More than just a game…North London prepares for a battle royale on Sunday


In November 2017 it will be the 130 anniversary of the first meeting between the teams we know today as Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.  Back in the Victorian age this was of course a North v South of the river clash, with the first ever game between the two rivals being played on Plumstead Common, which today opposite a McDonalds and Belmarsh Prison.  That game had to be abandoned with Spurs leading 2-1 due to “darkness”.

Fast forward 129 years and 183 meetings since, the first meeting of the season between the two rivals has never been more eagerly awaited by the two sets of fans as well as those with an interest in online sports betting.  Whilst Arsenal’s position in the top four of English football has been undisputed for nearly 20 years, Tottenham’s emergence as a challenger to the title has been more recent.  After kissing a number of frogs, the club seems to have found their prince in the form of Mauricio Pochettino who almost brought the first title to N17 for over fifty years last season and is yet to experience defeat in the Premier League this season.

The Spurs fans I know have become much more mellow with things off the field too.  The wisdom of Daniel Levy is now not a heated discussion, especially as the emergence of the new stadium is visible at every home game.  Once complete, it could act as a catalyst to power the club commercially forward.  According to the annual study by Forbes, Spurs are the tenth most valuable football club with an estimated worth of just over £700m, around 50% of the value attached to Arsenal.  The key to creating more value is the bigger stadium with more opportunities to drive commercial revenues.  It is no surprise that the teams that hold the top five places in the list all play in front of sold-out stadiums with capacities over 60,000.  Joining that list is the clear ambition of Spurs in the next five years.  It is clear from the ticket sales for their Champions League games at Wembley so far this season that if you can build it, they will come.

Whilst the Spurs fans are happy with life at the moment, Arsenal fans continue to enjoy a love/hate relationship with the owners and the manager.  Best ever one week when they destroy Chelsea, showing them the door the next when they fail to beat Middlesbrough at home.  There can be no denying that they are a major challenger for the title this season, having scored three or more goals in 60% of their Premier League games so far this term, whilst hitting the back of the net on 17 occasions in their cup games so far, including nine against the Bulgarian champions Ludogorets, already booking their spot in the knock-out phases of the Champions League.  Whilst some fans may bemoan a lack of dynamism in the transfer market, Wenger has managed to shuffle the pack when required this season.

Sunday’s game won’t decide the league title – especially this season where there are half a dozen teams who have a legitimate shout but it will make Monday a potentially uncomfortable day at work for half of North London as the winners will earn the bragging rights until the end of April at least.

Economic Theory explained by Football – Part 5 – The fake deal in football shirts


In 2012, the major professional sports leagues in the United States lost over $13 Billion in revenue due to sales of counterfeit shirts and merchandise including a whopping $3 Billion alone from the 32 teams in the National Football League (NFL).  Some top end “authentic elite” team shirts which should retail for $250 could be found online with an 80% discount*.   These numbers, whilst staggering on their own, are just a drop in the ocean when we look at the total “black” economy which runs annually into trillions of dollars.

8835116252_85b97df617_kIn Europe, football means something very different to the American version.  Whilst the biggest NFL sides can expect to sell tens of thousands of shirts (neither official shirt supplier Nike or the NFL will actually reveal unit sales), the unit sales for the best selling “franchise”, 2014 Super Bowl champions Seattle Seahawks pales into insignificance to current European Champions League winners Real Madrid who sell over 1.4 million shirt sales per annum, the vast majority now bearing the names of twin superstars Ronaldo and our very own Gareth Bale.  Hot on their heels is Manchester United and Barcelona, each selling over a million shirts per annum. The top ten football clubs sell over 7.5 million shirts per annum across the globe, significantly more than the top ten clubs of any other sport.

Obviously these numbers only reflect the official sales.  Browsing the new adidas store at Bluewater last week I picked up a Real Madrid shirt, complete with an official Champions League badge on the sleeve. The prices tag? £60. Last month Nike and the Football Association found themselves being the talk of the town for the wrong reasons with questions even being raised in the Houses of Parliament over the price of the New England shirt, with those “authentic elite” versions again costing upwards of £90.

