The future influences the present just as much as the past. – Friedrich Nietzsche
Gooners; firstly an apology. This third part is late, I wrote the majority ready for release on Saturday and then ATT decided to switch off my interwebs early because I’m moving in a few weeks. Thusly has this been sent from work today as Monday was memorial day here in the USA one of the scant few holidays’ we get here as penance for living in America. I’m pretty sure Tim the Enchanter is going to explode me for ruining his excellent blog, so if the last part fails to appear it’ll be because I’ve disappeared in a puff of smoke.* I’ve been inspired to write this multi-part series by many a twitterfight with fellow fans that are in my opinion looking at the whole Arsenal vs. the world in the wrong light – we need to look at Arsenal’s place in the future as well as in the here & now. If you haven’t read the first two pieces then please click here for part 1 and here for part 2, as this will make much more sense with the backdrop. I’d like to reiterate that I’m not here to argue about whether any of this is good or bad, nor is anything I’m saying to be used as a Wenger we trust/rust argument – I am simply stating the facts in a timeline as I see them and understand them. Now with that as a backdrop let me get a few things out of the way so that I may write clearly for the rest of this piece: The Stoke fans that booed Aaron Ramsey last season have proven to me the true meaning of the word cunt.
They are off the cuntometer scale; a completely new measure of cuntery needs to be invented because the level of CUNT reached by those fans has grown so immense it’s become a singularity and ripped a hole in the fabric of spacetime itself – a central mass of such irresistible cunt that nothing, not even class, decency or literacy, nothing that we hold dear can escape. I am going to call this Stoke-hole-Syndrome and ask that it be added to the lexicon.
OK – enough of those shitbags, back to the weird and wonderful world of Football Futurism… Some of the ideas to follow in this part and the one to follow are in my opinion pretty likely, some are inevitable and some are downright just me chucking a dart at a dartboard while blindfolded, drunk and after being spun around a few times. Take them for what they are. I’m going to break it up into near future (the next ten years), mid-term (ten to twenty years) and beyond in the final part which is a bit all star-trek. I’ll try to keep to the general trends of that which I’ve been speaking about already, but if I go a bit of track then you must forgive me because I have a tendency to do things like that… I have a bit of crazy in me when I start thinking about the future. This hopefully will be about the great game itself, the league/s, the audiences, rules, players, clubs and how they are all intertwined. Let us press on.
The near future is the easiest bit because I think the writing’s on the wall already. Players are going to continue to become more important than the clubs they play for as more and more fans (die-hard Gooners may find this hard to stomach) follow more than one club. There is a dilution in the fan base that’s been occurring since TV coverage got bigger and more global, most clubs have something like 70% of their fanbase outside of the country they play in. Here in California you cannot kick a ball in a park without seeing Farca, ManUre or Madrid jerseys, usually with the three great predictable names on the back; Messi, Rooney, Ronaldo. Also take a look on your twitter feed (if you’re on twitter); if you follow anyone not from England then quite often you’ll see split loyalty. “I love FC Club Local AND Arsenal till I die.”
This is a massive switch from when I was a kid. Picking MORE THEN ONE TEAM? We are in an era of what many call ‘plastic fans’ aka casual supporters. I’m personally torn on the good/evil of this because on the one hand my one-club-heart finds the concept abhorrent but on the other it’s impossible to ignore the way the wind is blowing, like it or not. If we live in a democracy (assuming you do if you can read this – too much swearyness for non-free countries methinks), and democracies are supposed to be ruled by majority (apart from all this 1% business of course) then ‘plastic fans’ will rule no? There are far more casual supporters then die-hards – and they outnumber hard core fans maybe 5 or 6 to 1.
Players will call the shots, hold all the cards and are the brands of the future. Look at Edin Hazard; 21, no doubt talented but far from the finished article yet seemingly able, in the public mind at least, to hold clubs to ransom for money he thinks he has already earned. Fans are waiting for him to make a decision with baited breath! WHAT. THE. FUCK?
