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Football Management across Europe

International Center of Research in International Management

“Football Management across Europe” Monitor

Although football is a sport about which much has been reported and written, we can still claim that it is an area of life of which we have little knowledge, at least from a managerial and scientific point of view. In particular, this is true for the way football is organized and managed, at a national level as much as international and transnational.

Through its gradual conversion towards professionalism and, in the last three decades, commercial business (marked by the floating of Tottenham Hotspur at the London Stock Exchange in 1982 and the liberalization of the player market in 1995) football in Europe has, ironically perhaps, moved from being non-profit to being largely not-profit. This is all the more remarkable given the increasing way in which commercial management techniques and organizational structures have been embraced.

Historically, there seems to have been remarkable variance in the ways clubs and other football organizations are organized across Europe, with clubs typically representing and mirroring “geographical locations”.

We know, for instance, that in Eastern European countries football clubs were often closely attached to different arms of the communist state; that in Latin countries affiliations between politicians and football have sometimes been strong, also in clubs organized as voluntary associations; that in continental Europe some clubs were closely attached to large manufacturing companies and their owner families; that states have interfered to either introduce or regulate the formation of companies in professional football; that the non-profit voluntary association persisted as the organizational template for clubs in Northern Europe until the 1980s; and that clubs in the British Isles have been organized as shareholding companies as far back as the late 19th century. Despite the homogenization of the rules of the game early on, the organization of the sport across Europe over the last century reflects different regional and national cultures and institutional set-ups.

Against this background there is now an indication of greater consistency in the organization of the sport across Europe. This recent development is not well documented, at least not in comparative terms. The primary drivers towards this apparent homogenization seems to be found in the collapse of the iron curtain dividing the East and West in Europe; the formation and gradual extension of the European Union and the European market; the Bosman ruling in 1995 that forced UEFA to abide with EU law on the issue of worker mobility; and in the transformation of the broadcasting media in European countries. These processes dramatically weakened the sport’s own regulating bodies and thus restricted their possibilities for regulating the sport, and exposed clubs and associations alike to an expanding player market and a commercialized media industry that saw top football as an effective lure in the competition for consumers. Increasingly, more and more clubs and leagues are now organized as shareholder companies or replicas of limited companies and, together with national associations and the international confederations UEFA and FIFA, a European professional leagues’ association, professional player associations at national and international levels, these organizations constitute the basic infrastructure of football in most countries, accompanied and supported by media and entertainment companies, large commercial sponsors, player agents, consultancies (such as Deloitte) and private investors.

The recent development of European football can be studied against the idea of the constitution of an expanding transnational organizational field in which there are a growing number of actors interacting to transform or defend logics and institutions within the game. Whilst the constitution of organizational fields has been ascribed the propensity for homogenization processes in organizational structure and management, others highlight the robustness of national institutions, the scope for translating and editing transnational rules, ideas or innovations in the process of dissemination, or for strategic manoeuvring when the institutional contexts appear multiple or incoherent. Moreover, studies of Europeanization indicate that there is considerable margin for domestic diversities in national policy-making, and a mixture of processes and influence patterns across spheres of change in the relationship between EU bodies and football organizations. In reviewing studies of the global diffusion of sport, it was also found that a dynamic interchange between the local, national and global, hence creating “diminishing contrasts and increased varieties” most accurately describes the global pattern.

In order to understand the dynamics behind these changes, this Monitor aims to highlight how football is organized and managed on a European level and/or in individual European countries. We wish to carry out longitudinal studies, outlining the evolutions that have taken place over the last decades and showing how some practices emerged/disappeared/resisted, were/are rooted in an historical and cultural context.