Football shirts are not luxury items, yet their official price tag puts them in the same category as similar types of items sold by the likes of Armani, Gucci and Versace.  £60 for what essentially is a t-shirt is simply crazy, irrespective of the new-fangled material used to differentiate the latest version from the almost identical one released the previous year.  They are a lifestyle purchase. Whilst a very small numbers of sales will be based on fashion sense, the vast majority are based on the blind loyalty that football fans have for their team.

In the last few years manufacturers and clubs alike have come under criticism for the number of new kits they bring out.  Whilst nobody is forced to buy the new, upgraded version of the shirt when it is released, that same blind loyalty has has queuing up to buy the shirt on the first day of sale.

It is the rule rather than the exception that clubs bring out a new football shirt every year.  Not just one shirt, but in some instances six different versions if you count the special “European campaign” and goal keeper ones. Chelsea, for instance, have released fourteen different kits, excluding their goalkeepers one, in just five seasons.

With the retail cost increasing every year it is no wonder that the market for counterfeit goods is swelling every year. Just last month a huge haul of fake football shirts was discovered on its way into the United States. More than $1 million worth of Chelsea, Barcelona and other major European football teams shirts were found in a container at Savannah Port in Georgia that had arrived from China.  The US Customs and Border Protection force will readily admit they got lucky in finding the counterfeit items in Georgia – hundreds of millions more pass under their noses every year without detection.

The majority of counterfeit football shirts are made in Asia where raw materials and workers wages are very low.  Over the course of the last few years I’ve been to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, the Night Market in Marrakech, the Ladies Market in Hong Kong and even the Sunday Boot Fairs of Sidcup.  Vast ranges of every major football shirt can be bought for just a few pounds.  The quality of the counterfeits varies per seller, with some offering “special edition” shirts.  When I was in. Morocco two years ago, one stall was selling Manchester United, 2012 Premier League Champions shirts, made specifically for the Reds title success.  The problem? Rivals Manchester City won the title with virtually the last kick of the season.

It is fairly obvious that you aren’t buying the real thing at the price they are being sold for, although production techniques now mean that fakes come in a variety of grades of quality.  At the low end the wrong material and non-exact match colours will be used and often there will be spelling mistakes (Liecester City anyone?) whilst the higher grade ones will often have all the bells and whistles of the real thing including holograms and inside printing.

But there is another side to counterfeit football shirts that you may not have considered and that is the conundrum of brand awareness.

Consider this situation.  Every counterfeit shirt carries the branding of not only the football club, but also their main commercial partner(s).  The whole reason why major brands invest millions into putting their logo on the front of a football shirt is to increase their brand awareness both in existing and new markets.  The hundreds of millions invested by Emirates into their sponsorship of Arsenal, Olympiakos, Paris Saint-Germain, Hamburger SV, AC Milan and now the European Champions, Real Madrid means they have huge global exposure from the sales of official shirts.  But their logo also appears on counterfeit items as well, increasing their global reach albeit through illegitimate channels.

Consumers simply associate Emirates with these shirts, irrespective of the legitimacy of the shirt.  Whilst the airline may be deeply unhappy that their logo is being used on counterfeit items, they are essentially increasing their return on investment through free advertising. I have no doubt that the sales of fake shirts are taken into commercial consideration when they are negotiating their deals, but it is a by-product that they inadvertently benefit from.

And what of the clubs themselves? Football is now a global game.  The elite clubs no longer consider the summer break as a chance to rest and relax.  They now travel far afield to play exhibition games in front of sell-out crowds in new markets.  The forthcoming Guinness International Champions Cup in the USA is an example of this where some of the world’s biggest clubs including three of Emirates sponsored teams, Olympiakos, AC Milan and Real Madrid will play a series of games around the USA to boost interest in the game.  Last year Chelsea travelled to Singapore and Malaysia, whilst Manchester United played in Hong Kong as part of their strategy of increasing their global fanbase.

Many of these fans, in the Far East especially, have significantly less disposal income than their core fans have in England.  They cannot afford the real-deal, climacool, multi-weave new shirt at £60. But they can afford the counterfeit at £5.