This is becoming more common as the latest players to come out of France, Brazil, Argentina, Spain etc. all thrive on the speculation surrounding them while their agent’s rub their hands with glee like a cheesy cartoon villain and cackle uncontrollably.
One of the most interesting aspects I think we’ll begin to see is just how important Europe is to big clubs. Liverpool is the prime example here. For years touted as better then Arsenal (how many times have you seen Liverpool to finish in top four and Arsenal not?) and for years failing to deliver. When they fell out of the top four it began a spiral descent that I can’t see improving any time soon. This is partly down to the financial penalty for falling out of the elite competition and partly because it makes recruitment harder as the best players want to play in the CL; and this is VERY important to remember.
It’s harder than ever to finish in the CL spots in the Premier League, and although we’ve not won anything in blah, blah years AFC’s 15 years unbroken in the competition is truly amazing. However the real importance of being at the big table is that I suspect that within 15 years we will see a new European Super League start up.
There are many pointers towards this super league, one of the biggest being just how much cash the CL generates and one of the soundest ideas in any process of prediction is; follow the money. Where it goes so too will trends. The second pointer is the current predictability of the domestic leagues. Even with the Rich buying leagues, the last 10 years has seen the same names dominating their leagues – in La Liga it’s the usual suspects barring the odd aberration. The Premier League has only been won by 5 clubs since its inception. How about the Bundesliga? Yep – 5 clubs. La Liga? 3. Ligue 1 – 5. Serie A – 3. Eredisivie – 4… Are you getting the picture yet?
You can bet that the clubs would be up for it because the global audience prospects. The players are always going on about playing against the best clubs and it probably gives Platini & those at UEFA a full on boners to think of the money potential. So what am I talking about; a bigger Champions League? Well no, because the CL is NOT a league — it’s a copy of the World Cup format — I mean a League. Top three from each country go in; three relegated from league every year, or something. Obviously it’d be tough because you’d have periods where countries would be particularly dominant and would saturate the league, but I can’t help but see things going in this direction. The domestic leagues would be hacked off for sure, but experiments like the Premier League itself have shown how a super-league could work.
Rising football powers
It’s a common misconception that Football, aka Saaaccccceeerrrr, in the US is non-existent. It is overshadowed by just about every other sport in audience power and revenue generation, but it is growing. You have to see it to believe it though, school fields are saturated with kids playing the game from every age and both sexes. I know this because my Marin League team (the amusingly named West Tam Utd – after Mt Tamilpias in Mill Valley) gets regularly kicked off those same fields. Also the professional game in the US is growing. Major League Soccer (MLS) is probably pretty laughable to most Europeans, but it can be very entertaining, and the fact that it exists at all is testament to those that run the MLS.
In Europe you don’t have; NFL (which dwarfs all of Football in revenue generation), NBA, NHL, MLB etc. All of these major sports compete with each other for audiences. The fact that MLS exists at all while facing this competition for money/attention is amazing.
Ans now MLS is starting to attract numerous players in the ‘twilight’ of their careers. Obviously Beckham’s been plying his trade here, Henry too and there are quite a few others. These help draw in the crowds and give kids something to aim for out of the college system.
You see, college is where football in the USA has fallen down. I play with some very talented guys on my Saturday league team, many of whom played in college to a high level. But when they graduated they had no opportunity of a league system to go into. Now there is one, I think it’s only a matter of time before we see a home grown superstar player. No, not Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey, good players both, but I’m talking about an American Messi/Ronaldo/Zindane/Pele/Maradonna. Someone that’s so much better than everyone else he’ll provide that break out moment. Mark my words, when that happens Football will explode over here, American’s love a winner and there isn’t another country on the planet that can promote a superstar like they can here. This would be the MLS Linsanity moment. I’d like to suggest that with big players headed to China fairly regularly that something similar is happening out there also but as I know nothing of the game out there I cannot comment on it – anyone that wants to contact us to enlighten me would be welcomed.
