Football – It’s sport Jim, but not as we knew it.

Posted: December 23, 2010 by mcdonaldtaf in Business, Finance, Liverpool FC
Tags: , ,

During the past year I’ve researched, read about, analysed and written about football till my fingers went numb. The key message which keeps coming back is that fans are becoming increasingly restless with where the sport is going. This is manifesting itself in two ways. The first is a general rise in apathy among fan bases and the second is genuine dis-satisfaction. Both represent an increasing risk to the sport as we know it.

Indeed my research into our club uncovered that 4% of fans had stopped going to the game, or watching it on television. While another 14% had stopped buying merchandise. Now it should be noted that I conducted the research at the peak of the Hicks and Gillett saga, but even now I sense a continuing apathy from fans. It’s almost like the sport is turning them off (and I don’t think it’s all down to Roy Hodgson).

Football as a sport is moving into alien territory for a lot of fans. The sport they once followed as just that – a sport – has become embroiled with business, organisational politics and debts. They see players picking up in excess of £200,000 a week and wonder if they’ll earn that in the next five years. We’ve come a long way in such a short space of time and you have to wonder where it will all end. The future, as we know, is always hard to predict and many organisations haven fallen foul of not paying enough attention to what may be around the corner.

Consider the likes of IBM who thought they had the future of computing sewn up. That is of course until Bill Gates came along. IBM failed to recognise the importance that operating systems would play in their future, believing that any operating system was useless without their computers. Bill Gates saw what they didn’t though. A whole raft of homogeneous computers were just around the corner, the same could not be said for operating systems. Before long Microsoft cast a very long shadow over IBM, which remains to this day.

Of course Microsoft have since fallen into the same trap. For one they, along with others, never saw the potential or importance of search; which Google did.  Google were behind the times when Facebook started chipping into the advertising revenues which created Google’s billions of revenue. These giants of the technological world who made their names by thinking differently always seem to end up falling into the same trap as each other.

This consideration of the ‘what ifs, which won’t really be a threat’ in management is referred to as complexity perspectives. The ability to see further down the road than your competitors being key to success, especially in the technology markets.

So how does this relate to football? Well, on a couple of occasions I have wondered where the game will end up. Do football clubs realise the levels of apathy and unhappiness which are prevalent within the sport? Are they looking years down the road to where their club may be, be that 5, 10 or 20 years down the road? In the end, if things don’t change, will a war rage between the community roots of the sport and the business side of the club?

Recent problems at Old Trafford and Anfield has seen the birth of community driven clubs. Will people continue to switch off from the sparkling lights of the Premier League and instead look to switch spending their hard earned money from the bright lights to something they can once again believe in?

I don’t have the answers and I guess only time will tell. But I do sense that the sport, one way or another, will be very different in years to come. Either clubs will react, as fans continue to switch off, or maybe we are at the very early dawn of a new era in community driven football.

  1. Sam Wanjere says:

    Football to me is a lot like evolution, with constant tweaks and re-engineering seen every now and then.

    Such changes as apathy in the modern game will inevitably lead to questioning of the old order. As a local example at LFC, is The Liverpool Way, the stuff of legends, dead as we ever knew it? Is it time for a new breed of fans, unaccustomed to the old way of doing things Red? Is it time to question “pass and play” in the modern era, and ask if we can start again from scratch?

    Liverpool FC, birthed from Everton FC, learned to acquire an identity that has remained unique to the Anfield legend. It acquired a culture of footballing excellence, instituted its internal promotion system, a.k.a. The Boot Room; established its own playing philosophy and fan identity, etc.

    That required a massive paradigm shift in fan thinking, and might just be what we are now seeing. At the end of the day, we’ve learned that nature hates vacuums, rushing to fill in “emptiness” with something, anything. I feel that footballing equilibrium will be achieved, as we grapple with establishment of a new order.

    Thought-provoking read as always.

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