How Football evolved from just a Game to a Business opportunity

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“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” – Bill Shankley

On a Saturday afternoon, when the crowd gathers in different stadiums and when the ball is rolled off from that center spot after the referee-whistle, people think that this is the kick-off time but the actual kick off – for hundreds and thousands of people, takes place months or even years before. These people represent individuals and even worldwide multibillion dollar companies.

We all know football as a game; a game of passion, commitment and discipline, a game with which millions of hearts are attached to 11 men on the field and where the oohs and aahs of the spectators are synced with every kick of the ball. As Liverpool FC legend Bill Shankley once famously said, “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” Many people will agree to what Shankley said; at least the football enthusiasts definitely will. But the question is, ‘is it just a game NOW?’ I certainly doubt it…

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As the years have passed, football has evolved from being just a sport to a multi-million dollar business. In the beginning, Football clubs all over the world were owned by local merchants who were associated with the football related businesses; their products were bought by the football supporters, but later on, entrepreneurs from different parts of the world started pouring their money into the game; not just out of passion for Football or for profits but also for the Global Growth. Football nowadays has spread all over the world from well-developed European countries to the famine struck parts of Africa, it is factually everywhere hence one can easily understand the objective of global growth that a company can get by investing in football. As the Businessmen and entrepreneurs inevitably became aware of the popularity of the sport, which struck millions and billions of hearts all over the world, they became interested in the game by having a simple idea of commercializing the sport. As Simon Wilson, a partner at the restructuring and advisory practice of New York-based corporate advisory Zolfo Cooper says, “A businessman could derive personal and potentially commercial benefits from an association with a football club.”

Initially, businessmen who used to own the clubs were simply supposed to provide safety for the clubs and all they had to do was to keep up the club’s good health with no space for making money. England Football Association (FA) even took steps to end the commercialization of the game by stating a rule which says that, “No member could draw a salary as a director of a football club.” To this, directors of the football clubs gave themselves a new name; custodians, in order to portray themselves as social service providers or the people who give something back to the community. This new profile allowed them to make deals, receive bonuses and eventually make money; resulting in less honor for the supporters of the club. Nonetheless, with the Football Association (FA), rules intact the beautiful game kept its dignity and remained available and affordable to all. As a result of which clubs saw their fan following passed down from generation to generation, without any class or racial discrimination, which to be precise is exactly what football is all about.

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In 1985 Tottenham Hotspurs, commonly known as spurs became the first club to float in the stock market. Then the owner of the club Alan Sugar devised a way to get pass the FA rules and obligations. This was done by making a holding company which was named as Tottenham Hotspur plc to which Tottenham Hotspur Football Club was just a branch whose assets were all legally transferred to the holding company. Before long, other club owners realized that this was indeed a perfect way to make money out of football

These facts acted as a keystone in turning football into a multi-billion dollar business. The fans of the Football were no longer known as fans but just a ‘captive market’.

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