Football always has, and always will be a team sport, that isn’t just the 11 players that start on a Saturday afternoon, it’s the manager, the board and the fans that turn up to watch their team.

Every fan has been brought up to love a certain club, where an important part of their lives will centre around the fortunes of that club. It is a love and loyalty that is unparalleled. Unfortunately it is only the fans that see their team as a football club and not just a business.

I grew up in a time when you had local business men run clubs, the likes of Sir John Hall at Newcastle, Jack Walker at Blackburn and Bill Kenwright at Everton (ok he’s still there in some capacity). Granted they were all business men, but they understood the area, understood what each club meant to their fans.

SKY Money

When SKY TV got the rights to show live football in 1992 for the newly formed Premier League, it was the start of money being pumped into the game. As this new leagues power grew, so did the money needed to invest. New channels came on board, Setanta Sports (remember them?) bid and won to show Premier League football, and more recently BT Sport and Amazon have rights to games as well.

As more and more competitors came in, the money needed to win those rights grew, which in turn increased the revenue granted to each Premier League team. This increase in funds also brought with it a new wave of owner! The type of person who wouldn’t normally get involved with the beautiful game , but saw the money and wanted to be a part of it, and the leagues now worldwide exposure.

New Owners

With the increased money coming into the game, and with some mega rich owners joining the party, like Abramovich and Chelsea, the price of everything in football changed and not for the better.

Clubs would see Premier League clubs coming in for their players, and as was the case in the early days with Chelsea, let’s see how much they are willing to pay?! This led to a massive increase in transfer fees, wages the players were asking for, and fees the agents wanted to be part of the deal. Your old school local owner didn’t have the money to keep up. You needed now to be a multi-billionaire as opposed to a multi-millionaire just to stand a chance.

However these new owners were not here for the love of the club, but for what the club could give them in terms of revenue and exposure for their brand. Money was now ruling the game, it also so a shift in priorities from club owners.

A paradigm shift

Now I’m not saying all owners and teams are like this, but it could be argued that a majority are! The need for silverware dropped, and placement meant everything. Some owners are happy to just survive in the league, to keep the TV revenue coming in, unable in their eyes to keep up with the continued spending of the ‘big boys’. For some teams simply finishing in the top 4 is enough, and the extra money that the Champions League brings with it. Gone are the days when the FA Cup instils a magic into the club, simply because winning the FA Cup won’t do much for the balance sheet.

This summer Tottenham Hotspur signed their biggest sponsorship deal to date, call me a cynic but I don’t think they sign that if it wasn’t for the fact they were in the Chsmpions League Final last season. With success comes exposure, with that comes more sponsorship opportunities. This has left the lower leagues behind massively, with the money simply not being there to sustain their respective clubs.

The increased transfer fees have filtered down, but the massive revenue streams have not. Over the past few seasons there are more and more lower league clubs struggling to survive. It seems a case of they wanted a piece of the pie, but soon realised without Premier League money they couldn’t keep up, and although having a sizeable wealth compared to those sitting in the terraces, they couldn’t afford to continue to invest in the club, and sustain it with their own money.

The Fans Predicament

Fans will give their all for their clubs, but the expectations of a football fan seems to contradict those of the owner. The want of the fans to have a cup run, to win that elusive bit of silverware does not seem to match up with the balance books of the owners.

This had led to increased protests by fans against the owners of their respective clubs. This summer alone has seen disharmony between fans at Newcastle United, Manchester United and Arsenal, and that’s just the Premier League. In the lower league’s teams like Bolton, Bury, Macclesfield and Charlton have struggled to pay staff, to put a team together, or even to meet the demands of a successful manager, simply because they can’t afford it.

This has also led to attacks on the media, those who have no connection to a certain club, voicing their opinions about how the club is ran. Those looking from the outside-in will see a club that from a business perspective is being ran within the financial guidelines, and question the worries of the fan. But the fans don’t see it as a business, to them it will always be a ‘Football Club’ and should be ran as such.

The authorities don’t do anything to help fans. Each year owners will have to pass an ‘Owners and Directors’ test, which simply means they just have to prove they have the money to keep the club going, and have to show a ‘Business plan’ not a plan to go all out to win something.

As a Newcastle fan, myself and others have asked how Mike Ashley can pass such a test? The answer is simple, in the eyes of the Premier League, the club is self-sustaining, and will look to pass the financial fair play year on year.

Is there a solution?

In the eyes of the media, the authorities and the owners, football is a lucrative business. This even stretches as far as the players, who have themselves become brands. A protracted move for Dybala from Juventus to either Manchester United or Tottenham Hotspur fell down because of image rights. Clubs, like players are brands now to add to a portfolio, and only exist as a part of the community in the eyes of the fan.

Clubs now are commodities, and an owner will only sell if someone meets their own demands, and that might be so far off what could be the market value. No longer are most owners looking at what is best for the club, the community or the fans, it seems it is all about that bottom line.

The term Football Club only exists in the eyes of the fans now! But while sponsors, TV companies and the authorities continue to pay into the business, and continue to let it be run like any other business nothing will change.

Protest and actions taken against owners may force their hand to invest, in a ploy to appease fans, but ultimately it will be done in line with the accountants. This all just leaves you to conclude that:

The business will thrive, where the Football club dies.

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