Football, also known as soccer in the uneducated parts of the world, is now a multi billion pound business that generates huge incomes through television deals, merchandise and shirt sales. Nowhere is this truer than in the English Premier League, some of the world's richest individuals now own clubs in England, whether it is Manchester United's Malcolm Glazer, Chelsea's Roman Abromovich or Manchester City's Abu Dhabi Group. These investors are willing to spend gargantuan figures on top flight players in the knowledge that the incomes generated by shirt and merchandise sales will recoup the expenditure. This was especially true in the sale of former Manchester United player David Beckham.
Beckham, a worldwide phenomenon in his own right was sold to American club LA Galaxy for a huge figure; especially when the conjecture surrounding his athletic ability is considered. Critics have stated that the acquisition of Beckham was a business rather than tactical move. Part of the evidence surrounding this argument is that when Beckham moved from Manchester United to Real Madrid, the top flight Spanish club doubled their merchandise sales, earning around six hundred million dollars over a four year period. In the last year of playing at Real Madrid it is estimated that Beckham earned around twenty seven million dollars through playing fees and lucrative endorsement deals.
When the thirty two year old star moved to LA Galaxy it was clear that the team's executives wanted to cash in on Beckham's profile rather than his skills or ability. It was also a concerted move by the chiefs of Major League Soccer to give the sport a larger appeal within the United States. Once the news was announce a furore ensued, with fans hotly anticipating the arrival of such a global star. Beckham himself is set to make a vast fortune over his five year contract period; around 32.5 million dollars in playing fees and a further two hundred million in product endorsements, merchandise deals and marketing earnings.
Seemingly Beckham immediately settled into his new LA home, becoming a regular attendee at parties hosted by film and music stars such as Tom Cruise, Will Smith and Snoop Dog. This in turn added to his already high celebrity profile in the States, meaning that he was now a household name amongst those not in the football fraternity. Today his face is splashed all over America, in numerous television adverts, posters advertising merchandise and roadside billboards. The result was that even before Beckham had played a game for LA Galaxy, more than three hundred thousand football jerseys had been sold, bringing a total income to the club of around twenty four million dollars.
Whatever can be said about Beckham's off pitch antics, fans have flocked to see him in action. Both home and away ticket sales have risen since his joining. LA Galaxy sold more than two thousand season tickets in the hours following his signing. In terms of away fixtures, despite the mediocre popularity of football in the USA, the remaining eleven games on the list after Beckham was signed were all sell outs. It is hoped that in the five years that Beckham is playing for LA Galaxy that television deals will be secured and the profile of soccer in the United States will be raised considerably.
While some may criticise the form of this global superstar his acquisition is indicative of the growing trend in world football. It is now a business rather than a sport, and instead of managers making the tactical decisions over which players to buy, chairmen and executives are involving themselves in the process attempting to find stars that will sell the largest amount of shirts and merchandise. This may be a sad state of affairs but is simply how the modern world of football works.
Cultural expert Thomas Pretty looks at how football merchandise sales are now a major part of the sport.