Commentary

The game IS the business

By Clive Toye

There is one problem looming in the soccer business world and that's when business takes over and puts the game in a filing cabinet until it needs to be taken out again.

It is, after all, a game.

A game where people play to enjoy, lower down, and to win once they get the feeling; a game watched by those who want one team to win and hope the others, and their fans, travel home or switch off the TV in utter misery.

If no one cares who wins and loses, if no one watches, if there is no passion - and sport must be a passion or you can go and watch the ballet instead - then there is no TV... and its money. There are no sponsors, and their money, there is no merchandise, and its money, and you're left with a bunch of guys occupying a silent field for their own amusement.

I mean, imagine a Super Bowl with no crowds, no music, no reputations on the line, nothing for the bookies to do and what do you have? Hours of boredom and acres of buttocks. With little groups having private conversations, interspersed with a few moments of pushing and shoving and someone running 20 yards or so, as well as other quaintly dressed men in pantaloons tripping around the field and throwing handkerchiefs to show their displeasure. Ridiculous. Well, I think its ridiculous, even with the crowds and the noise and the money, but that's my opinion.

The same empty feeling would be there even in a World Cup Final, without it being ridiculous, of course, and it will be there, too, if business so dominates the soccer that the passion goes and the two geographical extremes of Major League Soccer do not pay more attention to the soccer.

Out in the Three Ring Circus of Los Angeles, the money is coming in from Beckham exhibitions and Beckham T-shirts but that will not last unless the three Ringmasters (Lalas, Gullit and Beckham) can start to produce a team that the locals take to their hearts and the rest of the league comes to loathe - and turn up in large numbers to show it.

At the other extreme, the situation looks bleak. A pall of disinterest has been hanging over New York/New Jersey throughout the years of the MetroStars/Red Bulls AKA Pink Lambs and you have only to look at their web site, as well as business media stories, to see what excitement is now being provided.

There is much being said about club songs and iPods and, now, widgets! Yes, iPods and widgets.

I have never gone to a game to watch an iPod and while I am familiar with wingers, and whingers, I have absolutely no idea what a widget is; a small person who plays on the wing perhaps.

If so, the Pink Lambs could do with one, one the people want to see, in a team they want to see, playing a game they want to see and making a noise that bursts every iPod in sight.

It is, after all, a game and without the attraction, the passion, of the game there is no business. That's worth keeping in mind.

PS : I won't even start on the business obscenity of the English game being owned by Russians, Americans, Icelanders, Thais, Serbs, Chinese and anyone else who wants to jump into that giant cesspool...nor on the fact that the game is played mostly by Nigerians, Ghanaians, Togolese, Senegalese, French, Croatian, Bulgarian, Spanish, Brazilian, Argentine, Americans and others from more lands than I can count. Plus a few English players, of course, just enough to field a (not very good) national team right now.

Clive Toye is Senior Consultant for CONCACAF, the governing body that oversees soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean. He was a professional club and league executive for 18 years, including GM & president of the New York Cosmos of the NASL. He is arguably the founder of modern American soccer marketing. As president of the Cosmos, the former English sports journalist brought Brazilian legend Pele and German superstar Franz Beckenbauer to America and put the North American Soccer League on the map. He is author of the 2006 book, "A Kick In The Grass" available through amazon.com

 

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