E103 – Luke (3:30)
If I ask you to tell me any football club that you familiar with, what will you tell me? I think, most of the people, no matter they are football fans or not, will tell me football club like Manchester United, FC Barcelona, or Real Madrid. In common, these clubs are all famous and strong in worldwide, and they have a lot of famous footballers like David Beckham, Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo. Also, these clubs are all from Europe. Now, if I ask you to list a Canadian football club, it may be much difficult. People in Vancouver may probably know the Whitecaps, but I think not many people could say out a name of any Canadian footballer.
According to a report conducted by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), the UEFA Champions League was aired in more than 200 countries, and reached an estimated global average audience in the region of 165 million people (Ashby, 2014). Moreover, according to the Forbes’ list of the most valuable football clubs in 2017, European football clubs dominated the top 20 rankings (Ozanian, 2017). There seems to be an uneven landscape in the global football market, where European football industry tends to have a dominated position in both economic and cultural aspects. What makes European football industry so rich and strong, and what are their advantages that attract many best footballers and fans? In order to examine the factors that contributed to this phenomenon, it is important to explore the political economy of the European football industry, which is the interrelationship of wealth, power, and the media and cultural systems of European football clubs in current global football market (Corrigan, 2014).
Football is not just a sport, it is business
The first thing we are going to explore is the economic domination of the European football industry. European football is not simply a sport activity, but has been commercialized and developed as a concrete business organization. Football commercialization denotes the collection of economic and financial activities that are linked and fully associated with the main football outcome (Bhandari, 2016). Started from the 1990s, the involvement of global media companies came into action effectively in football, which broadcasting of football events contributed a huge proportion of revenues for media companies and European football clubs (Holt, 2009). According to a review of football finance conducted by Deloitte (2017), broadcasting took up the largest percentage of the total revenue of the England Premier League with 53%. On the other hand, European football industry also partners with media companies in order to optimize profits, which it implements changes that are more economic-friendly for media companies and can exploit the market demand. For instance, as to fulfill the need of television companies, UEFA champion league has undergone lots of transformations in the past 30 decades, which it has increased the number of competitions and teams in the league in order to promote broadcasting revenues (Holt, 2009).
In fact, media companies compete to collaborate with European football league in order to acquire exclusive broadcasting right. For example, in Canada, Turner Sports set up a deal with the UEFA to pay $65million annually for the broadcasting right of the UEFA Champion League in the 2018-19 season. The price is two times higher than the previous deal that was set with Fox Sports in 2016 (McMahon, 2017). Broadcasting right is very valuable because a media company can monopolize the broadcast of a sport event, and the general public must pay a certain amount of fees to purchase media subscription in order to watch the match.
Commercialization of the European football industry also results another phenomenon in the football market, which is the commodification of sports. As mentioned previously, football is not merely a kind of sports. The purchase of media subscription and the enormous revenue of broadcasting right reflect that football is manufactured as a commodity to induce the consumption of the general public (Kennedy, 2016). From media subscription, to football jersey, and to accessories, the European football industry monopolize the manufacturing and selling of these products, and generates huge profits from all around the world. Thus, in order to engage with European football, people have no choice but are forced to consume their “football” products, and this constantly contributes the European football industry and media companies, which allows their economic domination in the global football market.
What is European football “glocalization”?
However, football commercialization is only a business activity that European football industry conducts to promote economic domination. In fact, every football club from many countries is carrying the same method to promote profits. Moreover, people could also refuse to consume football commodities. How does the European football industry manage to withstand these competitions and risks, and maintain its domination in the global football market?
From the great fame and the huge number of fans that European football clubs have, we could see that the European football industry has a big cultural influence in global football market, which allows it to attract lots of consumption from people and defeat football industry from other countries financially. The concept of globalization seems to fit perfectly with the influence of the European football industry, which globalization is defined as “a process through which space and time are compressed by technology, information flows, and trade and power relations, allowing distant actions to have increased significance at the local level” (Rowe & Hutchins, 2014). From television to social network, media promotes high accessibility for the European football industry to reach people from all around the world. European football information and culture are spread worldwide, and create significant economic benefits for the European football industry.
However, globalization could not fully illustrate the cultural influence of the European football industry, as it draws a borderline between local and global culture. Argued by Giulianotti & Robertson (2004), globalization is marked culturally by processes of “glocalization”, whereby local cultures adapt and redefine any global cultural product to suit their particular needs, beliefs and customs. European football culture has assimilated into the local level of a country, which it transfers into part of people’s local culture and could promote great impacts. Football cultural glocalization highlights the interdependence of local and global processes within the sport identities and institutions (Giulianotti & Robertson, 2004).
Fandom is a cultural practice that manipulated by the European football industry to promote its culture, which creates social and cultural identities around the globe (Sandvoss, 2003). For example, a European football club has its representative colour, its nickname, and its club anthem. These are all cultural tools that created by the club to express a certain ideology, interest, or value, and they serve to build up an identity for European football in the football market. The practice promotes a collective identity and a sense of belonging among people, which alters their way of thinking and concretes their positions as fans or players.
Interestingly, European football club usually represent its city (eg. Liverpool FC represents the city of Liverpool in England), which its identity and culture should have no relation with other local culture. However, media acts as an important channel for the culture to spread worldwide and diffuse into local level. As mentioned previously, European football industry valued media a lot. Through media broadcasting, cultural elements of European football can reach worldwide and promote the sense of identity for other people. European football clubs also create their own media, which allow them to culturally promote themselves. For example, Manchester United founded the MUTV, which provides various club-related programs to 165 countries (Manutd, 2017).
