Football as a sport has existed, in some shape or other, probably ever since humans figured out how to use tools to make things. Kicking around something – anything – seems to have been innate to humankind. Established football clubs started around the middle of the 19th century and since then we have seen the sport evolve. We have also seen the business side of the game grow ever larger.
It is true that for many years there was not a huge leap forward to the situation we have today. There were business men (and they were invariably men) involved and money was made, but the game was growing in the early years of the 20th century. More global competition was encouraged and introduced. But towards the end of the 20th century, we witnessed a huge shift in the football/business dynamic.
These days we are quite used to being able to check the results at any time, even streaming highlights of any game around the world, and making our selections on betting sites such as the Bovada sportsbook. Has the business of football accelerated into a more corporate being though? Or has the sport just gone with the times and evolved naturally?
Once football had gotten established in the country of its birth, local business owners recognized that it was a good move to own the local football club as well. Not only would it invariably result in a spike in profits, it would be a good public relations move to be associated with something so popular.
But as the 20th century wound down, we witnessed a change in the characteristics of a football owner. Gone was the local big shot, and in came multinational corporations, investors without any tradition of sports, and even nation states. Now it is very rare for a big club to be owned by a local business or person.
This is another area where the business of football has changed the look of the sport completely. Fans have always been keen to watch their favorite teams play, either live or in highlights packages. But since the technology advanced to make live games available more readily, the cost has also risen.
Through innovative marketing and the clubs signing the top players, the big leagues of Europe now dominate broadcasting on a global level. The EPL and La Liga earn vast amounts from television deals in other parts of the world and it can cost the broadcasters billions. That money then goes into the clubs, as well as the leagues, and more elite players can be bought.
Sponsorship of football clubs has been around for a long time, even before teams first started wearing the names of businesses on the front of their shirts in the 1970s. Now almost all teams have some kind of sponsorship deal and many will be away from the playing kit entirely.
Teams in the major US sports are only beginning to embrace on-kit sponsorship but now it is not uncommon for clubs to make a number of deals for different parts of the shirt and shorts. Add to that the huge amounts of money involved in naming rights for stadiums, and it is easy to see just how lucrative this area of the football business has become.
A Global Game
Part of the reason for the business of football changing the sport so dramatically is that advances in media communication have made it easier to access the top leagues wherever you are in the world. It used to be the case that you had to rely on days-old newspapers to find out the scores if you were abroad. Now you can live stream a game from virtually anywhere in the world.
Obviously, this has increased the gap in earnings between the big clubs in the top leagues and the smaller teams around the world. As owners of clubs have become more international, so has the consumption of the media and access. This has grown worldwide fan bases for top clubs – and increased the potential for further economic and business growth.
There was a time, even as recently as the early 1960s when a maximum wage for players was in place. Although the money involved in the game was nowhere near the billions we are used to hearing about today, that meant that the owners of the clubs made all the money while the players played virtually for the love of the game.
Over the last 30 years or so there has been a huge shift in the power balance in football. Of course, the owners still earn the most, but players can now demand more and have more freedom with their contracts. Player agents have been able to ask more for their clients’ services – taking back more of the money given to the clubs in the form of broadcasting deals.
What About the Fans?
When it comes to talking about football as a business, there is quite often a whole section of the people involved in the sport that is routinely ignored. Although the fans would say that they are the ones that make football so special – and so attractive to sponsors – their needs are not always met.
With such as detachment between the club, the club owners, and the traditional fan bases, it seems only natural that the fans’ voice would not be heard as loudly. Good owners, like the Hollywood duo of Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds at Wrexham, will try to include the fans when changing the club to move it forward as a business. But business needs and fan needs can regularly be very different.
Business and Pleasure?
In the end, any modern business or business owner thinking of investing in a football club needs to recognize that this is an industry like no other. There will be demands and areas of the business that do not make complete financial sense. But they could be very important in keeping fans on side and for being successful in the long run.
With so much money in the game, there is obviously going to be some unscrupulous people attracted to making a lot of money. But hopefully, football can balance the needs of all involved to ensure that it remains a business for some and a pleasure for all.