There was a time when the football season ended in May and certainly in the odd year when there wasn’t a World Cup or European championship then that would be that until August. Granted there would be a little bit of transfer speculation but it felt like a proper break away from football that come late August you would embrace it like a glass of cold water after hiking across the Sahara desert.
Now the coverage is constant that you almost wonder if the season has ever really ended. Every day during the summer months there is the endless constant speculation of who is moving where that at times it matches the political intrigue of Macbeth.
That though is the circus that is the Premier league. It needs to feed the hype and speculation in order to keep selling its product which is how it and let’s be honest football clubs see supporters as customers.
The money that is not only being pumped into football through television deals but spent on players is mind-blowing. With the average player going for thirty million pounds the sense of any true value has been lost. For Sky the billions spent on securing the rights to screening Premier league football is not just about securing the survival of the channel but about the clubs spending big so that supporters world-wide will continue to watch. Hence the continuation of subscriptions and now in the age of streaming the reliance on overseas television rights.
Consequently it is important to keep generating the speculation about talks of Bale going to Manchester United for example or Ronaldo returning back to the UK. With huge sums of money being spent it is meant to convince people that the Premier league is the one to watch and that Sky can provide this exclusive access.
The drama of deadline day is now something that is part of football. At times it represents as though it is a life changing moment such as the Berlin wall coming down. If it was watched twenty-five years ago people would wonder if it was a spoof as the coverage at times resembled Chris’ Morris’s Day to Day. Who for example could forget the hapless reporter who had a purple dildo waved in his ear outside Everton’s Finch farm?
Football now is about marketing and rather than being a fan of the sport is more about being seen at the event. It is more about construing an image rather than participating as a supporter. Everything now is all about presentation so that for example Liverpool v Burnley on a cold February afternoon is a unique game to remember. From the naff Premier league anthem, the presentation tops that both sides wear as they shake hands to the referee picking the ball up from the podium. Gone are the days when both teams ran out and prior to kick off a firm hand shake from both Captains before tossing a coin to decide who would kick off from which half. Half and half scarves which are wrong on so many levels are now souvenirs for the tourist who visits and will most likely not return again.
Packages are sold for tourists to sample ‘the real passionate white-hot heat of the Kop,’ that has helped Liverpool win major games over the years. Ironically those type of supporters who are used for the posters have been priced out. For those that have remained they are now well into middle-age and less inclined to be noisy as they once were in their youth.
The sound of seats clanking up as Crystal Palace took the lead against Liverpool in the last ten minutes was louder than the cries of encouragement than Liverpool fans as a large majority slunked off. Previously there would be a stunned pause and a loud roar, snarling, and willing Liverpool to equalise and even grab a winner. Now those type of supporters who throw in the towel are the first into their cars to moan about how Klopp doesn’t know what he is doing whilst incredibly questioning the players passion.
Radio phone ins and social media keep the interest and drama of the product alive. Everybody can be an expert and whereas a similar incident from thirty years ago would barely generate a headline now a dodgy penalty is given the coverage of JFK being shot. A soundbite or controversial comment from the manager is used to keep the hysteria and if a club is having a bad run of results well then the hysteria hits meltdown. Rumours of losing the dressing room and the dreaded vote of confidence are mooted.
This of course encourages the expert fan who never goes the game but watches from his armchair who gets on the blower to say something incredibly stupid. Once on the air they will preach their ignorance which of course ignites another load of angry calls which feeds the frenzy rather than any genuine debate and discussion about the game. In other words its click bait with newspaper distributing articles or tweets knowing full well they will get hits and replies.
Part of the hype has brought a sense of entitlement amongst this new elite of supporters. Unless their team is two-nil up within ten minutes they are screaming and slamming their prized hampers with frustration. Of course nobody likes to get beat or drop points in vital games but if the players have given everything then at least accept they have done everything. Besides moaning is not going to help and only makes the players more nervous.
The problem in this Sky era of football is that it has made supporters accountants who believe the Premier league is the be all and end all. It is a remarkable achievement by Sky and the Premier league that a season of mediocrity is more acceptable than getting to a Cup final.
Getting into the top four is seen as a trophy with the money that a spot in the Champions league generates. The money though doesn’t go into the pocket of supporters and nor does it mean extra money to bolster that squad. A budget has been set regardless and players although ambitious will move where the money is regardless of whether the team is in the Champions league or not. Yet supporters believe this spin that has been spun and would put a top four finish above winning the FA cup and a trip to Wembley.
Football is now increasingly about the hype and making as much money as possible from this new world-wide fan base. That’s why clubs fly over to Australia, the far east, even the USA because there is money to be made and not because it will help pre-season training.
The International Champions cup which is currently a pre-season tournament can be seen as a future replacement or rival with the UEFA champions league. With the money that it generated (incredibly ticket prices for the Madrid v Barcelona game in Miami went for $5,500) it wouldn’t be a surprise if this happened.
Of course this would be by invitation only and not by earning a place. After all despite AC Milan being a pale shadow of the team that they once were they have a global appeal and therefore can sell. These games would not be played in the home cities but various stadiums across the globe to generate more cash and global appeal. In turn these clubs such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool, and AC Milan would in effect be the footballing equivalent of the Harlem Globe Trotters.
This is why the controversial thirty-nine Premier league game was mooted. Forget about upsetting the balance of fairness of the competition there is more money to be had from sales abroad and the television deals that would be made as a result. Although dropped the idea still lurks like Jaws stalking Amity Island.
The £198 million deal for Neymar wasn’t just about signing a top player or even a signal of intent of winning the Champions league but about putting PSG as a major force in the global market. Of course it is an intent to win the major honours but the price gets publicity, courts new supporters from across the world, and therefore increases the television deals. Added to which is the marketing appeal that Neymar brings not just in terms of shirt sales but other promotions in the interest of PSG.
Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United and any other big names spend big simply to boost their global appeal as well as improving the team. Signing the top players keeps that interest and makes supporters excited that the latest big name has joined their club.
Increasingly football is moving away from its community and identity that clubs had. Slogans such as ‘more than a club,’ ‘you’ll never walk alone,’ are increasingly sounding more like a brand rather than ‘the real thing,’ that it once had. Even St. Pauli who view themselves as very much to the left in their ideals find that the skull and bones flag once flown as a symbol of defiance, has now been marketed. Indeed you could argue that St. Pauli has now been sold as a ‘kult club,’ for people wanting something different.
Football is far removed from the working class game that it once was. Certainly amongst the big clubs they are a brand that can be consumed as easily as a can of coke. Hype and money keeps it ticking over with the global fan base proving ever more lucrative. Just don’t surprised when the only connection that a football club has with its community is the name.