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The Americanization of European Football: does it change the relationship between fans and clubs?

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The Americanization of European Football: does it change the relationship between fans and clubs?

In the last few years we are seeing history being written in front of our eyes. American funds are entering European territory for investments in their so-called soccer – the most popular European sport. For their European counterparts, this sport is none other than the traditional football – the sport that is deeply loved by fans and vastly preferred by punters from all over the world, including those who bet on football online in Malaysia or other Asian markets. 

But the truth is that football is more than a popular sport in Europe. People don’t just like to watch football – they live and breathe football, as it is an integral part of their everyday lives. 

In some countries, like the UK, Germany, Spain and Italy football is a kind of religion and every match day evokes some kind of rituals on the part of the fans. Pubs are filled with fans, stadiums are filled with die-hard fans and homes are filled with get-together friends who want to celebrate their club while competing with an opponent. In fact it doesn’t matter who the opponent is. Of course the greater the rival, the more intense the entire ritual, but not-so-significant match-ups also concentrate pretty much interest by people. 

For Europeans supporting their national football team is a thing of identity and pride. This is not surprising, considering that the European national teams are amongst the top performing ones according to the FIFA rankings. But it does not stop there. The local or regional league clubs are even more popular among football fans.

People in Europe feel strongly connected to their clubs. They have that special bond which accounts for their deep love for the sport. They are committed, devoted, absolutely dedicated to supporting their clubs and they often adopt a worship-like behaviour when they speak about their clubs. Sometimes they are even ready to get into a fight for their clubs. And the utmost pleasure and satisfaction comes from watching their favorite team win, especially after beating long-live rivals and opponents. 

So, how is the Americanization of some European football clubs tackling this?

As American funds are coming into European football clubs, much is changing. The thing is that the American way differs much compared to the European way when it comes to relating and connecting with fans. American funds are poured into European clubs because they are lucrative investments.

And why are they lucrative investments? Because, fans are deeply and strongly connected with the clubs and one way or another they spend money to ‘consume’ the clubs, whether this involves buying tickets to a match, purchasing merchandise or being the prime audience of paid-advertisements. But in Europe these are all the means to an end: the end being watching and supporting the fans’ favorite clubs or simply celebrating football. 

The Americanization of some British football clubs like Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Leeds United and others – which are indeed top-notch clubs of the European football scene (not to say the world football scene) – comes with some form of commercialization. But commercialization is far distanced from the more pure and honest relationship that has been built for ages between fans and their favorite clubs in Europe, where football is thriving. 

Americans who have invested in European clubs seek to maximize their profits and so they gradually transform this relationship into a more transactional one, just like it happens back home. Everything is up for sale and fans become more like ‘customers’ of the brand or the product. At least they are seen more like customers and less like the fans they have always been. 

So, the brand-customer relationship is threatening to replace the club-fan relationship. Of course this is not to happen over a day, but it will happen sooner or later, if commercialization and financially-driven strategic management plans become the top priorities of the clubs’ owners.  European football is just not ready for such a transformation, because there is still that genuine, worship-like attitude and commitment on the part of fans, having its roots in the fact that clubs are a source of pride and honor for the fans more than they are a source of profit for the owners.