Football is a ‘money game’, which I have highlighted in previous posts on this blog. As a result of the huge flow of money in the most appealing and popular sport globally, there are also significant ramifications such as the natural power battles and missions, which are often interrelated with apparent cashflows.
Football has undergone massive commercialization over the years. Football clubs have experienced exponential growth rates when measured on revenues. Broadcasting rights related to premium football products have guided this development and sponsorship integration, merchandise sales, new media platforms among other things have also added fuel to the process. The revenue generating potential of the world’s top clubs, e.g. Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Manchester United, may be what prevents big debt levels in top football from being totally unmanageable and UEFA and other football governing bodies are certainly aware of the relationship between football clubs’ revenue, cost and debt levels (for instance in the form of UEFA’s consideration of net debt in its Financial Fair Play regulations).
This economic development in football brings attention to power in various forms whether it is political power, economic power or other forms of power. French philosopher and postmodernist Michel Foucault (1982) stated that ‘power is everywhere’ and in his work with power he recognized that power could take more than a negative, intimidating and exploitive form and thereby also a positive, essential and constructive form. Thus, to take this a step further, there is meaning in recognizing that there may be positive things associatied with some of the economic, cultural, social and political aspects of football. Certainly, there are also negative forces as we have seen when considering the amount of corruption in top football, problems in terms of inclusion in football, or the impact of economic irresponsible owners in football leagues without the same precautionary actions like Germany (50+1 rule). An example of a positive change related to power is the fact that the Danish FA currently works to launch a proactive fan strategy to accommodate for the public criticism and negative branding effect, which have spilled negatively over on the public support for the events of the FA (national team games and so on). This is an example where the economic, social, cultural and political power of stakeholder groups such as sponsors, fans and media speak with a forceful voice. Another positive example from my perspective is UEFA President, Michel Platini’s plan to allocate the hosting of the EURO 2020 to several countries. This is a good example of co-branding and transformation economy and it gives small European countries a chance to implement football events of finest quality, which wouldn’t be possible in the existing set-up. Of course, this links to political and economic power interests but as long as that is executed with a ‘utilitarian principle’ in mind that seems ok. The effects of power also play a central role of bringing increased commercial innovation in the football world and hence exposing football to new markets. New York FC is linked to collaboration between Manchester City and New York Yankees in an organization that emphasizes the role of football in one of the most interesting urban sports markets in the world. Of course, this also concerns economic and political power interests of the Mansour family (Manchester City ownership) but these interests are not completely negative.
The marriage between football and power is also influenced highly by media interests and Qatar’s Al Thani family’s investments in sports and in particular football also reflect this. Qatar has stakes in clubs like Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona and the country has a sports strategy that attracts mega sport events and is highly debated concerning Qatar’s hosting role for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Qatar’s investments in Paris Saint-Germain are interrelated with Al Jazeera’s media rights to the French Ligue 1. Power is about influencing various actors in relation to football’s reality and development or impacting various parameters of football. The media is capable of doing so. Therefore, there are also individual persons (agents, players, CEOs, presidents, referees, coaches and so on) that are more powerful than others and the same goes for football’s governing bodies where UEFA and FIFA with the rights to the most prestigious events in football hold a powerful position. Although, it may be tough to gain game-determining power as an individual, it is still possible. Still, the importance of creating and executing potent power platforms to secure positive changes are often associated with a collective process as illustrated in the recent discussion in Danish football. The Danish top club Brøndby IF decided to break out of the collective negotiations in which all other clubs in the Super League stand together to obtain the best ROI from the broadcasting rights negotiation. Power in football is also about creating changes in relation to various parameters, e.g. commercial decisions, sporting objectives, talent development, and tournament structures, and that presents the groundwork for an exciting debate.
Below, I have listed my perception of some people with much influence on global football (I do not give them a specific ranking):
Football’s governing bodies:
UEFA’s President Michel Platini holds a powerful role. UEFA has the rights to the most prestigious club tournament in the World, i.e. UEFA Champions League. He has brought new ideas to football, e.g. expansion of the number of countries participating in the EURO and allocating the hosting rights to EURO 2020 to more than 10 countries across Europe. Platini seems to be very strategic and he wishes to take over Sepp Blatter’s role as FIFA President. He is very opportunistic in his ideas and has also proposed ideas in reference to including football powerhouses Argentina and Brazil in European competitions – he is definitely a man with power and a person that also makes football fans discuss his ideas.
FIFA’s president Sepp Blatter is also very powerful and has executed his power in relation to the bidding process for the FIFA World Cup, which he wants to spread to ‘new football cultures’ such as Qatar although he violates the interests of many important football stakeholders. He runs a very powerful commercial vehicle and seems to do so with his own personal interests shining through.
Christiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Neymar and Lionel Messi are (Beckham retired) all excellent football players and powerful personal brands with a capability to generate vital revenue streams to their own business as to the businesses of the clubs or other commercial entities, which they have represented. They have cultivated football fan cultures and have experienced celebrity status and gigantic amounts of fan followers to live games, via social media and through other means of popular culture. They are true cultural icons.
The Al Thani and Mansour families along with Russia’s Vladimir Putin are all examples of governmental and political powers that bring attention to football fans worldwide. Russia and Qatar will host the FIFA World Cups in 2018 and 2022. This group of people is also connected to ownership and sponsorship power in top football, which is executed via brands like Gazprom, Qatar Airways, and Etihad and through ownership of Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain.
Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Alex Ferguson have all helped to transform former of current strategies for how to maximize team and commercial performance in the sense of leading their respective teams and clubs to higher standards of performance. This process has taken place in various countries and over a longer period of time, which is remarkable in a dynamic industry like football where competition for successful continuity is difficult to find.
Football kit brands:
Adidas and Nike are two or the most recognized brands in the world. These two corporate giants help to shape the commercial landscape surrounding football’s competitions. Colossal kit deals and personal endorsement deals are part of modern football and this provides the business of football with an interesting interplay characterizing football brands at varios brand levels. So the CEOs Herbert Hainer and Mark Parker from Adidas and Nike are also VIPs in the business of football.
Jorge Mendes and Mino Raiola are two powerful agensts. Mendes is linked to names like Cristiano Ronaldo, Radamel Falcao, Ricardo Carvalho, Angel di Maria, Pepe, Nani and Thiago Silva. Raiola is linked to names like Zlatan Ibramimovic, Mario Balotelli, and Marek Hamsik.
There are definitely other groups that may be interesting to include here, i.e. James Murdoch from the media industry and persons like Roman Abramovich, Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Florentino Perez, Johan Cruyff, Andrea Agnelli etc.
Foucault, M. (1982). The subject and power. Critical inquiry, 777-795.