Audiences, TV & Technology
The next 10-20 are going to be most shaped by more globalisation, larger audiences and more money but in order to do this it will have to adopt technologies that FIFA/UEFA currently baulk at. I think this will happen with that wrinkly old corrupt fool Septic Bladder finally steps down as he’s been on some sort of crustade to stifle any sort of new technology getting into the game.
As audiences outside of Europe grow so does the shift of influence – again follow the money. By technology I don’t just mean for to help those poor hapless bastards that referee games, I mean how the game is watched, on what, and other such things, I’ll leave augmentation until the next piece. We all know technology can solve all the issues with the amount of cocks ups that the refs currently deal with but there is a real fear that it will allow ads into the game and this is an important point. The NFL was built for TV, every time a play stops they go to an ad break. This is why NFL is so rich. But I think it really does detract from the experience itself.
NFL, aka ‘American Football’ to those not here, is a breathtakingly brutal sport where players are encouraged to kick the snot out of each other. Don’t let the padding fool you, it’s there to allow them to hit harder and two 300lb guys hitting each other at high velocity is cringe worthy in the extreme. The reason it doesn’t catch on outside of America is, I believe, the ad breaks. After almost every play there’s 20-30 seconds of ads, it breaks up concentration and is really annoying. The DVR is changing this, most people I know that don’t go to a bar watch games on DVR-Delay and zip through the commercials. This is technology directly effecting the game because sponsors don’t want to pay a bagillion dollars to be zipped past.
Football must avoid anything like this happening; this is fear of destroying the ‘flow’ that those old farts allure too which is why we still don’t have instant replay in football. Stupid as the phrase ‘instant’ should give it away and it’d be easy for a 4th official to be able to watch the TV and make a decision. Some would STILL be wrong as it’s quite obviously down to interpretation of the rules, but the howlers would be gone and I’m sure there’s something technology can do about linesmen.
How about other technologies? Wearable technologies? As gadgets shrink they offer options that weren’t available before. How about cameras embedded into the turf? A ballcam? Instant computer analysis of trajectories and how hard the balls being hit? Info-nerds like Tim already love this stuff – but new cheap sensing technologies could make the availability of data-points explode.**
The last point to this is how our viewing habits will change. TV is the largest source of income for all clubs these days and this is only going to get bigger in my opinion. If you look at the disparity between Barca/Madrid in the Spanish leagues and the third placed team, you can see the corrupting influence. Barca and Madrid are allowed to negotiate their own TV deals whereas everyone in the Premier League does it via the league. This will change sooner or later and when clubs control their own rights their success or failure on the pitch and consistency will be even more important as will a Global fan base. This is why Arsenal’s efforts to appeal to Asia, Africa and the US are vital to the clubs future. There is a danger to relying on TV money – the interwebs. The internet is begging to take over regular TV, a point most obviously seen with the rise of Smart TV’s. If I wanted to here in the US I could pay $20 a month and watch Fox Soccer on my phone, my tablet or my laptop. I don’t have a Smart TV yet but when I eventually do, why would I then spend the same $20 a month to have the TV channel? This blurring of the lines between TV and Internet will revolutionise the way the game is watched and in doing so revolutionise the money involved. Why do you think the illegal streams we all used to rely on for non-televised games have all been crushed in the last 18 months? Ask yourself this – if there was an Arsenal channel that you could get ALL Arsenal games from Academy to the First Team in all competitions, would you buy it? I would and the first thing to go would be Fox Soccer and they’re irritatingly biased commentary.
This is the way it’s going people… but for the truly weird you must wait until the last piece on this that’s going to speculate on the truly strange.
*Ed. Note: Don’t be ridiculous, I’m no simple enchanter. I am Evil and I have the knowing of many things, even washing machines.
**Ed. Note: you will see an explosion of infographics and data laden analysis next season as several new programs hit the market.