Friday, May 13, 2005

Live By The Sword ...

So Manchester United are finding out that a stock market quote has a downside as well as an upside, Magnier and McManus have made some money and given Fergie a shoeing. It seems likely that prices will rise at Old Trafford. Not only that, but Glazer's Holy Grail will be to decouple United from the rest of the Premiership when it comes to negotiating TV rights.

I keep hearing how football is just a business nowadays. But of course it isn't. The Bosman ruling, when an EU court decided footballers were 'workers' (they obviously hadn't watched Ivan Campo) and had freedom of contract like any other employee, failed to recognise this.

In any other business, the consumer buys the best they can afford. If a company goes under, they'll buy elsewhere. I haven't seen a Pye Radios or Riley car since I was a kid, but the owners of said items didn't stop buying radios and cars when the brands died.

It's not quite like that in football. When Bromsgrove Rovers were relegated from the Conference and Kidderminster were promoted to the League, Bromsgrove supporters didn't move to Aggborough. When Wimbledon FC, who I watched in their glory days when I lived in South London, were sold to Milton Keynes and rebranded as MK Dons, their fans didn't go to Fulham or Chelsea. They restarted the club in Wimbledon.

Brand loyalty is everything. All 12 of the Football League's founding clubs from 1888 are still in existence. I don't have the details (bet Tim Worstall knows), but I'll bet that not one of the top 12 quoted companies from 1888 is still in the FT500.

Competition is the other difference. A company likes to eliminate competition if it can. Football clubs have to have someone to play against. They have to be of a reasonably high standard. It would profit Microsoft if all the other software developers in the world packed up. United would look pretty silly in a league of one.

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