Can there be too much business in the game?

By Mick Hoban

While it is generally accepted that professional soccer is a business activity and as such, relies on a multitude of commercial activities to stay solvent, it's clear that not all business decisions have served the game well. FIFA's scheduling of kick-offs to correspond with television timeslots in Europe's largest markets during the 1994 World Cup in the U.S. was one example where business overshadowed the game. The games on the field, played in the oppressive heat of summer afternoons, were, resultantly of lesser quality.

Jersey sponsorship is the equivalent to mobile advertising. Most professional leagues limit sponsors logos but in other leagues e.g. Primera División de México, jerseys are starting to look Formula One racing cars! Is it possible to safeguard the identity and integrity of club brands when the most visible element (club uniform) is surrounded by a multitude of, often, disparate logos?

Furthermore, should soccer allow companies from industries that bring into question the integrity of the game to be featured as sponsors on club jerseys e.g. betting, alcoholic beverages and tobacco companies?

Stadium signage has permeated every nook and cranny in and around soccer facilities and is a valuable, accepted, source of income for clubs and federations. I do, however, question the use of moving billboards at games as anything that interferes with players' sight-lines and fans' viewing experiences during the game should be seriously re-considered.

Naming rights have become the vogue with leading European clubs. Again, I'm a traditionalist here. In my mind stadiums such as Villa Park in England will always be Villa Park regardless of who purchases the stadium naming rights and wherever the stadium may be relocated in the future. Other stadium names, linked to a specific location e.g. Highbury, the home of Arsenal FC, need to be changed when a club moves to a different location. While this provides a club with a substantial commercial opportunity I wonder how the club's long-term brand equity will be affected by the frequent changes in the name of its stadium? Would Carnegie Hall, La Scala or The Royal Albert Hall have retained their brand equity if their names had changed every five years or so - in connection with a commercial sponsor?

I have observed many ball, apparel and footwear contracts where quality has been overlooked for a big fat check. I believe that the quality of the game ball should never be compromised. Similarly, players should be allowed to choose their own footwear products as should goalkeepers when it comes to their gloves. We've watched the proliferation of "accessories" on and around the field increase dramatically over the years e.g. logos on field ambulances. This brazen commercialism, however, is not a new phenomenon. Les Cocker, a famous trainer at Leeds United in the 70s, was renowned for checking camera angles as he placed his trainers bag, with logo of course, between the cameras and the injured player.

With the advent of global soccer brands the game's leaders will have to constantly balance the needs and desires of fans who attend games with those fans who watch the game on television e.g. as it relates to kick-off times. When the number of fans outside a club's country of origin far outweighs the number of fans in attendance or 'in-country' should a club, or league, consider kick-off times that favor fans outside the country?

For someone who has spent a lifetime as a fan and a career in the business of soccer many of my comments may appear anti-commercial, naïve or less than supportive. However, I readily acknowledge the necessity for commerce in the professional game and understand that without such revenues many grassroots activities and indeed some clubs themselves could not exist but I believe the game must come first and anything that detracts from the performance of players, the quality of games or the enjoyment of fans, must be treated with a healthy dose of suspicion and scrutiny.

That's why it's important for soccer organizations to have a senior soccer person (e.g. Director of Soccer and/or board member) in their organization and/or an external, objective, experienced resource whose responsibility it is to safeguard the game when others are, primarily, arguing the case from a financial perspective.

A native of England, Mick started his professional career as a player with Aston Villa and played for three clubs in the North American Soccer League. He served as Community Relations Director for the Portland Timbers, is an "A" Licensed Coach, a former coach at college and club levels, a former member of the NSCAA's Governor's Council and has worked, in the soccer industry for Nike, Umbro and adidas, for whom he served as a consultant.

You can contact Mick at or visit his company's website at


Dear Editor,

I write as the Convention Manager for the NSCAA.  I would like to thank you for your very kind words about our (NSCAA) annual convention (NSCAA Expo: Trade Show or Flea Market, Dec. 11, 2007.)  The convention has grown into an amazing event and all of us involved in its development take great pride in it.

It is an event that has shown continual growth over the years and in 2006 in Philadelphia it set all time records with regard to member attendance, overall attendance, and exhibitor participation.  However, as you probably already realized, I am concerned about your comments about the exhibit part of the convention.  I found them to be just a bit too harsh.

First of all, we do not consider the event a trade show.  It is a convention, i.e., a formal meeting of members of the coaching profession, and as such, and as you indicated in your article, the exhibits accompany the convention.  Or, better yet, are a part of the total convention program.

Some comments about the exhibits:  The growth that I mention above can be seen in the fact that in 2002 in Philadelphia there were 208 exhibiting companies and 480 booths while when we returned to Philadelphia in 2006 the number of exhibiting companies and booths went to 314 and 641 (both all time highs), respectively.  This, in our minds, does indicate a certain amount of exhibitor satisfaction.  Also, we feel that our attendees thoroughly enjoy the exhibits where they are able to purchase items and, yes, garner as many freebies as possible.

So, we thank you for your respect for the convention and also for providing an impetus for us to look at the exhibit part with a more discerning eye when we do our post-convention review.

Robert W. Robinson, Convention Manager(

National Soccer Coaches Association of America



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