Drugi jezik na kojem je dostupan ovaj članak: Bosnian
Author: Goran Jović, Associate Account Manager, McCann Beograd
Even if by some chance you don’t follow football (or as many call it ‘the most important of all unimportant things’), you must have chanced upon a headline saying how much footballers earn or the price for which a footballer has been transferred to another club. Even die-hard football fans will tell you that nobody deserves to get so much money for chasing a ball and that everything’s gone to hell. Although I agree with them to some extent, we need to look at things from a different angle. Let’s go back a few decades, to the start of this trend of ever-increasing fees, which shows no sign of stopping, especially now the Chinese government has joined in the madness.
In the late 1970s, more or less every European country switched to colour television something that sounds odd in this age of 4K 3D technology. This was a key event in the development of football, and it was then that money started pouring in. Until then, games had been broadcast in black and white, which didn’t make them appealing enough for sponsors, who were simply not interested in investing in something unwatchable. Clubs were thus limited to gate receipts and money from ads in stadiums. As early as the 1980s, however, tournaments started getting sponsors, whose names started to appear prominently before the name of events, and that’s when the party started. Soon enough, football clubs realised that ads in stadiums now looked good on TV, so the cost of advertising space started to rise quickly, to be followed by the placement of sponsors’ logos on football shirts.
Having realised the potential of a constant TV presence, clubs started hiring experts to help them increase their earnings even more. The experts came to a logical conclusion: if you want to increase your earnings, you have to have brand ambassadors, in this case – footballers. And is there really a better brand ambassador than a young athlete who both promotes a healthy lifestyle and is also very successful in what he does? Soon enough, transfer costs started soaring, ceilings were being broken nearly every year, and footballers became the centre of attention whether or not they were on the pitch. Other non-football brands came to the conclusion that they could exploit this sudden popularity and started signing sponsorship agreements with individual footballers, who in turn started appearing in ads (this trend did not bypass Yugoslavia – those older ones among you must remember the legendary sock ad with Robert Prosinečki).
And finally the ‘90s. This was when the staggering expansion of the British Premier League began. Larger amounts of money were being circulated and, as if on cue, a footballer appeared who set a precedent for everything we see today: David Beckham. Young, handsome, successful and, more importantly, in a relationship with (and later married to) a member of the then most popular girl band in the world (I know that you know, but just in case you don’t, I’m talking about the Spice Girls and the woman now known as Victoria Beckham). David Beckham is often referred to as the first metrosexual. The fact that his partner was known as Posh Spice just added to his status as a real celebrity. Naturally, such a star couldn’t stay in gloomy England, so in the summer of 2003 he joined the greatest club in the world, Real Madrid, as part of its Galácticos project. The Galácticos are very important for our story, because as a team they won next to nothing, but over the course of four years of the project they earned Real Madrid over 600 million US dollars selling football shirts and through other marketing activities. In addition, the Galácticos paved the way for the new reality, whose message was that you didn’t have to be the best, just good enough, and that winning trophies didn’t matter as much as selling shirts or playing games with amateurs in Asia while earning incredible amounts from TV royalties and selling club souvenirs.
Today, footballers are real celebrities. Every player has at least one sponsorship agreement, some of them more. Take Ronaldo, currently the best footballer in the world. He’s known as a walking billboard because he advertises virtually everything (shampoo, football boots, underwear, facial fitness etc.). Soon enough, clubs started recruiting footballers from exotic countries who, although they were perhaps not particularly good as players, had amazing marketing potential because of their deity status in their home countries. Of course, footballers understood that they were the ones generating income, and they started demanding that contracts between players and football clubs had a clause regulating royalties, which was unthinkable 15 years ago. The best example of how popular footballers are today is the transfer of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid (yes, them again) for the then record-breaking sum of EUR 100 million. To get some of its investment back, before signing the contract the club sold the right to carry out the medical examination for 10 million euros to a private clinic. This may seem excessive, but considering that on the day this was headline news in all global media outlets, I’m sure the investment paid back. Not only that, footballers are now brands themselves – they star in ads and films, give their opinions on global topics and are omnipresent in the media, and if you want to buy a brand, you have to pay for it, right? On the other hand, they are ordinary people and as such are prone to mistakes. All the money that’s circulated and footballers’ high salaries must contribute to the fact that some of them can’t cope. So they get in trouble (usually with the law). But considering that some of them have become bigger brands than what they advertise, it seems that they are all willing to take the risk and try and rake in some cash.
So, next time you hear that a footballer’s transfer cost an arm and a leg, ask yourself whether the club is buying a player or acquiring a brand.