Importantly, media works to adapt the European football culture of fandom into local level. For example, although the UEFA champion league consists of lots of players from different nations, when the competition is broadcasting in Canada, names of the clubs and players are all in English. The commentary of the competition is also in English too. Moreover, European football industry also tries to fuse its own culture into local culture through advertising in media. For example, there are many advertisements about European football clubs celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year. Branding also allows European football clubs to adapt local culture through connecting with local corporations. Through comprehensively accommodating different aspects of local culture of different countries, it allows the culture and identity of the European football industry to adapt with the local culture, and promotes its influence of fandom globally.
In addition, fandom allows the European football industry to exploit free fan labour power (Kennedy, 2016). New media provides a platform for discussions, and it also facilitates the connection among people (Corrigan, 2014). The European football industry takes advantages of new media. Clubs create fan pages and activities on social networks, which the discussions and participations of fans can then attract more people, and further promote the cultural value of the club. In fact, many cultural products of European football are created by fans. For instances, football meme is created by fans when they are discussing in social media. Meme is very popular and could attract more fans. Meme could also act as a part of collective culture and identity among fans. The European football industry receives a lot of free promotion benefits from the discussions and participations of fans, where fans are not paid at all.
Under the great influence of fandom, football fans are culturally depending on the European football industry, which they continuously consume “football” products and promote their clubs, in order to sustain their football identities. Since the European football industry monopolize the production of the “football” products, the consumption of fans contributes a huge amount of revenues for the industry. Free fan labour power also helps to further promote and develop the culture and identity of European football. This illustrates why the European football industry cherishes media a lot, as it is an important tool to facilitate glocalization, which allows the industry to culturally influence people worldwide and benefit economic domination.
From “Glocalization” to “Cultural imperialism”
Nonetheless, European football glocalization has developed into a next level, which the influence of European football becomes too large that it embezzles the development of local football market of many countries. The global football market is under the cultural imperialism of European football, which refers to the creation and maintenance of unequal relationships between football markets, favoring the domination of the European football (Lynn & Grupee, 2017). The advance of information technology facilitates the globalization of European football, which allows European football culture to reach worldwide. However, under the capitalist system, profit maximization becomes the main goal of football, and the global football market operates like most monopoly financial institutions. Therefore, acting as the monopoly, the European football industry maintains its economic and cultural exploitation on local football market of other countries, as to fulfill its economic goal (Lynn & Grupee, 2017).
African football is an example that is suffering the cultural imperialism of European football. There are lots of well-known African football talents like Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o, and Mohamed Salah. However, the development of the African football market is far behind comparing to the European. The African football market is facing a serious problem of talent loss. There is a dramatic increase in the migration of African footballers to Europe in the last 10 years. On the 1st of October 2009, 571 players, that imported from Africa, were employed by 528 clubs of 36 top division leagues of UEFA member countries (1.08 per club) (Poli, 2010).
One of the factors is the economic dependence of the African football market on the European football market. As most of African countries are undeveloped countries, economic condition of people is bad. Thus, local footballers and football clubs rely on the financial benefits from exporting players to Europe. Moreover, many European clubs established football academies in African, and young African footballers are under strong influence by European football culture. Many footballers are trained and educated under the European system. Starting as a kid, these players are influenced by the cultural background of European clubs and scouts, who develop a dream to play in Europe (Darby, 2007). Many African footballers fight for lives for the opportunities to play in Europe, just to fit into the attractive social status of ‘foreign-based professionals’ (Nimi, 2017).
Some people may argue that the European football industry does make contributions to the economic conditions of clubs and players, and also good training facilities and youth development for African football, the fact that the majority have as their fundamental aim the refining of African talent for export is hugely problematic (Darby, 2007). Without good players in the local market, anything will have no use to develop African football. There is a neocolonial link between the African and the European football market, which the poor African football is under economic and cultural exploitation by the strong European. If the mass export of African players continues, the economic and cultural domination of the European football industry will maintain, and will lead to a grim future for the local game in Africa (Darby, 2007).
I am from Hong Kong, and football is very popular in my home country. However, local football market is not valued much by general public. Football fans tend to have more club identities with European clubs rather local clubs. Media acts as an important tool for the European football industry to promote cultural imperialism in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s media companies pay high amount of money for broadcasting right of European football, but there is only one or two media companies broadcast local matches. Many local matches are not even allocated with basic broadcast equipment.
Recommendation and Conclusion
In order to resist economic and cultural domination of the European football industry, it is important for countries to promote the development of their local football markets. First of all, local football club should cherish the value of local talents in promoting developments of local football market. More local football academies could promote the sense of belongings of local talents, and attract them to stay. Good players could attract audiences, and result to economic and cultural benefits. Therefore, local football club should consider the long-term economic and cultural benefits of keeping local talents. Secondly, local football industry should also improve its connection with local audiences. For example, local football clubs should have broadcast equipment and try to broadcast their matches free on Internet. This could help local football industry to promote itself to more audiences, which could then increase the opportunity for them to get a deal to be broadcasted on major media. Creating social network pages and holding interactive activities are also effective measures for local football clubs to connect with people and promote local football culture. All these could improve the quality and culture of local football, and promote economic and cultural benefits to resist the exploitation from the European football industry. With a better local football industry, it could reduce people’s demands for European football, and challenge the dominated position of European football industry.
In general, the global football market depends too much on the European football industry, which contributes to the economic and cultural domination of European football. This leads the cultural imperialism of European football industry, which it exploits the football market of other countries economically and culturally, and hinders the development of their markets. Therefore, it is important for local football clubs and fans to value the local football industry, in order to resist the hegemony of European football industry, and promote more competitions in the global football market.
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