By buying a counterfeit shirt, one that they can afford, they are still buying into the brand, happy to market the club by wearing the badge, albeit one that may not be official. Does this make them less of a fan?  By spending 90% less on a shirt they can then afford to buy a ticket or subscribe to the club’s online streaming content.  What is more important to the club? New fans who will engage with the club on a regular basis or ones who will contribute a small amount of money once a season through an official shirt purchase.

The whole sports apparel and merchandise market is unique.  Someone who buys a counterfeit Gucci shirt or a fake IPhone charger is doing so for very different reasons than someone who buys a fake replica Barcelona shirt.  Whilst football clubs need to have a brand protection strategy in place, are counterfeit shirts the maker concern for global sporting brands? It’s an interesting debate, one that will certainly differ whether you have the emotional engagement as a fan or the commercial view as a sponsor or the club itself.

*Source:  Allan Brettman, “NFL, Nike fight to keep counterfeit products off the market,” Orgonian, November 16, 2013.

 

I heard it on the Twitter Vine


Football has much bigger things to worry about than six second videos being shared across Social Media hasn’t it?  Well not if you read some of the more recent news stories and official comments made by the governing bodies that run the game in England.  Statements using words such as “crackdown”, “unlawful” and “infringing” have elevated the issue to headline status with organisations including the BBC, Bloomberg and The Financial Times covering the story in depth in the past few weeks.  But is it all just a storm in a tea cup?

It is important to take a step back and understand the context before we can really pass any judgement.  The facts on face value are simple.  Any distribution of copyrighted material, irrespective of the medium, is piracy. Back in the day it used to be confined to taping the Top 40 off Radio 1, finger ready at the pause button to avoid Mike Reid’s voice.  Technology has presented us with so many opportunities to take our media with us wherever we go in a digital form, but that has increased the problem of piracy to untold lengths.  Illegal distribution of latest film releases is still a major issues for film studios as well as cinemas who need to constantly police their theatres to ensure nobody is covertly recording movies.

Vine-LogoVine seems to be the latest problem child.  The app, designed specifically for the smartphone, allows users to make their own 6 second “movie”, condensing video and pictures, then sharing with the world at the touch of a button.  Formed in June 2012, the start-up was acquired by Twitter before it even officially launched for a reported $30 million having been seen as a natural rival to what Facebook were trying to do with Instagram.  Today, with over 40 million users, Vine is a platform for those with creative vision, challenging users to make those six seconds unique, compelling and above all worthy of sharing on Social Media.  According to an article published by US Library of Medicine earlier this year, our attention span has dropped to just eight seconds on average, meaning that Vine is becoming the perfect media for advertisers who want to grab the attention of Internet users.

The fact that the word “vine” has now entered the modern day lexicon along with Tweet, SnapChat and Like shows how we consume digital content.  So why is there a problem?

During an average 90 minute football match, the ball is only actually in-play and live for around 50 minutes.  Out of that period how many minutes are taken up by goal mouth action or incidents?  Five minutes at the maximum?  You only have to watch the final game every Saturday on Match of the Day to see how brutal an editor can be with a mediocre game, reducing 90 minutes down into 90 seconds.  So if you are able to compartmentalise the key moments, Vine becomes the perfect medium to share the action.  With our short attention span, do we really need to see the same incident for every angle or just be able to pause and rewind it ourselves?

The Premier League is the richest football league in the world. The excesses in our national game have been driven by outlandish commercial deals, spiralling ticket prices but above all, multi-billion pound TV deals.  Having invested so much money into these deals, broadcasters such as Sky have to get the return on their investment in terms of subscribers.  One way to get new viewers and keep the old ones coming back month after month? Invest in the technology.  Sky Plus, TiVo boxes and hard disk recorders are all now staple items in living rooms up and down the country allowing us to record, pause, rewind and access additional content as standard.  By being able to rewind the action to the point where the latest action starts, Vine users can then simply take a screenshot of the action then press publish.  Seconds later the goal can be seen on timelines of millions of people across the world on Twitter. This has been the catalyst to the high-profile issue that the Premier League want to clamp down on.  So in summary, the commercial rights that they put on the table have essentially fuelled a problem they now want the broadcasters and Social Media to stop.

