Last week, prior to the Israel – Russia game, I read in one of the papers that if England failed to qualify 40,000 English fans would still make the journey to Austria and Switzerland to watch Euro 2008. The same article said that if England do qualify, over a 100,000 fans would make the trip.
Somewhere else it emerged that Fred Done, the big boss at Betfred, was offering a £50,000 Mercedes to the Israeli player who scored the winning goal against Russia.
Fast forward to yesterday’s Times and Matt Hughes, in a piece called “Money men holding out for a ball”, came up with some fascinating financial figures as to what England’s failure to qualify for the competition would mean to the business world. Starting with Umbro who would stand to lose £15 million in profits, right down to the pubs, supermarkets, travel agents, bookies and the FA and UEFA in lost ticket sales, an England failure would be nothing short of a financial catastrophe. Hughes estimated that around £1 billion worth of business would be lost.
What Hughes did not mention was the loss of revenue for the television companies, mostly for the BBC and ITV, but also for Sky, who although not having rights to the competition, usually cash in on these events from people watching their Sky Sports News channel.
Let us for a moment transfer ourselves to the real world. I go to my boss with a business proposal that stands to make millions, but my proposal also necessitates the investment of millions of my boss’s money. My boss takes my word for it and pours his millions into my idea. But due to some unforeseen circumstance my carefully laid plans fall flat on their face. My boss is left to pick up the pieces, out of pocket by a few million quid. As for me, the best I could hope for is a painless execution and a choice of graveyard close to home so that my kids can come and mourn over the grave of their stupid, decapitated dad.
It doesn’t quite work out like that does it in the real world? Anyone putting big money into a business venture makes damn sure that all is in place when they put their money where their mouth is. The FA would not have built a £750 million stadium if they weren’t sure they weren’t going to fill it every time England played there. The banks wouldn’t have lent them the money if they too weren’t sure.
Would Umbro have broken the bank when choosing to pay the FA so much money for England to wear their kit without the comfort of (how can I put this politely?) certain assurances that they would get their money’s worth?
The last country out of the Big Four (England, Italy, Spain and Germany) that failed to qualify for a major international tournament was England in 1994 World Cup. (Is there a coincidence that clubs from these countries get four places in the Champions League, and are consistently successful in this competition?) Since then costs for TV rights for football have exploded. Television stations own football because football as it is run today is unsustainable without their money.
Football competitions are nowadays run to fit in with TV schedules. For what other reason are important World Cup matches made to kick off at noon in the Mexican sun? Or Portsmouth being asked to play at Newcastle or Sunderland on a Sunday evening? I don’t have any figures for the TV rights for Euro 2008, but next time round, if TV companies do badly in Euro 2008, the rights for Euro 2012 will be worth much less, won’t they? And the squeaky clean people who run UEFA would not want that, would they?
Four Four Two magazine recently published the Football Rich List. Didn’t any of you find it surprising, or ironic rather, that the main protagonists of the game, the players, do not feature anywhere at the top of the list? It’s the owners, or in business terms the investors, who are worth the big bucks. The players, for all their much publicised obscene wages, are relative paupers.
Football is not a game any more. As Peter Kenyon insists on calling it, it is a product. Unpredictable things happen during games. When developing and selling products, unpredictability is taken out of the equation.
Why are investors rushing in from all parts of the world to pour their money into Premiership teams? For one reason and one reason alone, because they know, indeed they are certain, that they can make big money on their investment, some in the short term, some in the medium term and some in the long term. For the lucky few, it could be all the time.
At least we Chelsea fans can claim to be the only foreign owned club to have an owner not looking to make a quick buck. £500 million later, Roman still looks like he’s in it for the fun and the romance, and probably the ego boost.
So when on Wednesday you sit in front of the telly with a six pack at hand on the side of your couch, relax, stay cool and be ready with your travel agent’s phone number to give him a call as soon as the final whistle goes. Or if you’re really clever, like the bigwigs of the football world, give him a call today. You might even save yourself a few quid.