(by Chris Corkan)
Globalisation is a phrase regularly used by media organisations, politicians and across general society. It is also a phrase used even more regularly when discussing the current nature football in geographical or social science debate. Globalisation is a concept first introduced by Peter Taylor and defined by himself as ‘society having experienced immense change, as a result of the growing increasing interconnectedness at all scales, across cultural, economic and social characteristics making the world an increasingly similar place’ (Johnston et al, 2002). Sport and football is one of the most important cultural drivers of this process since the 19th century acting as both a driver and a measure. This is reflected in the global nature of football being one of the world’s largest sports, increasingly incorporating international sporting bodies, continental tournaments, migratory flows and globally extensive forms of media in the form of television and internet.
Clubs and leagues operate in more than one country as supporters, players, competitions and corporate operations function beyond the domestic countries. The pivotal moment in this development was the Bosman ruling in 1995 which created a growing flow of migratory players. The ruling eliminated fees for players out of contract with their teams within the EU and made quotas regarding foreign players illegal leading to more international player mobility and decreasing the percentage of players in domestic leagues.
A result of globalisation in general society, is the creation of a consumer society, we are part of a society that constantly consumes things whether that be watching, eating, purchasing and listening to products developed for us, the consumer. Sporting practice has become an act of consumption with incomes from football progressively commercial. The commercial generation of capital is used to purchase players made more available by the Bosman ruling which enables the formation of better and ‘global’ teams. As the graph below indicates, the revenue generation of clubs at the elite level of football has hugely increased over the last 10 years.
Clubs Economic Revenues in both 2006/7 and 2014/15 (Deloitte, 2007 and 2015)
The major way in which clubs attract supporter or consumer spend is the creation of global brands. Clubs remain ethnocentric entities sustaining vital symbolic and strategic ties to their home cities and regions whilst attempting to differentiate themselves in a growingly similar world and competitive market, providing consumption spaces of cultural and geographical difference. This is a geographical process known as ‘Glocalisation’, the practice of conducting business according to both local and global considerations. Supporters have an affinity with this differentiation through branding, due to the assumption that they favour specific clubs and wish to display this allegiance through a consumption-dependant display of club products. The club brand must reach the demands of supporters at the local to global level in order to retain consumers and create a global brand.
Most clubs invest and adopt a global recruitment strategy and therefore the players are a significant tool in the building of a global brand. Local players aid in projection of the local club values across the world and the international players project globality on the local or national club level. Supporters are likely to consume products created by the clubs if they can associate themselves with the club and its players, for example fans tend to have an affinity with interesting characters, successful players or players of their national team.
Players from local area of the club gain particular prominence in that domestic nation from both the fans and media. Clubs in attempt to balance the number of local and global origin of its playing staff. With global players attracting attention from their home country and the market they were previously engaged with, acting as a type of foreign direct investment. The most prominent example being the purchase of David Beckham Real Madrid generating ε560 million over their four-year association which would have stemmed largely from England as an international and former Manchester United player. Player recruitment can also provide sufficient revitalising measures of a club in addition to changing kits to sustain the club brand.
Supporter have become consumers following the commercialisation and has empowered the global brand building ability to greatly enhance the commercial revenue of clubs. Broadcast revenues have become one of the most important aspects of club and league operation within the last decade. Clubs and their leagues are now focused upon the global and the building of global brands. Only three clubs can claim to have established global brands, in Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona which shall be explored in part 2. Additionally, the only global brand league is the English Premier League which will be highlighted in part 3. The creation of which, away from sporting success, is based upon strong identities being balanced across the authentic local and the wide ranging global. The most significant technique in which to form the brand is player recruitment due to associations simply created, based upon the origin of the player transferred in the process of glocalisation. Players are required to reflect locality form local players and globality from the international players. This has a strong influence upon the relationship a consumer may or may not partake in by following clubs on social media. Which in turn can drive up the value of broadcast rights deals and thus revenues as the football product becomes more desirable away from the domestic nation-state.
How clubs use players to build Global Brands
Football players are used for commercial gain in brand building in addition to their sporting abilities. As introduced in part 1 clubs aim to create a global brand to increase their commercial revenues and players can aid in the projection of locality on the global and the globality onto the local, glocalisation, that facilitates the building of such brands. This means players can be largely split into three categories of local, national and global. Transfers of players are firstly based upon sporting ability but the role of them commercially based upon their origin is encompassed in decisions.