So what exactly is the issue?  In its simplest form it is one of copyright infringement.  Everything that happens on a Premier League football pitch is copyrighted, owned by the clubs, the governing bodies, the advertisers, the broadcasters or the sponsors.  Even taking pictures within a stadium can get you ejected or even arrested – the use of any device that can capture or distribute digital content is explicitly banned according to the stadiums conditions of entry, although few will mind you taking the odd snap or two.  The reason is that every time you capture an image it will contain copyrighted material.  A shirt sponsor, a perimeter board even a player’s face themselves.  Companies pay millions to have exclusive rights to be associated with the players, the clubs and the stadiums and they take a dim view of anyone else having a free ride.

Good old technology again has made the professional production of instant highlights possible and so the Premier League has been able to offer additional rights packages to commercial partners.  Last season the Premier League sold the online digital rights for the distribution of goal action to News International to mobile devices. Their paid-app product touts “almost immediate” access to every goal in the Premier League.  Yet before they can push the net-rippler out, thousands of people have already shared the moment through a Vine on Social Media.  What is the value then in a subscriber using their service if they can get it quicker, and cheaper, elsewhere?   If existing subscribers simply walk away from the paid service, what value are News International getting from their significant investment and are they likely to renew it?

Match of the Day used to be our only way of seeing the day’s main action.  Today, before the famous theme tune starts just after 10.30pm on a Saturday, all of the day’s main talking points have been shown around the world thousands of times. What football fans want to see are those incidents that the TV broadcasters never show.  Take the example from the opening day’s Premier League game between West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur.  An eventful game with two sending offs, a missed penalty and a late winner for the visitors.  But the main event which was shared across the world via Vine was when a pitch invader ran on the turf and took a free-kick on goal that was being lined up whilst being pursued by stewards.  Yet that one incident will never be shown on Match of the Day, Sky Sports or BT Sports. Why?  Because it may encourage others to do the same? Maybe, but the main reason is that it could be deemed to undermine the value of our game to those commercial partners.

So what can the Premier League do to enforce the laws on copyright infringement on Vine?  Practically, very little.  The one aspect here is one of the fundamental principles of English law.  To be found guilty of an offence the perpetrator has to demonstrate the “mens rea” and the “actus rea”- the guilty mind and guilty act.  In theory, if someone didn’t mean to do something wrong, they can’t be found guilty of an offence.  It is not always as simple as that but does someone who takes a Vine of Aaron Ramsey’s 90th minute winner for Arsenal versus Crystal Palace doing so because he is intent on infringing the Premier League, among others, image rights or because he wanted to share the moment with millions of fellow Arsenal fans across the world?

Once infringing content has been identified, there is still the issue of removing it.  The beauty of Social Media is that it’s instantaneous.  I can quickly search using hashtag for the material I want and see immediately.  But if material needs to be removed there is a set process that has to be followed and that takes time.  The reason why hundreds of millions of people use Twitter is that it allows free speech.  If it was heavily policed then people would simply move elsewhere.  So whilst the Premier League can request that content is removed for legitimate copyright infringing reasons, it will have been seen by thousands of people already.

So is this just sabre-rattling by the football authorities, or will they genuinely crackdown on users sharing illegal content?  Brand and reputation monitoring solutions are becoming more effective every month but they would still need to justify the investment in a comprehensive solution would be effective in eliminating the problem.  We see technology advancing all the time, so who is to say what medium we will using and consuming in six months let alone six years.  Football has far too many other issues that need to be addressed before it can genuinely think about policing social media to stop these issues.

PS – I wrote this a few weeks ago.  On Saturday I noticed that a very well-known ex-Premier League footballer who is now a commentator on a national commercial radio station tweeted a “Vine” from the Liverpool v West Brom game whilst it was still in-play to his hundreds of thousands Twitter followers, breaching the rules.

