OpinionJohn Aldridge

Aldo: The football fan is the big loser in the big money revolution

John AldridgeBy John Aldridge
Liverpool fans protest at Anfield on Saturday
Liverpool fans protest at Anfield on Saturday

FOOTBALL is unrecognisable from the game I was a part of at the back end of the last century – and clubs need to make sure they don’t forget about loyal fans in their future business plans.

Just 15 years have passed since I left my position as Tranmere manager, but the game is so very different than it was even then, with the events of the last few days summing up a mood of despair among so many supporters.

This sport used to be the passion of the working man or woman, the people’s game that allowed everyday folk to get behind their local side and cheer them on them through thick and thin.

Yet since Sky came in and the Premier League was invented, the landscape of English football has changed and clubs are getting to a point where sponsors and their investment is more important than the people in the stands.

Liverpool have been in the news this week as some of the club’s supporters have expressed their annoyance at the announcement of ticket price rises at Anfield and I can understand their frustrations.

With a massive new TV deal starting next summer and up to £8bn (what a crazy figure that is by the way) coming into the coffers of Premier League clubs, it may not have been the best time to announce ticket price rises.

A freeze in prices would have been a good PR move, but Liverpool are not alone in trying to make the most of their flourishing companies.

I see Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is among those who does not want ticket price increases put on hold and would prefer to spend more money on star players. 

Well, he will not be alone in that view among those at the big clubs.

Fans are not at the top of the agenda for clubs and managers any more. 

Instead, they are just part of the fabric of a club now.

In an era when Premier League ‘brands’ are signing deals with companies to be ‘official partners’ of all kind of weird and wonderful aspects of the club, fans could be forgiven for wondering where they fit into these business plans.

The news that Manchester United have just signed a deal with 20th Century Fox films that will see their players promoting movies in the coming years was another example of how this game is moving on.

In my playing days and as a manager, Facebook and Twitter had not been invented and yet now we see football clubs basing so much of their business models on their social media reach.

So when you see Wayne Rooney or Juan Mata telling you to go and watch a new movie in the next few months, there is every chance they are doing it as part of Man Utd’s sponsorship deal with the film makers. How bizarre.

I look at the list of sponsors Man Utd and Liverpool have on their books these days and it is mindboggling.

I’m told that Utd’s deal with 20th Century Fox takes their total list of sponsors to a staggering total of SEVENTY and when you have that kind of revenue stream flowing into a company, it’s easy to see why supporters are not top of their agenda.

Roy Keane saw this coming many years ago when he highlighted how the ‘prawn sandwich brigade’ were taking over Old Trafford on matchdays and he was ahead of his time in that comment.

I struggle to understand how supporters are paying out €100 to watch a single match, as if you throw in the cost of getting there and having a few beers at the game, you don’t get much change out of €150.

However, those of us pining for the days when you could take your child to match and let him fall in love with the sport are probably living in the past.

This is now a money-making business and those running it don’t have any interest in getting back to times when the fans were the heartbeat of the sport.

Liverpool’s commercial team are not alone in going down the path of getting as much sponsorship money in as they can and in truth, they have no choice other than to follow the trend. If you don’t try to match your rivals commercially, they will beat you time and again. 

Meanwhile, the traditional football fan who will be the big loser in this big-money revolution. What a shame.