International players are recruited in addition to their sporting ability for fans to identify with and boost brands across countries globally facilitating the growing proportion of global players. Red Bull have taken this idea even further than just purchasing players to have people identify with their products, by the takeover of Markranstädt, now known as Red Bull Leipzig who have been one of the stories of this seasons Bundesliga, having been newly promoted and finishing second, the ‘German Leicester’. However, are now one of the most hated clubs within Germany, reflecting the need to balance the locality with the globality of club operations. Additionally, international players are replacing local players due to foreign coaches, short-termism and the failure of academy systems. At the highest level of football there is a growing ‘A’ list at which to compete comprising of coaches, agents and significantly the players. Resulting in most western European clubs in continental competition to feature a small proportion of local or national born players.
Even with the globalisation and commercialisation of football, local player proportion of leagues and clubs have not been fully depleted. Players are still sourced from both local, regional and global disaggregation. Local players still having an important role to play in integrating the international players into the distinctive occupational subcultures of players and into the competitive ethics and rule of interpretation of the host club and nation. Local players providing the local aspect of the club worldwide still draw a significant minority of players, often defensively talented players, as local players can be identified with a symbolic status at clubs usually in possession of the captaincy. During the time period of data collected (2007-2017) John Terry and Francesco Totti for Chelsea and AS Roma respectively have retained the captaincy even with diminishing footballing ability. Although both of which shall be sadly leaving at the end of the current season. These local players form the ’heart’ of the team that can be identified with by local supporters, but also renowned worldwide by personifying the clubs local or national identity. Never more demonstrated than that of Totti who bows out nicknamed ‘The King of Rome’ and members of the Curva Sud stating ‘Totti is Roma’.
The three clubs that can competently claim global brand status are Real Madrid, Manchester United and Barcelona. A measure of this is their social media profiles on Twitter (see below) being followed more greatly than the other clubs. Few teams possess the capacity to construct and sustain global brand status but these three do, projecting a simple and easily identifiable brand that appeals worldwide. United initiated their brand in the 1990’s dominating English football and changing the ways they generated revenue. Being among the first to exploit Asian markets, corporate hospitality and setup their own TV channel. Barcelona aim to polish their global reputation and break the 1 billion revenue barrier as their president has stated, the revenues ‘must come from the international market’ and thus has produced offices and soccer schools worldwide. Real Madrid became truly global following the inauguration of their famous president Florentino Perez from 2000 onwards creating the Galacticos. Madrid and Barcelona have far greater followers than any other club even though their leagues isn’t as widely followed on Twitter as others. This could be explained by the recent success of these two clubs winning the Champions League in recent years resulting in high UEFA coefficient. However, likely only a contributing factors as teams like AC Milan have far fewer problems and yet won the Champions league in recent memory in 2007.
The most likely explanation for their global brand and mass Twitter followings are the players they have recruited. Western European leagues have the puling power of the world’s best players and thus importing the most. Perez introducing the Galacticos strategy meant they’ve embarked on utilising this pulling power with stunning acquisition policy since 2000 having signed Zidane, Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and James Rodriguez in recent years. These players are amongst the most followed followed athletes in the world. Manchester United and Barcelona have done similarly in the last decade having signed global stars such as United breaking the world transfer record for Paul Pogba summer 2016. The table below shows these three mega clubs have the most players that constitute the top 100 followed sporting athletes in the world also having had many former players forming part of this contingent. There is a clear link between player recruitment the building of global brand.
Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Juventus provide respectable followings on twitter, likely because of their domestic dominations. Most football identities continue to be based on more restricted spatial identities but can still create strong regional brands as they can only manage identities that remain strongly rooted in social and cultural makeup of immediate supporters. These sides have been domestically dominant with Juventus and AC Milan having now won the last 7 league titles and Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund winning the last 8 between them. Hence making the creation of strong dominating national brands more plausible. In stark contrast to the EPL because Liverpool and Arsenal have more followers but haven’t even won the league for 27 and 13 years respectively. If the Bundesliga and Serie A clubs are to create fully global brands their strategies must be more global in alignment and recruit globally recognised stars whilst projecting the unique identity of club geography. Of the German and Italian clubs most likely to do this are Bayern Munich due to the internationalisation strategy and new broadcast revenues. Also, Juventus have the capability with their new stadium and easily printable logo providing them with the tools to do so, whilst also being required to be successful on field in the Champions League.
