Football: for love or money?

Football: for love or money?

A debate organised by The Economist and the Institute for Contemporary Art.

Thursday 15th January, 2004, at the Mall, London

A summary of the debate by Geoff Walters

FGRC, Birkbeck, Unversity of London

David Lacey: The Guardian, Sports Reporter of the Year
He argued that the money within the game has been a power for good, with the industry being in a healthy state financially in terms of the income generated. However, his major concern was with the unequal distribution of this income that has produced the gulf between the Premiership and Division One. As a consequence of this, there are problems with teams achieving promotion to the Premiership and then coming straight back down, in the form of a loss of TV income and the higher wages incurred from their time in the Premiership. On the issue of administration, he argued that clubs in trouble should be helped and not penalised further with the loss of points.

Mark Oliver: MD of Oliver and Ohlbaum, strategy advisors at board level to media, sports and entertainment sectors

He too agreed that the fundamental problem in the industry is the issue of redistribution, or as he put it, “not the size of the cake but who gets the cake”.

He identified 2 concerns:

  1. Where does the money in the game go?
  2.  There are too many professional football clubs in this country

He felt the problem with football club owners is that they are also football fans, therefore their love for the football club overlooks the financial issue – “ambition gets the better of financial reality”. When referring to the concept of mutually owned football clubs, he argued that although this structure is probably more appropriate for most football clubs, the problem arises in where to raise capital.

Delia Smith: Director, Norwich City Football Club
She put a rather more community oriented argument forward, expressing that football is a progressive activity and a vehicle for human achievement. With 11 players on the pitch reliant upon each other, she argued that football is an explicit demonstration of teamwork, with team building having become so important in the contemporary workplace. However, like society, football has had to endure individualism and egoism, which have combined to bring the game into disrepute. She argued that the media over-exaggerates problems and under-emphasises the good work done by footballers in particular. When asked about Supporters’ Trusts, she believes they are very important for the game, adding that at Norwich, the Trust had just bought a £5000 stake in the club. She summed up by saying that football is about “team, unity, community and belonging”.

Glen Kirton: Chairman, Navigator Sports and former FA Head of External Affairs
He stated he is a firm believer in the market, and that clubs such as Manchester United should be allowed to continue generating as much income as they can. However, he acknowledged that football must be understood as a collective economic activity where two clubs come together to generate revenue. He also felt that at this point in time, the market for professional football clubs is saturated. In his opinion, the number of clubs that can be supported within the top league in this country is no more than at present. In addition to this, he felt that 100 professional football clubs is not a sustainable position for the industry. Financially, football is in danger because it distributes the income it generates in a way that is not sustainable by paying the players too much. He calls for football to act in the way that any other business would act. On the issue of Supporters’ Trusts, he said that supporters are the lifeblood, but questioned the extent they could be integrated into the management structure of a club, although he did say that in certain circumstances it could work.

Two interesting points were raised after the speeches:

  1. Will football brands decline? For example, will Manchester United become less of a global brand in the future?
  2. Can football sustain itself through TV? Will it (or is it?) struggle in the future and are competitions such as the FA Cup losing their appeal on terrestrial TV?


View all Events