SPOTLIGHT ON: TELEVISED FOOTBALL - Sky’s blocked Man United bid signals end of football fat cats/The lucrative partnership of football and the media is over, Alasdair Reid says

At one point during Alan Hansen’s BBC documentary on Britain’s football millionaires the other week, the England captain, Alan Shearer, ventured the opinion that ’there will never be a better time to be a footballer’. What he means, of course, is that there will never be so much money to be made from the game.

At one point during Alan Hansen’s BBC documentary on Britain’s

football millionaires the other week, the England captain, Alan Shearer,

ventured the opinion that ’there will never be a better time to be a

footballer’. What he means, of course, is that there will never be so

much money to be made from the game.



Shearer, no business analyst, was probably voicing a canny Geordie

belief that you can only get away with so much for so long.



But his comments were immaculately timed, coming as they did in advance

of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission’s decision to block BSkyB’s

pounds 625 million takeover of Manchester United. This (non-) event is

already being touted as the high watermark of football’s rock and roll

years.



The argument is that the takeover - and a forecast wave of copycat moves

by other corporations on the UK’s other big clubs - could have brought

greater prosperity to the game, allowing English clubs to attract more

exciting players. Bigger games mean bigger audiences; bigger audiences

mean bigger commercial tie-ins. A virtuous spiral.



But now, argue the pessimists, the opposite is likely to happen. We’ve

just entered a vicious circle. For instance, The Sun pointed out on

Friday that pounds 115 million had been wiped off the share prices of

British football clubs since the MMC announcement.



And, say those same pessimists, if you want further evidence of changed

days, look no further than last week’s profits warning from the

sportswear company, Adidas (supplier of footwear to fashionable players

like David Beckham).



The reason for its mini slump was not the fact that children are

refusing to emulate Beckham but that the cost of its various sponsorship

arrangements, including pounds 30 million on last year’s World Cup

alone, is getting out of control.



Has the football bubble burst? Is its love affair with the media and

advertising industries set for an inevitably cooling-off period? Some

argue the game should be mightily relieved to have seen off Murdoch.



They point out that BSkyB’s move was nothing to do with trying to ensure

it had an inside track in negotiations between Sky Sports and the

Football Association.



Sky wants to own the most valuable football rights in the business when

the time comes for clubs to dispense with the FA’s collective bargaining

skills and start selling their own rights. Or run their own television

channels.



After all, which internet site do you go to when you want to know more

about Manchester United - the club’s official site or the FA Carling

Premiership site?



MUTV might be good for Manchester United but it would help diminish

football’s accessibility and popular appeal, thus helping to damage the

sum total of the game’s marketing power.



On the other hand, you could argue that the game is strong enough to

command a viewership, whether it takes a broadcast or a narrowcast

route. So which is it? Could it be business as usual for the beautiful

game?



Mark Palmer, the head of communications strategy at BMP Optimum, doubts

it. He says that a reassessment, not just of football but of sports

sponsorship as a whole, has been long overdue.



He states: ’The people who do it brilliantly are those like Carling who

use sponsorship as a platform for an integrated communications

strategy.



There are a lot of people whose involvement in this area is at best

tangential.



Too often this business is led by those doing the selling and there’s

not enough independent advice around.



’But I think we’re seeing more people looking for real value. They’re

looking at their total marketing budget and asking, ’Why am I doing

this?’ The big deals will still be important but elsewhere - shirt

sponsorship, for instance - I think we’ll see the overdemand

disappearing. We’ll start to see more teams without sponsors.’



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