The FA scores an Own (Field) Goal

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.

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