The Football Industry in 2006: The Boom & Bust of Football’s New Commercialism

The Football Industry in 2006: The Boom & Bust of Football’s New Commercialism

Room G01 – Clore Management Centre,
Birkbeck College,
Torrington Square,
London WC1 7HX

Wednesday 10th May 2006 at 6pm

Given by:

David Conn

Nine 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 mis-spent and mis-managed. 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 dis-enfranchising its own grass roots and football’s special place in the cultural life of the country.

David’s second book (2004), The Beautiful Game? Searching for the Soul of Football (Yellow Jersey Press, £7.99) examined the state of football in a changed climate, in which most people generally recognised that for all the game’s excitement and glamour, it has been 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 £4.1bn 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, over-spent and collapsed trying to keep up. Football is still booming, richer than ever, yet since 1992, 38 of the Football League’s clubs, more than half its 72 members, have been insolvent. Crowds went up as people flocked back to the newly sexy game, but ticket prices steepled too, dramatically. The years have shown that the poor and the young have been priced out, and now there is evidence that the ageing loyal fanbase is beginning to weaken. The book included 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 fight-back, 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 highlighted 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 in-fighting at the Football Association, the game’s governing body. In this lecture David, also drawing on his weekly column on the politics, social context and business of football in The Guardian 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 in The Guardian newspaper can be viewed
  • Conn , D. (2006, 14 th April). ` Derby County Chairman Quits as Police Investigate”. The Guardian.
  • Conn , D. (2006, 14 th April). `Financial Allegation intensifies Bitter Derby Battle: Police look into accusation of irregular payments as County fans fear for their club’s future”. The Guardian.

For further details on this seminar series contact:

Sean Hamil
Department of Management
Birkbeck College
Malet Street
London WC1E 7HX

Tel: 020-7631 6763

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