Fair Game? Football Supporters Lose Out in the Battle of the Big Clubs

Posted on Friday 18th January 2008

Football fans are turning away from the game and will never return unless fundamental changes are made to the way the game is organised, according to a book published by a researcher at Birmingham Business School.

Professor John Samuels, in his book ‘The Beautiful Game is Over’, says that the elite clubs dominate, the ‘also ran’ clubs are becoming of little importance and that the Premier League, although successful globally, is based on the glamour of the top few clubs.

He states that success in football is attributed to the club owners and the club’s spending power.  Clubs that do not have the cash to buy players and pay high wages are never going to be able to compete on a level playing field with the more wealthy clubs.   For many people, the excitement of the game is diminished because of the predictability of the results and this is beginning to affect ticket sales.

As with the globalisation of any industry, the rich companies become richer and the others struggle for survival.   Professor John Samuels says, ‘In football, money, combined with good leadership, can buy success.  The people running the Premier League do not care where the money comes from that is invested in the game.  New owners invest in clubs either to help build up a profitable global sporting business, to enhance their status, particularly their international status, or for political reasons.  They have no allegiance to the town, region or country in which they are investing.  Clubs are taken over by those who have enough money to buy them, irrespective of the source of their wealth. 

He continues, ‘At a local level Birmingham needs to embrace its football teams and the clubs need to attract investment.  The city is not renowned for football in the same way that Manchester and Liverpool trade on their football success.  Birmingham tries to sell itself as a cultural centre, and as a shopping centre, but around the world the image of the City is influenced by the status of its football teams.  Football should be fundamental to the image and marketing of the city to visitors. 

The main concern for the supporter is the lack of competitive balance in the Premier League and the final league positions are becoming increasingly predictable.  Fans know, with reasonable certainty, which clubs will be in the top four and which clubs will be fighting relegation.  At a global level the demand to watch Premier League football does not extend to the clubs lower down the rankings and only games involving the elite clubs fill overseas bars.

Football supporters are also losing out because the clubs are not investing in the grounds.  Professor Samuels says, ‘There is a great deal of media hype and clever  marketing surrounding the game, but the reality is very different.  It is no longer a pleasant family day out.  Not only do the fans have to put up with the disappointment of their teams’ lack of success, but if they go to a match they are also faced with sub-standard facilities at the football grounds.’

To create a level playing field and to make the game fairer so that every team has a chance of winning Professor Samuels suggests that the solutions could include a more equal distribution of the revenue coming into the game and the introduction of a version of salary capping similar to that in rugby league, and that adopted by the National Football League in the United States.  Also needed is better scrutiny of foreign investors and their funds.

Ends

Notes to Editors

‘The Beautiful Game is Over’ by Professor John Samuels of Birmingham Business School is published by Book Guild on Friday 18th January 2008.  It is available from all good book shops, www.bookguild.co.uk or by calling 02392 200080.

For further information

Kate Chapple, Press Officer, University of Birmingham, tel 0121 414 2772 or 07789 921164.