Every year soccer’s top administrators, industry experts, and business leaders come together in one place to discuss the state of the game, from just about every aspect possible, at the Soccerex Global Convention. Held in Manchester, England the annual convention is essentially the “World Cup” of the business side of the industry – only we don’t have to wait 4 years in between events. This year’s convention discussed a plethora of topics, as usual, but if you listened closely, there was a common theme that was quite visible coming away from the convention: the global soccer industry is on the precipice of a major transformation.
From governance, to finance, to fan engagement, new elements and factors contributing to the equation are developing in such a way that they are fundamentally changing the face of the industry. Many experts on various panels were asked what their thoughts were regarding the state of the game and what the next 5-10 years held for the global soccer industry. The face of soccer’s global governing body FIFA, Joseph ‘Sepp’ Blatter had this to say about his hopes for the future of the beautiful game:
That football can play a more important role culturally, and socially in education about the good elements of football: discipline, fair play, respect, into our society directly into families, at the school level, in business and why not into politics? This would be the end of my mission.
In more ways than one, the last few years have been some of the toughest for FIFA, and many would say that this is a crucial point in time for the organization. A few members of FIFA’s Executive Committee, Jim Boyce, Michel D’Hooghe, and Moya Dodd came together to discuss some of the more pressing issues facing the organization at present. The overwhelming theme of the discussion and comments from the panel of ExCo members revolved around the fact that they need to “restore [peoples’] confidence in FIFA”.
Some might suggest that some leadership changes would be required in order for FIFA to restore confidence in the public eye. As FIFA’s president, Sepp Blatter (78), is running for his 5th consecutive term at the helm, the moderator, David Davies, Senior Soccerex consultant, asked the ExCo members to give their views on age and term limits for FIFA’s leadership positions. There were differing opinions on whether age restrictions should be imposed, or whether a person’s age is indicative of their ability to perform their duties. However, there seemed to be an agreement that overall, term limits would benefit the global body as it would ensure turnover within the organization, and bring about new ideas and points of view. The ExCo members also pointed out that in the last 3 years 50% of the ExCo member seats have changed hands. The FIFA execs also remained adamant that they are more than satisfied with the handling of the investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, and like many of us, are anxiously awaiting the results.
The landscape of financial regulation in soccer has changed substantially in the last several years, and it looks like there are more changes on the horizon. To address the current financial climate in soccer, Soccerex brought in Shaun Harvey (CEO The Football League), Daniel Cravo Souza (Senior Partner – Cravo, Pastl & Balbuena & Lawyer – SC Internacional & Fluminense Football Club), Katrien Meire (CEO – Charlton Athletic & Board Member – Standard de Liege), and Matt Hulsizer (CEO PEAK6 Investments). There were many topics discussed, but the two most prevalent facing the industry at present were third party ownership (TPO) and financial fair play (FFP) regulations.
FFP regulations are becoming a staple in European soccer, and there are very mixed reviews about implementing them on a global scale. As FFP is still relatively new, it was apparent from the panelists’ discussion that everyone is waiting to see how the enforcement of the new regulations will play out, as there are still many questions lingering. Mr. Souza pointed out that while FFP is great in theory, to try and impose a global solution would be near impossible, given the vast differences in business practices in the different parts of the world. For example, TPO as Souza noted, is commonplace in Brazil and other countries in South America, and is almost essential to the financial success of the clubs located there. The practice of TPO, in which a third party purchases the economic rights to a player from a club as a source of income for the team, is on a collision course with extermination from global soccer in today’s climate. As Mr. Harvey pointed out however, the issues with TPO do not stem from the practice itself, but rather from the level of influence these third party owners can have when it comes to the player’s and club’s future dealings. The situation is much more complicated than most that would offer an opinion may realize, and both issues are vital to figure out for the long-term success of global soccer.
The lifeblood of any professional sport are the fans, and soccer is certainly no exception. Without the fans, we wouldn’t have professional sports – it’s that simple. The fans, and the way that they engage and interact with clubs, just as the industry, are also changing. Particularly with the proliferation of digital media and exponentially increasing capabilities with mobile phones, tablets and other secondary screens, the way that fans consume matches and other information about their favorite club has changed – and we’ve only just seen the beginning of that transformation. Soccerex hosted a session with guests Barney Francis, Managing Director of Sky Sports, and Robert Bridge, VP International Marketing at YAHOO!, to discuss the ways in which the modern fan consumes sport. As Francis put it,
Fans used to have to make time for their football. Now football travels with the fans.
As both Francis and Bridge pointed out, it is very difficult to predict what digital media technologies and capabilities will look like in the future, even the near future, given the rapid rate of accelerated growth in this space in just the last couple of years. However, what is clear, is that mobile will play a very large role in the coming years in clubs’ digital media content strategies – or at least it should, if they hope to be successful, according to Francis and Bridge. A more personalized, easier access and engaging experience is all but mandated by today’s fan. Clubs, brands, broadcasters, and everyone in between will need to be able to adapt their engagement and content strategies to create that experience for supporters, across multiple media platforms and marketing vehicles in order to fully take advantage of the opportunities that this new trend creates.
The future of the soccer industry is unclear – as is the nature of predicting the future. However, according to the industry’s leaders, we have good reasons to hope that we are headed in a good direction. There are always going to be issues, but it is how we address these obstacles that will determine the future success of the sport. As long as we continue to meet and discuss these issues, and events such as Soccerex continue to provide grounds to foster these discussions, we’ll be in good shape. One thing is for certain: the soccer industry is changing, rapidly, and it will be those that can help clubs stay on pace with this transformation that will succeed.