Money in sport

Niall Brehon

Staff Writer

“New car, caviar, four star daydream, Think I’ll buy me a football team” – Pink Floyd, “Money”

As attested to by this Pink Floyd quote, money and sport are irrevocably linked. Money is power and power is Lukaku. Flippancy put aside, the point remains that for better or worse the back pages of the newspaper have a uniquely strong bond with the Business pages.

Over the last summer Real Madrid, who are funded in part by an incredibly skewed television deal which saw them net ¤140m in contrast to bottom-placed Granada’s ¤12m in 2012, persuaded Gareth Bale and Tottenham to sign the dotted line for (depending on your sources) a fee in the region of ¤91m – ¤100m. There’s an excellent website devoted to telling you precisely how much Bale has earned so far. At the time of writing, he’s earned £4,271,821.02. Since September 2nd.

It is telling how so many people speak of the disconnect that the earners of such extravagant wages must feel. Imagine the scenario, they tell us, of males in their teens and early twenties earning in a month what many people earn in a year; and that’s at the lower end of things. These people expound the dangers of such a disparate proportionality between wage and maturity. Though their careers are short, such is the state of the world that those select individuals with the talent and dedication to rise to the elite levels of the game are capable of making far more money than they should reasonably expect from such a seemingly basic skill as being good at football, at an age where many struggle to find a job (seen particularly in Spain, where 56.1% of youths are unemployed yet Gareth Bale earns staggering amounts).  And well done to them for making the most of their talents. But why is this? Why is the earning potential within football so grotesquely exaggerated, so at odds with the rest of the world?

Simply put, football at the highest levels boils down to two important and interlinked elements: tribalism and winning. For every Luton Town fan, there are thousands (quite probably hundreds of thousands) of United fans. Beyond the romance of ’99 or the joy of watching Ronaldo, Cantona, Giggs and, er, Anderson lies a simple fact. Manchester United are successful and Luton Town (relatively speaking, as they currently lie second and on course for promotion in the Conference league) are not. Manchester United are Winners with a capital W, and Luton Town are not. Apologies to any Hatters fans who may be reading this.

It is a vicious circle. United are successful because they have so much money because they have so many fans because they are successful. It’s not near as simple as that, but the basic gist is that money is power and again power is Lukaku.

“Over the last summer Real Madrid, who are funded in part by an incredibly skewed television deal which saw them net ¤140m in contrast to bottom-placed Granada’s €12m in 2012,”

Firstly, it is important to express football’s pre-eminence as the most popular sport on the planet, both played and (more imperative to the point at hand) viewed. Indeed, an accumulated figure of 30 billion people tuned in to witness the 2006 World Cup in Germany. It is a truth universally acknowledged that the vast majority of football-watching youth flock to support the best teams and players in the game. The usual reasons for this are typically twofold: they follow their dad/brother’s team, or the team their friends support (or on occasion the rivals of the team either their dad/brother or friends support). Both of these function within the same prism of tribalism and belonging to a cohesive and aggressively defined subset of successful people, and success is the key word.

Forgive the gross generalisation: people, by and large, like winning. They like the feeling of success. They gravitate towards winners, and particularly winners who win with style, a la Barcelona, Real Madrid and the hipster’s choice Borussia Dortmund. They ally themselves with these groupings in order to achieve that element of success.

When those subsets or groupings become large enough, as Real Madrid’s and Manchester United’s are (and Luton Town’s are not, God bless their little hearts), there is simply a staggering amount of potential income available to harness. Witness United’s recent, incredibly detailed sponsorship, which among other deals brands Mister Potato as its official “Savoury Snack Partner”. Mister Potato are literally paying a good deal of money to be associated with the positive feeling and successfulness of the United brand. It is thanks in no small part to deals like these that United are currently worth in the region of £2bn.  To finish, here are some figures to put the levels of money in sport into perspective.

Advertising and marketing are coterminous with sponsorship in sport. With such a vast global audience, advertising is inevitable. ITV made more than £10m on advertising revenue during the 2008 Champion’s League Final between Chelsea and Manchester United. That’s during just one match. The current television deal for Premier League rights from 2013-16 will net £3bn for English football over three years. With Sky’s dominance finding increased competition from BT Sports, this figure is quite probably set to rise when rights are re-negotiated in 2016.  Straying briefly away from the football we know, the average price of a thirty second advertisement aired at the Superbowl XLVII in 2013 was $4m.

Forbes place Tiger Woods as the highest earning athlete on the planet; over the last year Tiger earned $78.1m. Kobe Bryant, in third, recently re-negotiated a two-year contract extension worth $48.5m – a pay-cut on his previous annual salary of $27.85m. Kobe Bryant is currently not playing as he recovers from an Achilles injury.

The average full-time worker in Luton earns £24,503 per annum. Meanwhile, Gareth Bale has earned £128,811.53 since I started writing this article (I admit I had quite a few games of FIFA 14 in the meantime) and over £100 in the time it took you to read this article. That’s a lot of Freddo bars.