The Changing Face of Football

It seems that modern day football is all about buying players with great marketing and merchandising potential. No longer is a player bought simply for his footballing abilities. Modern clubs nowadays are run in a more businesslike fashion and owners look to run them at a profit especially to appease shareholders. The game born in working class environments has changed dramatically for better or for worst. The common fan is more interested in how his team does week in and week out rather than the revenues gained or what the share prices of their club stands at.

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Fenway Sports Group (FSG) have tried to retain that delicate balance of running Liverpool Football Club as a profitable business and as the club that the fans follow and support. The times are changing and in this current climate we’re looking at our first potential marketing-based signing in 20-year-old Christian Pulisic, a huge star in the USA. With Liverpool’s currently strong links and ties to America this potential €70 million signing could be recouped in replica-shirt sales alone.

The Real Madrid marketing model

The likes of Real Madrid have being doing it for years with their big name signings, under their President, Florentino Pérez. The Galácticos signings during the 2000’s era heralded the arrival of mega money signings like Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and David Beckham. The signing of Beckham for a fee of €37 million from Manchester United was seen by many critics as a cynical marketing ploy. Indeed the Real Madrid squad soon embarked on a gruelling three week tour to Asia in 2003. It earned the club millions in revenue not to mention shirt sales going through the roof. During this period his number 23 shirt accounted for 50% of their merchandising sales, selling over a million replica-shirts and brought in €22 million in sales.

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The fee paid to Manchester United for the player by Madrid was easily recouped via the marketability of David Beckham in the Asian market and the sales of merchandise. His move to Paris Saint-Germain in the twilight of his career was a marketing master stroke by the club. During the now 37 year old’s five months here with the club, replica-shirt sales were in the region of €13 million.

The Glazers marketing model

There were signs that the English game was changing for better or for worse when the Glazers floated Manchester United on the stock market in 2012, raising £150 million in sales of shares, thus making them one of the richest club in world football, valued at £2.3 Billion. The signing of Paul Pogba From Juventus for a record breaking fee at the time of £89.3 million has been seen as a merchandising and marketing success, with £190 million worth of replica-shirt sales in just three weeks of his arrival. Although his performances on the pitch has nosedived spectacularly I don’t think the Glazers are too concerned as long as this marketing golden goose keeps laying the eggs.

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United’s very first marketing based signing long before Paul Pogba arrived was actually Park Ji-Sung, the South Korean, in 2005 he joined United for a fee of £4 million. A player with huge marketability in the Asian market. Manchester United capitalised on the Asian influence in their team in the form of Park by embarking on two intensive preseason tours to Asia in 2006 and 2009, with multi-million earnings from sold out games and merchandising.

The way forward?

The traditional transfer policy of simply signing a player because of how good he was, no longer is the sole reason why a player is signed nowadays. How much power is taken from the hands of the modern manager in his quest to get the players he wants? How much power and influence does a mega signing player have within a club? The money talks and it may well be a reason for Jose Mourinho’s tension with Pogba. Does the player carry too much influence as a marketable commodity rather than a player of influence in the pitch. How far can it go? If the dropping of a player or a player falls out with his manager who’s the first to go? The player generating millions in sales of merchandise or the manager costing the club in wages of £12 million a year?

Liverpool proudly boast of having roots in the local community and living by their traditions like the Boot Room and not going the way of the likes of Chelsea & Manchester City, but this will change and it may worry a few fans that John Henry will eventually sell the club in the future once a profitable margin has been made with future signings with huge marketing potential. This is only my own opinion as a lifelong fan. I can see how the way big clubs in Europe are run, creeping into the English game. It seems inevitable that it will happen.

The signing of Pulisic, would be a public PR Marketing and Merchandising dream for the business oriented mind of John Henry.  Liverpool simply are the most watched Premier League side in America. Having done a preseason tour in America, which saw stadiums sold out and an increase in merchandise revenue. Last season a record of just under 40 million American viewers tuned in to watch the Premier League with Liverpool beating the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea as being most watched and supported team in the other side of the Atlantic.

An Overview

On a final note of how I think Liverpool’s transfer policy has to evolve and is currently evolving, if hypothetically Nabil Fekir had played a pivotal role in France’s World Cup campaign with the culmination of winning the World Cup trophy and was féted like Platini was after winning Euro ‘84 with France, do you think Liverpool would have pulled out of the deal? I don’t think they would have because the player’s marketing potential would have mushroomed. The marketability of a world class player is something the top clubs are now looking at, especially when these teams do preseason tours in Asia & America etc.

Football is evolving and the football star is king, whisper it but they also heavily influence the dressing room and a board of directors are more likely to sack a manager than sell a player with huge merchandise appeal. This is the emerging face of the modern game. Business and profit will always win.

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