Sep 01 2012
Football is part of the creative economy because its value lies in ideas. Typically when we think of football, we tend to think of it as “big business.” Real Madrid made over $695 million in the 2011 fiscal year and the combined net worth of the top five richest clubs for 2011 is over $5 billion. But to put this into perspective, we need to realize that the combined value of the world’s five richest companies is nearly $2 trillion. We can all see that in the grand scheme of things, football financially pales in comparison to other sectors of industry. Yet football is both immensely powerful and popular. In FIFA’s latest Big Count, 270 million people—or four percent of the world’s population—are involved in football in some way. Further, more people watch the World Cup Final than any other single sporting events. This leads us to ask—is football really a business at all?
Football is, at the very least, is a part of the creative economy. According to the New England Foundation for the Arts, the creative economy refers to a sector of the economy that derives its value from producing and distributing “cultural goods and services that impact the economy by generating jobs, revenue, and quality of life.” Linking football to the creative economy likens football to artists, cultural nonprofit organizations, and creative businesses. This means that we can liken footballers to actors, dancers, sculptors, painters, educators, and other job paths associated with enriching society with a vibrant culture.
We can find evidence for thinking about football as generating the product of culture by looking at a few examples. First and most notably, many countries’ politics are linked to football. The best exemplar in the last decade is Silvio Berlusconi. He made his rise to prominence in football with his involvement in AC Milan’s top administration. After all, he named his political party after a football chant—Forza Italia!
I argue that football is part of this creative economy because it produces and distributes cultural goods that directly impact quality of life and the connections between people. We first must take up the fact that football impacts the quality of people’s lives because this will lead us to understand the way that it creates jobs.
Soccer impacts the quality of life because the experience connects us with others and allows us to escape the pain, troubles, and hurt that we experience in our daily lives. Jordi Royo, a psychologist at the Palliative Care Unit and Home Care Team at the Fundacio Hospital Sant Jaume y Santa Magdalena in Mataró, Spain, demonstrated in a poster that cancer patients’ symptoms were lessened or alleviated while watching soccer matches. But we don’t need to be cancer patients to understand how soccer shapes our views toward life.
A soccer game is a performance. The players are actors in a drama whose laws govern play but do not predetermine it. The spectators come from different perspectives on the world to share the game. We typically think of soccer as being played in blue-collar, industrial cities, whose workforce turns out to support the local team; yet, (as Pelada would remind us) soccer is also played in schools, in jails, and by construction workers. And now, more than ever, soccer is a global game that brings together not only working class laborers in industrial centers but also white-collar workers from cultural centers such as Barcelona, Milan, Munich, and Liverpool. In this way, soccer becomes a cultural institution that defines our own identity.
The cultural centers I mentioned above were large industrial centers before they were cultural centers with outstanding soccer clubs. Kuper and Szymanski, authors of the book Soccernomics, point out that the aforementioned cities were industrial towns during the early development of the sport. These industrial cities have become cultural centers because they forged an identity from their soccer teams. Where capital cities focused on the standard cultural products such as fine arts, museums, government institutions, and business headquarters that come along with being a capital, these industrial cities defined themselves by their soccer clubs because it was a comparison point between cities
Hooliganism would seem to be a phenomenon that threatens the nexus between people because it pits city, ethnic, and class identities against each other in a violent way. Hooliganism though is universally derided as a major problem for the game. It is something that nearly anyone can recognize. Thus hooliganism is a structure—that even though it pits people against each other—is part of the common shared language that surrounds soccer. Hooliganism is a problem because it is a disjunction between seeing the big picture and hyper-focusing on certain particulars. The hooligan focuses on the fact that other fans belong to a certain group-identity that supports an opposing team and thus must themselves be bad. He loses his ability to see the contextual picture of how violence destroys his connection to the world because of the intoxication that he feels when connecting to a few radicals. As the hooligan focuses on his own identity, he loses sight of the sport and its creative power.
Soccer is a creative enterprise that connects people across political, geographic, and temporal boundaries. It is creative both because of the “product” the players produce on the field, but also because of the “products” the fans make, such as fan tributes, blogs, and cultural memes (chants, songs, fan clubs, etc.). Soccer contributes to humanity because it allows people to create new ideas and cultural institutions. Soccer then is part of the creative economy, because it emphasizes our humanity. And while some people become exorbitantly rich, the majority of people involved in football seek to create experience within a domain that underlines our connections to one another as human beings.