The FA scores an Own (Field) Goal

November 25, 2007

England’s Football Association was certain it was on to a financial winner when Wembley hosted the first NFL match outside the United States on October 28. Champagne corks popped in Soho Square at the prospect of a guaranteed 6 million pounds from the box office and bumper merchandising revenues.

It was typical of the short-termism at the world’s richest, and most arrogant, football association. If the F.A. had a fraction of the interest in advancing the national team as it has in finding new revenue streams, the NFL plan would have been quickly ditched.

For as England’s overpaid celebrities collapsed in the crucial Euro 20008 qualifier against Croatia, the Wembley pitch cut up to an embarrassing degree.

Here’s what Alex Ferguson’s had to say: ”The first thing I thought about when I watched the game on Wednesday was the pitch. You spend 800 million on Wembley, it is supposed to be the best stadium in the world.”

The FA, of course, had presumed England would be safely through by the time the Croats rolled into town. Wembley, as a resource to be exploited could be rented out, no matter what effect it would have on the pitch.

That decision must now go down as one of the worst gambles in sports marketing history. The FA’s losses from England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008 have been estimated in the tens of millions, while some experts put the loss to the national economy near one billion pounds.


FIFA is Blatter’s Property, So Goodbye to Rotation, Rotation, Rotation

October 29, 2007


Sepp Blatter has confirmed what every football federation outside Europe has long feared. The FIFA President’s short-lived plan for the ‘Football Family’ (as FIFA insists on calling itself) to rotate the hosting, and revenues, of World Cups between different continents is already dead.

Like real families, the Football Family has some dirty little secrets. In danger of losing his 2002 reelection bid, Blatter dipped into FIFA funds to travel the world and promise the have-nots of football that they, too, could share in the riches of the World Cup. Thus Blatter’s Rotation Policy was born. His reelection was assured. That was back in the Paleozoic era of sports marketing. At the last World Cup, Blatter’s marketing and sponsorship teams raked in a staggering 2.6 billion euros. Taking the World Cup out of Europe would put that goldmine at serious risk. So with FIFA firmly under his control, Blatter is now going back on his promise.

The English media are already delighted. Not surprising, as Blatter is giving plenty of exclusive interviews to say that ‘’the motherland’’ of football should stage the 2018 World Cup — a competition earmarked for North or Central America under his own Rotation Policy.

A Whole New Ball Game: Atlanta Arsenals at Houston Hotspurs

October 28, 2007


Some 90 000 fans packed Wembley Stadium today for the first regular season NFL game outside the United States.

The clash fell under the radar of most English football fans. It shouldn’t: not content with buying England’s best clubs, American moguls want their English ‘franchises’ to return the favour and play Premier League matches in the States.

Arsenal shareholder Stan Kroenke says there is a ‘a good chance’ the U.S. will host a Premiership match ‘’because both (club) owners could agree to it’’ Jonathan Tisch, co-owner of the Giants, is calling for a Premiership match in the Big Apple. And West Ham non-executive chairman Eggert Magnusson, the Icelander who made his millions from tuna fishing, likes the idea too, saying he hopes it will happen ‘’sooner rather than later.’’

If the Americans are willing to play in Europe, why shouldn’t the English play over there?

First, the NFL, unlike the Premiership, is in desperate need of international exposure after the recent collapse of NFL Europe. And for the Giants, a flight to London is only a couple of hours longer than one to, say, California.

American sports owners wrongly believe their franchises can be artificially globalized. So does much of the American media. Take the Houston Chronicle, which reports that the Wembley game ‘indicates a pent-up demand for world-class American football that is heartening to NFL officials envisioning a global league…NFL officials are planning an expansion of the international program, now in its early days.’

The NHL crossed the Atlantic this year, choosing London for a first-ever game on foreign ice (a genuine interest in promoting the sport would have seen the players head to hockey-mad Bratislava or Helsinki). Bemused Brits heard a pre-match rendition of God Save The Queen, quite against British royal protocol.

But what’s a thousand years of tradition in the pursuit of a global sports brand?

October 27, 2007


Say It Ain’t So, Davydenko

October 27, 2007

Just who is Nikolay Davydenko?

Apart from being the fourth best tennis player in the world, tennis writers might one day label the scrappy Russian as the man who crippled the credibility of the sport.The ATP, which runs men’s professional tennis, this week took the extraordinary step of fining Davydenko $2,000 for ”lack of best effort” after he lost to Marin Cilic, a player not even ranked in the top 100. (The ATP should be condemned for lack of best effort in asking Davydenko – tournament prize winnings, $6.7 million – to pay the equivalent of a bottle of Krug at Moscow’s Marika Bar, hangout of Russia’s top tennis brass).

Davydenko won the first set 6-1 in a mere 27 minutes. Then, inexplicably, he collapsed in the next two sets to the journeyman Croat, who couldn’t quite believe his luck. After all, a defeat for a top five player against a hacker like Cilic is about as common as a winter sunbather in Moscow.

But we’ve been here before. The ATP is investigating Davydenko after a match in Poland, when online bookmaker Betfair believes it was fleeced to the tune of $7.3 million on a single match. Playing another unknown, Martin Vasallo, Davydenko easily took the first set before losing in three.

These losses are all the more bizarre as Davydenko is not one of sport’s wimps. Little Nikolay left his parents at the age of 11 to pursue his tennis dream. He officially plays more tennis than any other top pro. “I was so upset with the whole thing I started crying,” Davydenko said of the affair in St. Petersburg.

So will the real Nikolay Davydenko stand up?