Has Football Sold Its Soul to the Media?

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Has Football Sold Its Soul to the Media?
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Back in the "old days," before football was broadcasted on television and scores available on the internet, fans would have to either attend the live game or wait until the final score was printed in the next day’s paper.

It’s come a long way, with broadcasting rights to sports channels all over the globe and websites devoted to keeping the score as it is happening live. The ability to watch some of the world’s greatest leagues around the world has opened the door to fans from afar for many clubs.

Clubs are no longer solely dedicated to one neighbourhood or city, but to an international fanbase. This in itself has greatly affected the game with issues such as TV rights, revenue and more.

 

When You Sell Your Soul, You Pay the Price

"Television is God at the moment. It is king," are the wise words of Scottish Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, 12-time Premier League winner including last season. He was referring to the issue faced by many Premiership clubs in the selling of TV broadcasting rights to domestic and international channels such as Sky Sports, ESPN, Setanta and more.

Through the purchase of these rights from 2010-13, £1.782bn has been raised. Recently, after the movement of FA Cup fixture against Birmingham-based Aston Villa, long-time Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger echoed similar feelings, saying, "We have sold our soul and we do not control our fixtures anymore. It is the truth and I cannot say the television is wrong, but it is not normal that you can have a direct influence on the schedule through the television."

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The situation in the homeland of the world champions is much more dire. TV3 Televisió de Catalunya is one of Catalonia’s biggest and richest television stations, sponsoring FC Barcelona and having their symbol on the sleeve of the club. They’ve produced shows which surround the club and promote it, such as Crackóvia (a collection of skits about Barça, insulting rivals Espanyol and Real Madrid while also making a comedy of the Blaugranas) and Hat Trick: Barça (a recap show primarily about FCB).

It had been decided that rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid, who over the past seven years have collectively won seven league titles, will receive 34 percent of annual revenue of the selling of broadcasting rights. Atlètico Madrid and Valencia are set to split 11 percent, and the other 45 percent will go to the remaining 16 clubs.

Real Sociedad, Sevilla, Villarreal, Real Zaragoza, Athletic Bilbao and Real Espanyol have taken a stance of opposition to the agreement, causing José María del Nido to come out and say, "Only Real Madrid and Barcelona stand to gain from this. The two giants have earned €1,500 million more than the next club in the last 10 years, and with this agreement in place, four will all earn more in the next six years than a team that finishes third in the league."

This is one of the main contributing factors to the lack of competitiveness in Spain’s La Liga. Revenue brought in 140m€ to the El Clàsico pair, while last place Levante brought in 12m€—compared to France’s AC Avignon, which generated €13m.

The power given unto the "big two" by TV revenue has given them the opportunity to purchase Cristiano Ronaldo (97m€), Kakà (65m€), Zlatan Ibrahimović (69m€) and Alexis Sanchez (52m€), while Valencia is forced to sell Juan Mata and David Silva for funds and are still trying to pay off Joaquín (25m€) and Manuel Fernandes (18m€).

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Throughout football leagues all over the world, the ability to view games on the television has prompted advertisers to put their logos all over the game. The name of the league, the name of the stadium, the side boards on the field, the kits and even the name of the club is often up for grabs.

Barclays has bought the naming rights for English Premier League TIM for Serie A, and BBVA for La Liga. Manchester City’s Eastlands was recently renamed Etihad Stadium, and Arsenal’s stadium, the Emirates, was named after Emirate Airlines. Red Bull has bought out both Red Bull Salzberg and New York Red Bulls, giving them somewhat foolish names.

The selling of advertising areas for extra revenue has also crippled some teams in La Liga. Barcelona sport Qatar Foundation, a recording-breaking £25m-a-year sponsorship, on the front of their shirt, with UNICEF on the back and TV3 on the sleeve.

Elsewhere in La Liga, clubs such as Atlètico Madrid, Villarreal and Osasuna are without sponsors on the front of their shirts (any sponsors are on the sleeves, backs or shorts), and the added revenue is unseen.

How is it that Barnsley, Peterborough and last place Coventry City of Football League Championship have a shirt sponsor, but not Villarreal?

Biased sources of news and information can distort people’s view of a certain person, thing or idea. It is no different in football. English media is infamous for extreme favouritism towards English players, clubs, leagues, et cetera.

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Theo Walcott, first-choice English winger for Arsenal, told the media, "I want to apologise to the managers because I actually dived. I was trying to win the penalty." It is well-known that for most foreign players, the English media would have hunted them down, branding them as divers.

Look as Drogba—he hasn’t even self-proclaimed his cheating ways. When it comes to an English player, suddenly he was apologetic and it’s okay. The majority of headlines state Walcott "apologized" rather than admitted to diving. This huge media attention has inflated the price of ethnically English players. Andy Carroll, native of Gateshead, cost Liverpool £35m, while arguably more talented Luis Suàrez, native of Salto in Uruguay, cost the same club £27m from Ajax.

Not only has the bias in media affected the cost of many foreign players, it also affects the cost of fellow Englishmen, depending on how they are viewed by the press. Tooting-born Darren Bent moved from Sunderland to Aston Villa for £18m and had a greater impact on the club than Carroll on the Reds.

 

When the Price Becomes Lives

Aside from the influence of TV broadcasting rights, the media and international media attention has impacted the lives of players outside their price tag. They have become targets for paparazzi and much gossip and speculation.

In North America, home of his current club LA Galaxy, the majority of people have heard the name David Beckham, but many of them could not tell you he actually plays football, much less the name of his team. Over the summer of 2010, Cristiano Ronaldo was hit hard by the press when it was revealed he had a son by an unidentified American woman.  

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It was "big news" when it was made known that Cesc Fàbregas broke it off with his long-time girlfriend and, not long after, began dating another woman and tattooing himself in her honour. Or the revelation of Gerard Piqué’s affair with Shakira (earning him the nickname Mr. Shakira). It was a shock in Italy when Alexandre Pato was found to have been in a relationship with Barbara Berlusconi, daughter of the president of AC Milan and the Italian Republic, after a year of being divorced from his ex-wife.

Respect had been lost for Wesley Sneijder, when it was discovered that he left his wife and four-year-old child for Ibiza-born Spanish-Dutch television presenter Yolanthe Cabau van Kasbergen after an affair. In 2010, he proceeded to marry to her, converting to Catholicism for her.

The status of many players has been elevated from just footballer to celebrity.

Footballers have been featured on the cover of magazines not considered to be in the sports category, and many top-end designers have contracted footballers as models. For example, Armani hired Cristiano Ronaldo for their sex-saturated commercial in 2010, while Dolce & Gabbana struck back by contracting Lionel Messi to wear their clothes on a regular basis. Both have features in underwear ads, as well as many other players. Gone are the days sports gear manufacturers were the only ones sponsoring players.

Vanity has also arisen from this, as Cristiano Ronaldo seems pretty engrossed in his hair—not to mention Wayne Rooney’s hair transplant...

Do not forget the social media, as many players nowadays have their own Twitter accounts, Facebook accounts, et cetera. They are often self-run with many followers, so there are no restrictions on what can be said. There have been a number of times when a footballer has tweeted something offencive.

A recent example was a reply Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny sent to teammate Aaron Ramsey, telling him he looked like a "rapist." Not to mention Wayne Rooney criticizing Real Madrid defender Pepe after the most recent El Clàsico, calling him an "idiot."

This "inside" view into the player's life can often mar ideas on the player. While Cristiano is a fantastic player, possibly one of the best, fans can lose sight of this when hearing about his many sexual escapades and his son—despite the fact that none of this has anything to do with his ability. 

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