Champions League Nights: Part 1 – Five thoughts from the Emirates


I rarely pass up the chance to go to the Dripping Pan but last night I committed the cardinal sin.  I put the gravy train of the Champions League above grass-roots football, or to be even more precise, corporate hospitality at the Emirates over the Ryman Premier League at the Dripping Pan.  I hope I can find your forgiveness in some way and I promise not to do it again….unless someone else wants to invite me in the luxurious surroundings of an Executive box.

My decision tree was influenced by the grade of the opposition rather than a promise of fine food and fine wine.  Borussia Dortmund are one of the most exciting teams to watch in the world today.  It doesn’t seem to matter that every so often they offload a player for small change (Mario Götze’s €37 million deal to Bayern in the Summer for instance), there is always someone new in the wings waiting to come in.

10430196403_2033f61425_b (1)The Emirates is a very easy stadium to get to via public transport from Central London.  Not so easy to get away from but we will deal with that later.  Just 25 minutes after leaving the office I was at Drayton Park, just in time to see the 3,000 strong Dortmund fans marching down the road towards the stadium.  Whilst they were being minded by the Met Police, the only issues they faced was having to use earplugs to drown out the noise.

The pre-match hospitality was first class as you would expect from one of the best stadiums in Europe.  Our host was Sammy Nelson, the ex-Arsenal full back probably most famous for once dropping his shorts in front of the North Bank after scoring a rare goal (and being subsequently fined and banned) who spoke with real passion about the club and the current side.  Talk turned to “that” goal on Saturday although he didn’t agree that Nicky Wheeler’s goal for Lewes at the same time versus Leatherhead on Saturday was better.  We were surrounded on all sides by Dortmund fans, with the boxes either side hosting German football fans and below us were the massed ranks of yellow and black. Continue reading

Tottenham Splash Bale Cash, Arsenal Still In The Hunt


Football Betting Odds gives you the low-down on the end of the transfer window

With just a few days to go until the transfer window slams shut, the race to acquire new players is heating up. This has been an unusually busy transfer window for many clubs, with three of the top four changing managers, and an influx of new TV money swelling the coffers of Premier League clubs.

One club that has been exceptionally busy in recent weeks is Tottenham, who appear to be doing the football equivalent of a trolley dash in an effort to make up for losing the league’s best player, Gareth Bale, to Real Madrid. Earlier this summer, they brought in £17m midfielder Paulinho to strengthen their options in central midfield, and have since splashed the best part of £80m on Erik Lamela, Roberto Soldado, Nacer Chadli, and most recently Romanian defender Vlad Chiriches. Whether this will make up for the loss of their perennial match-winner remains to be seen, but they are certainly looking stronger as a team going into this season. If, as has been rumoured, they can bring in Danish wonderkid Christian Eriksen as well, they look good for Champions League qualification this season.

Chelsea have also tasted some success in the transfer market this summer, beating Tottenham to the punch for £33m winger Willian and scoring some promising young midfielders in Marco van Ginkel and Andre Schurrle. This gives him plenty of options in midfield, and he may be looking to offload Victor Moses and Juan Mata to make room for the new arrivals. However, it looks like Jose Mourinho’s much-publicised pursuit of wantaway Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney has come to nothing, and the free transfer of his ageing former charge Samuel Eto’o smacks of a short-term fix.

In contrast, Arsenal have been having a torrid time of it, missing out on high profile targets such as Wayne Rooney, Gonzalo Higuain, and Luis Suarez and failing even with their bids for mid-profile players such as Yohan Cabaye. Although they have talent throughout their squad, it’s looking a bit thin in terms of real quality, and the recent injury to Lukas Podolski means that the already-pressing need for a quality striker is now a bare necessity. They’ve been linked with the Real Madrid trio of Angel di Maria, Mesut Ozil, and Karim Benzema, although whether Madrid will be keen to let all three go without having time to replace them is another matter. They apparently have money to spend, but they’re leaving it pretty late this time round, and it’s looking increasingly unlikely that they will be able to land the big names that their supporters crave. However, Wenger has a reputation for finding little-known players and turning them into superstars, so even if the players he brings in aren’t big shirt-sellers at first, expect him to spring a couple of pleasant surprises.

