck convincing Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea fans not to march, petition or lobby against the idea of a Superleague. These specific supporters are already hardened by repeated antagonisms with their clubs over ticket prices, ground moves and even ownership. A European Super League is just another issue on their pre-existing agendas to scrutinise the more questionable behaviours in the management of their clubs.
The unifying theme in these new attempts to restructure the game is the basic consumer capitalist drive to develop revenue. This has been a central theme of modern football since the television age truly took off. And yet, while football shows its admiration for the corporate world’s profit motive, it seems unprepared to follow its disciplines.
There is no surprise here. After all, this would require acknowledging the other essential corporate doctrines. Take for instance the key point about the customer always being right, the need for full transparency of commercial activities on stock exchanges and the need to be consistently profitable as the only measure of worth.
It’s perhaps arguably for this reason that, for all the various hints of Superleagues and 39th games, English football has been slow to move definitely into this territory (beyond the creation of the Premier League). The fairly recent abandonment of the proposed 39th game overseas occurred with a pace that made you forget that it had even been suggested.
I would suggest that talk of Euro Super Leagues will go the same way as the 39th game. While these ideas hover in the air (and may even come close to fruition in other countries) English football clubs, while often doing their best to prove otherwise, know that their supporters will only take so much. And in England it is those supporters who pay a footballing Piper with expensive tastes. Any hint that supporters will vote with their feet against unpopular developments quickly reminds the clubs that in this game emotions are the most immediate currency. After all, there is no profit in an empty stadium.
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