CLOSE-UP: PERSPECTIVE; Soccer magnates ignore the fans in their media deals

It’s not often I experience the conflict between being a commentator and a punter that other columnists seem to. I’m the BBC fan who doesn’t hate John Birt. Usually, I see the business sense of industry initiatives and am too detached to analyse the other side of the coin.

It’s not often I experience the conflict between being a commentator and

a punter that other columnists seem to. I’m the BBC fan who doesn’t hate

John Birt. Usually, I see the business sense of industry initiatives and

am too detached to analyse the other side of the coin.



Then I discover that Chris Akers’ Caspian group is to acquire my beloved

Leeds United for pounds 30 million and I’m dumbfounded. What’s worse,

I’ve not spoken with the guru of Leeds fans, John Bartle, to find out

what I should be thinking. All I know is that having gone, as a neutral,

to Queen’s Park Rangers’ Loftus Road stadium to help keep my fanatical

mate Tom out of trouble, I’ve succumbed to screaming, ‘We want Thompson

out, I said, we want Thompson out’, in the direction of where the club

chairman, Richard Thompson, should have been seated - if only he could

be bothered to attend. This same Thompson, ‘whose family has more money

than God’, according to the Observer, is the Caspian Group’s backer.



Why am I so worried? If the family has more money than God, that surely

is great news, and more top players will arrive at Elland Road to

complement Rush and Yeboah. Well, God is parsimonious these days. The

average facilities at Loftus Road prompt sarcastic remarks along the

lines of ‘Les paid for that’ and a vague gesture towards the new

linoleum. Les, of course, is Les Ferdinand, one of a long line of star

QPR players sold off for little evident return.



To quote the Observer on Akers, ‘Owning the Elland Road club is not the

fulfilment of a childhood fantasy... For Akers, a football team, a club

brand and the rights it carries are prize pieces of software.’ Akers

said: ‘It is only a matter of time before media giants start buying

football clubs. I’m sure the Granadas and Carltons have already started

looking.’



I’ll bet. I’m sure they see the business sense in the vertical

integration, the product merchandising, the pay-TV potential. Of course,

I’d like Leeds to be run efficiently, have a great stadium, and make a

profit (like Manchester United plc). But, most of all, I’d like them to

win things.



You don’t win things by selling your best players, merchandising shirts

and investing in linoleum. The fans who spend pounds 18 a fortnight to

watch QPR were rewarded with relegation last season. Thompson won’t be

there in August, but they, the real owners of the club, will - in the

Nationwide League.



Perhaps every creative source can be turned into a media property, but a

football club is not manufactured in the way that a pop star can be.

They are about intangibles like community, roots and dreams. They will

never be primarily a media property. That’s why ‘we want Thompson out’.



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