New Manchester United gaffer David Moyes has also had a frustrating time this summer, failing with bids for Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara, and struggling even to bring in his former Everton charges Phil Jagielka and Marouanne Fellaini. While both players would undoubtedly add something to the squad, they might be seen as symptoms of Moyes’ lack of clout in the transfer market – and the uncertainty over his long-term future, even at this early stage.

Outside of the top five, Liverpool have brought in a quality left-back in Aly Cissokho, replaced influential keeper Pepe Reina with Sunderland’s Simon Mignolet for £10m, and strengthened their forward options with Iago Aspas. However, if they lose Luis Suarez before the deadline, they may struggle to replace him. Other eye-catching signings include the £15m signing of Spanish striker Pablo Osvaldo by Southampton, and the permanent transfer of former £35m man Andy Carroll to West Ham. While it’s too early to say who has done the best out of this transfer window, one thing is for sure – there are going to be a lot of exciting new faces in the Premier League this season!

To find out the latest transfer odds visit footballbettingodds.co.uk.

Wigan 1 Morecambe 0 – Football wins over the weather again


Spare a thought for those fans who embark on marathon journeys to the other end of the country to watch their side at this time of the year.  Who would be mad enough to make such a trip?  Step forward the Daggers Diary Team.

The last Saturday before Christmas is a busy day. Whether it’s the last few (or all) of the presents to be bought, meeting friends or delivering to those you won’t see over the festive period, the last few days can be a bit of a rush. All this helps to explain why, as we set out from a still dark Victoria Road, there are only two dozen fellow travelers on the long, long journey up to the north-west.

There are probably several factors that can be attributed to the lack of people making the journey. For a start, the leaving time from Victoria Road is 6am, which means that we’ll be around ninety minutes into the journey before we see the sunrise. Another possibility is that, with a coach cost of £25 per person and money tight at this time of year, it’s just proved to be too an expensive a day out. Plus if people still need to do shopping, then this is a day that probably could be spent doing that instead. I have no idea what people used to do when we didn’t have shops open on a Sunday.

Last weekends win over Barnet pushed us up to twelfth place in the division, our highest of the season so far, and stretched our unbeaten home run to seven games. Away from home it has been a bit more difficult, but a win at Bristol Rovers a fortnight ago pushed them closer to sacking their manager (which was done after their defeat at York last weekend), and we have also collected impressive victories at both Chesterfield and Oxford in the last two months. While this can be offset with defeats at Torquay, York and Torquay, it still represents a fairly successful first half of the season. While Christmas is always seen as a time for looking back, the first half of 2012/13 is ending quite nicely for us, and so we can look forward to the rest of the season with a bit of optimism. Continue reading

A Gray day I could Ilford to miss


Some time very soon we will be up in arms about the death of another football club in London. It is a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon at 3.05pm and I have joined barely 150 other paying spectators who are watching Grays Athletic take on Needham Market in the 8th level of English football. Why are there so few fans bothered about football at this level? Well, a scan on the immediate horizon will give you a good idea.

Just as the hosts breath down the Needham Market goal in the first minute of the game, Leyton Orient are holding their own against Sheffield United at the Matchroom Stadium and the mighty Dagenham & Redbridge are probing at Bradford City defence less than 2 miles down the Rainham Road. Two nPower Football League games kicking off at the same time. Oh, and of course let’s not forget that if ESPN didn’t have their way West Ham would have been hoofing high balls into the Arsenal box at Upton Park as well at this time.

So perhaps we can see why there are only just a few hardy souls in the Rush Green Sports and Leisure Centre for this game. But it is not just Grays who face this issue of trying to compete with the big boys this afternoon. Local rivals Redbridge and Ilford are around 2 miles North and West respectively, who both average less than 70 fans for their home games, although a late postponement of the game at Redbridge doesn’t trouble the turnstile operators elsewhere. Even if these clubs were to admit fans for free I doubt they would be able to increase attendances by more than 10-15%. Continue reading