Thursday, May 30, 2013

Cashing in on football's global reach

It seems football’s ability to sail serenely through uncertain economic times continued apace in 2012.

Estimates suggest that, in the year of the much celebrated London Olympics, football attracted $4.5 billion in global sponsorship. Other sports continue to flounder in the wake of the global game.

Football sponsorship as business sense remains high on corporate agendas and big deals are still being signed. Arsenal have reportedly joined forces with Puma in a deal worth over £150 million across five years, snuggling up to their £150 million, five year deal with Emirates.

Exactly the sort of figures that might make a trophy hungry boardroom feel a little less famished.

Meanwhile Manchester United still lead their English rivals in commercial earnings, sponsorship drawn from a global roster of sponsors that extends to over 30 partner organisations.

United are the trailblazers for the wealthy elite, pairing off with other global brands, football carrying the message of airlines and beers, car firms and energy giants to every corner of the earth, providing the perfect ambassadors for multinational globalisation.

Others might have eclipsed his talent but it’s likely that David Beckham’s ability to sell underpants across continents will survive the end of his playing career.

In football’s brave new world success can still mean trophies but it can also be measured by global brand profile and a marketing strategy to crack emerging markets.

In the 150th year of the English Football Association maybe none of this should surprise us too much.

A more regulated game at home gave those Britons travelling the world, for Empire and for trade, a platform to spread the word of football.

Those early football missionaries often travelled in the hope of getting rich or adding to their existing fortunes. For them football was a sideline, but might they recognise something in the motivation of these big clubs, along with UEFA and FIFA, as they find new fans ("consumers") using the power of corporate globalisation and the potential of modern media channels?

Greed might bind the generations but our modern day footballing missionaries are at least less destructive than many of those that went before.

Maybe this is just another stage of football’s evolution, a concentration of wealth on a global stage, destined to exist above more mundane and impoverished local leagues.

There is at least one sobering thought for those of us in Scotland: while football enjoyed $4.5 billion in marketing revenues last year, the SPL was unable to replace a sponsorship deal that would register in the very low millions annually.

Same sport, different game.