The Argument: In the TV Money Era, Don't Forget the Matchgoing Fan
The latest in our series sees Terry Clague offer a short reminder to club owners as to which body of people has facilitated their ability to make money out of football in the first place. Terry has previously written for The Anfield Wrap and can be followed on twitter here.
As football and capitalism have developed in recent decades, the former seems to trace the latter’s trajectories, to follow its fashions. After a prolonged period of treating its consumers with utter contempt, ending in stadium tragedies, football is now firmly entrenched in a new stage of development — growth at all costs.
In business, the requirement to provide endless annual growth inevitably leads to consolidation, cost-cutting and a war on quality. In football, such options are limited — clubs rarely merge or acquire other clubs; cost-cutting is naturally limited by its devastating effect on the pitch; whilst wars on quality tend to come and go with the arrival and departure of Tony Pulis.
One tool available to a football executive is price-setting. As television income balloons, matchday revenue reduces in importance but the mantra appears to be simple — every little helps. Your average football executive dines out on the price inelasticity of demand theory in economics. When the size of the matchgoing market is absolutely restricted, it makes perfect sense to squeeze the captured pips until they squeak. Doesn’t it?
Maybe not. Maybe one of the biggest problems in contemporary business is its inability to account for intangibles. Maybe in the ecosystem of football, employing a credulous executive to decide such matters is short-sighted in the extreme. It’s not beyond the realm of our collective intellect to at least understand that there is a fundamental value inherent in the matchday experience. What if all the contemporary additional revenue that has flooded into the game was dependent on — leveraged on — the fact that football is magic because of the matchgoing experience?
Matchgoing fans are less consumers of, and more contributors to, football matches. Football clubs are trading on dreams — there’s absolutely nothing rational about any of it. So unless you create a magical product ad infinitum — and no one, but no one does — then you’re going to need the value that’s created by regular matchgoing fans. In fact, to imagine Brian Clough addressing a collective noun of football executives: “gentlemen, the first thing you can do for me is throw your sponsorship and your television money and partnerships in the dustbin because you’ve never won any of that fairly. You’ve done it on the back of fans.”
Arguably, in some cases, you might actually pay some fans to attend games. Just hold that thought. Football, like everything good in life, is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a field of dreams — if you unbundle it, they won’t come! In pricing out spectators, football cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which it produces and appropriates products. In other words, it digs its own grave. Maybe we should encourage that and kick the executives out of football. That’s one approach, but another is to reclaim the game by encouraging and empowering fan activism and protest — on the one hand fighting back against corporate owners and on the other, educating them as to the value of fans.