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Survival of the lowest: football’s grass roots

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Difficulties faced by football league teams within the growing globalisation of football

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By: Sharon Daykin (Community)

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The core supporters of lower league clubs grew up within close locality of their club and within their own financial and environmental restraints will continue to follow that team. I have been a Notts ------ supporter for many years, as have my mother, grandparents and wider family; support of a lower league club with little chance of great success could be seen as family loyalty. After the last game of this season our manager was quoted as saying that “This is not just a badge, this is a community”. It is that feeling of community that keeps many hard core fans attending matches even during a run of poor results.
The increasing globalisation of football moves a small minority of teams at the top of the pyramid away from being a team within a local community to being a marketing brand. The financial support received from external sources is targeted at the Premier league; their broadcast deal alone is worth £5.5 billion (www.telegraph.co.uk) Compare this with the 195 million received by the football league (www.football-league.co.uk).
Football is ever changing an entity adapting to changing surroundings; from goal line technology to being able to support a team on the other side of the planet. How much revenue can you raise for a team that is only has access to local revenue streams and finite support within their own community? The brand of Manchester United is one that can sell shirts in countries as far away as Asia and the Far East. A simple form of global revenue but one that is only available to the select few. Globalisation of football has given power and money to a minority
To what extent can a business model be adapted by a lower league side when there is no longer the structure within the industry for that money to filter down to Football League teams. The running of a lower league club as a business is challenging with both income and expenditure fluctuating in the season. A good cup run and a draw against a premier league team can bring in valuable income whereas injuries to players and poor results can lead to relegation.
Away from Britain most Bundesliga clubs run to a profit. Their broadcasting revenue is currently €700 million (€628 Domestic and just over €70 million overseas broadcasting) 20% of this figure filters down to the Bundesliga 2. A high percentage of club revenue is from shirt sponsoring by local and national companies (Bundesligafanatic.com). Wages are a considerably lower percentage of total club revenue and teams give a greater importance to bringing on young players. Ticket prices are reasonable, an average league gate of 41,914 in the 2012-2013 season (BBC Sport). Communities are supporting their local teams.
To artificially add a new league mixed with conference and Premier League B sides does not solve footballs problem of few home grown players; for the marketing a global brand that brand has to be successful and that success has to be immediate. Premier league teams will buy successful “big name” players from abroad rather than scouting in the lower leagues. A knock on effect of this is that what once could be a high value income revenue is lost for Football league clubs.
It remains to be seen whether the football league can continue in its format of 72 professional League clubs given the ease of access to TV, Internet and Phone Apps that promote the top clubs or if this is a case of media globalisation killing off grass roots football.
Further Reading
Deloitte – Annual Review of Football Finance Deloitte
BBC Business – Who would buy a Football Club BBC Business

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