Has 'the beautiful game' lost its media mojo?

Is football, beset by squabbles and facing fierce competition from other sports, losing its sheen, Alasdair Reid asks.

A year ago, all sorts of commentators were arguing that the only sporting loser of the summer was football. The Olympics, they argued, had reminded us what sport was really about. Or should be about. And, in doing so, it had removed the scales from our eyes as regards football, which, as the Premier League geared up for a new season, was revealed as the considerably-less-than-beautiful game.

The season ploughed forward, of course; and there were those willing to argue that this was a phenomenon with Teflon coating – no mud would ever really stick.

And yet, here we go again. Having had an uplifting summer of tennis and cricket, the new football season arrives seemingly determined to prove that it is an ugly and bad-tempered world populated by greedy men behaving atrociously. This time around, we’ve witnessed unpleasant transfer sagas unfolding against a simmering scandal about the decision to hand the 2022 Fifa World Cup to Qatar.

Commercially, the Premier League looks as robust as ever, with BT emerging as the latest outfit determined to compete with BSkyB as a purveyor of live football. But that in itself has helped tarnish the whole business – because, as their promotional efforts have cranked up, the two companies have engaged in childish posturing and squabbles behind the scenes.

Football isn’t just a TV property, of course. It has long been a cherished advertising environment in newspapers and remains high on the agenda of publishers across town. The Sun’s new paywall is predicated on the attractiveness of a Sun+ online news plus football highlights package, for instance; and, last week, The Telegraph launched a monthly sports supplement in association with BT Sport.

Football is regarded as an important property in radio as well – both Absolute and talkSPORT are offering live commentaries of Premier League games this season.

Arguably, for two decades, the Premier League has done a miraculous job in presenting English football as a glamorous and aspirational world. But could that era be coming to an end? Is football being downgraded as a valued media environment by advertisers and sponsors?


NO Richard Oliver, managing partner, investment, UM London

"For a long time now, football has had its own particular mojo – it’s about more than just sport. It’s about habit, tradition and especially entertainment. The Premier League is very entertaining. It’s a [property] almost like The X Factor."

NO Jenny Biggam, founding partner, the7stars

"Football is loved by millions of loyal fans in the UK – it always has been and it always will be. Nothing will put these fans off, and it is in this love that a brand can thrive, regardless of what the latest Premier League debacle may be."

NO Ben Cronin, director of strategy and special projects, SMG Sports

"The interest around football remains unsurpassed. Where there’s interest of this scale, there will continue to be brands queuing up to tap into it. The challenge is to recognise where football’s market is now and where it’s going to be."

NO Andrew Stephens, founding partner, Goodstuff Communications

"We have the most open title race in years, and BT and Sky are spending the equivalent of a small country’s GDP hyping it up. We can all look forward to bigger games, higher ratings, more scandal and Spurs finishing fourth."