The Football Industry in 2004: How Football’s New Commercialism Turned Sour

The Football Industry in 2004: How Football’s New Commercialism Turned Sour

Room 101 – Foster Court,
University College London
(Off Torrington Place WC1 opposite Waterstones Bookstore)

Wednesday 3rd November 2004, 6pm-8pm

Given by:

Mr David Conn, Author & Journalist


Seven years ago David Conn wrote the best-selling The Football Business: Fair Game in the 90s? appearing at the peak of the post-Euro96 euphoria which engulfed English football as the full extraordinary financial fruits of the second BSkyB television deal began to wash over the game. In The Football Business David Conn was almost alone among informed commentators in highlighting that, far from enhancing the long-term future of the English game, this sudden influx of wealth was being misspent and mismanaged. In particular he analysed how the breakaway by the First Division clubs in 1992 to form the Premier League had polarised income to favour only the biggest clubs, and how chairmen and shareholders were cashing in and making fortunes on the Stock Market against the rules and traditions of the governing body, the Football Association. The book also highlighted the clubs’ rush to capitalise on football’s new-found fashionability by increasing ticket prices at the expense of the `traditional’ lower income fans. While football was booming and ‘coming home’, it was alienating and disenfranchising its own grass roots and football’s special place in the cultural life of the country.

David’s second book, The Beautiful Game? Searching for the Soul of Football (Yellow Jersey Press, £12) examines the state of football in a changed climate, in which most people generally recognise that for all the game’s excitement and glamour, it is in crisis in many ways. Many of the chickens have come home to roost; two huge TV deals have followed for the Premier League, earning it £3.675bn in TV alone since 1992, but this has concentrated riches and the chance of footballing success in the hands of a very few clubs: Manchester United and Arsenal, with Chelsea able to compete only because of the shock arrival of Roman Abramovich. Other clubs have over-borrowed, overspent and collapsed trying to keep up. Football is still booming, richer than ever, yet since 1992, 36 of the Football League’s clubs, exactly half its 72 members, have been insolvent. Crowds are up, but ticket prices are too, dramatically, and the years have shown that the poor and the young have been priced out. The book includes chapters on some of the clubs which collapsed into administration; Bradford City, Notts County, York, Bury and Wimbledon, tracing the gory details of these failures, but also the fightback, often by supporters trusts, to keep clubs alive.

Somehow, every club pulled through, and some important reforms have been introduced, but English football is still sharply polarised between rich and poor. David highlights this with the instructive tale of Glossop North End, a struggling semi-professional club, which has an intriguing historical connection with Premiership champions Arsenal, yet inhabits a different universe.

The game is more high profile than ever, yet there is a crisis at the heart of its running, seen in the turmoil and infighting at the Football Association, the game’s governing body. In this lecture David, also drawing on his weekly column on the business of football in The Independent newspaper, reviews events in English football, asking how it came to this, and looking ahead to the future of the game.


  • Conn, D. (2004). The Beautiful Game? Searching for the Soul of Football Yellow Jersey Press.
  • Conn, D. (1997). The Football Business: Fair Game in the ’90s?. Edinburgh: Mainstream.
  • Conn, D. (1999). `The New Commercialism’, in: Hamil, S. et al. A Game of Two Halves: the business of football. Edinburgh: Mainstream, pp. 40-55.
  • David Conn’s weekly column on football finance in The Independent newspaper

For further details contact

Sean Hamil

Football Governance Research Centre


Tel: 020-7631 6763

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