Leagues Brand and role of players
Clubs are not the only ones in football aiming to be a global brand, leagues also aim to build global for the same reasons, to create global exposure of a global brand that attracts consumer spend and increase their consumer revenues. Continuing to use Twitter as a proxy for consumer popularity, the Premier League is the only league, that can call itself a truly global brand. The other top four leagues in Europe have left much to be desired in regard to the creation of a global brand. As the Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga have commercialised far slower than the Premier League and remain still very much domestic leagues and not global leagues. However, each league faces the modern footballing trend of decreasing local players and the increase of international players as teams become more unrecognisable to domestic supporters. Again, the balance of players in these leagues remains important to the building of the league brand due to the glocalisation process explained in part one.
League Followings on Social Media:
League Proportion of Local, National and International players of the Top Four Leagues:
- Sample size is the top five clubs based on Revenues in 2006/7 and 2016/17
The greatest factor of the English Premier League’s brand success is that it’s the most globalised. Having some desirable factors of non-footballing nature such as GMT allowing business operations to constantly continue and daylight hours of matches globally and easily accessible to 1.75 billion English speaking people, millions studied it as a second language and 565 million using it on the internet. Richard Scudamore the EPL executive chairman has expressed awareness of these factors but also places the marketable success on ‘heritage, culture, history and authenticity’ using British landmarks, stadiums and crests that date back to the 19th century as examples. Consequently, the EPL receives the largest commercial revenues and the largest economic revenues per club, but more importantly has the largest proportion of international players of the top four European divisions. As the pioneering league of football commercialisation, the EPL raised revenues far beyond the rest and has lubricated the mass purchase of internationals. Making the league identifiable for overseas consumers due to player recruitment acting as foreign direct investment. The declining number of local players would suggest a failure to project the local on the global. However, local players still project a proportion enough to project national and local values with icons such as Wayne Rooney and John Terry remaining important. Instead the EPL uses the authenticity of the clubs and the club brands themselves in collaboration with local players to project local values, hence Scudamore’s highlighting of crests and history instead of players. Although ignorance of player importance in football branding would be detrimental to the growth of a global brand.
Compared to the other leagues, the Bundesliga player proportions presents little change. This is attributable to the league being less globalised and being the most resistant to commercialisation. German ownership rules keeping the supporter majorities of at least 51% has kept priorities on local match attending fans. The biggest resistance being the unaffected ticket prices and preservation of matchday atmospheres.
Local players have not diminished as the most catered for local fans are the ones with which they associate with and gain support or expectation of use in the first team. German football has remained intrinsically ‘German’ with many native players in addition to the native media, supporter groups and fan ownership showing the attitude of their football. Players are still heavily derived from their youth systems following wide-scale reform after failures at the 1998 WC and 2000 Euros international competitions.
Bundesliga and Serie A are being left behind and are the less globalised leagues and less followed on social media. As previously suggested the German league remains very German and Italian football has some more challenging problems as Serie A struggles to create a wanted product. Facing issues of low match day revenues other than Juventus, playing in outdated stadiums that they don’t own in front of low attendances, Chelsea makes six times more match-day revenues than Roma. The Calciopoli corruption scandal 2006 also tarnished the leagues reputation presenting issues of national governance and degrading the brand in addition to the departure of big name players. There is hope for Italian football economically with the recent foreign investments as Inter-Milan, Roma and AC Milan all being taken over recently by Asian or US investor groups. The crucial factor in failure to create global brands in these divisions is the absence of international player transfers renowned worldwide. Only Bayern Munich and Juventus from these leagues have any players from the top 100 athletes on twitter. This coupled with a lower proportion of international players also makes it hard for overseas fans to associate due to lowering levels of globalisation by these leagues. For instance the only insight into Italian football for the ordinary fan into Italian football right now is Joe Hart’s loan move to Torino as there are no other links.
For leagues to be commercially successful they must build these global brands to attract as many consumers in the global markets as possible. However, the on-field success cannot be ignored, clubs of each league must be successful In the Europa and Champions League for brand exposure and to of course achieve the primary objective of any sport, to win. For leagues to catch up with the Premier League they must allow themselves to globalise its player composition like the Premier League has, to allow consumers to build associations with clubs in these leagues. However, this does bring into question the authenticity of the leagues if they no longer represent their country of origin and will have detrimental effects on their national teams. At what point does the Premier League blur the lines of its roots to England and that product may no longer be desirable. That is the sacrifice that the Premier League has made in order to be the most successful league commercially.