By RICARDO EVANGELISTA
ROOTED in medieval ball games and distilled through the generations of English public-school boys that played it, football association, or simply Football, as it is more commonly known (unless you’re American, in which case it’s soccer), is by far the planet’s most popular sport.
The modern version of Football originated somewhere around the mid-eighteen hundred’s, in England, when several clubs worked together to standardise the rules of the game, banning the handling of the ball by field players and hard physical hacking. These new rules eventually led to a break from those that continued to play in the rugby school way, whom eventually went on to create the rugby game we know today.
Sport is big business these days; Kearney, a business consultancy firm, valued the global sports industry at 620 billion dollars annually, with growth continuing at a faster pace than that of GDP. The business stretches beyond the drama on the stadiums, including media rights, sponsorships, licenced products and the building of infrastructure. Still according to Kearney, Football is responsible for the largest slice of this pie, with revenues that exceed those of all US sports combined (including American football, Basketball and baseball), plus Formula 1, tennis and golf.
The economic weight of the game became evident recently, following an attempt by some of the biggest clubs in Europe to break away and form their own league, which would have been called the “Super League”. The 12 breakaway teams, including the top 6 from England, as well as the main Spanish and Italian clubs, essentially wanted to start their own members’ only competition, with a few invited teams added every year; playing among themselves without ever being relegated or having to earn promotion. The aim was to supersede the existing Champions League, run by UEFA, where all participants have to qualify for each year.
Despite the dazing numbers involved, with the “Super League” proponents promising more than 4 billion euros a year, to be generated from broadcasting and sponsorship deals and then divided among the participating teams, the plan failed within 48 hours of its announcement. Faced with fierce opposition and criticism from fans, players, managers and even politicians, clubs, one after the other, started to pull out of the project.
What the creators of the idea failed to grasp is that Football is more than just a profit-oriented game. Football clubs are undoubtedly businesses, but they are also community serving organisations; Billions of fans around the world support their teams, often from early childhood, with an unconditional fervour that occasionally is rewarded with a heroic victory that enhances the epic aura of the game and ensures the continuation of its popularity. This project would have undermined the game’s competitive nature and tradition, which rests on the idea that any team, no matter how small, can win through effort and skill.
The lesson to be learned by anyone looking to enhance the profitability of a sport with deep social roots is to never underestimate, or undermine, the passion that provides the base for its success.
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