Friday, 30 December 2011

Not just a business

One of the 'defences' (I'm being generous here) that Franchise customers trot out for the move, and therefore one of their justifications for financially supporting it, is that football these days is 'just a business' and businesses relocate between towns all the time, so why should football businesses be any different? Amongst other Franchise customers I'm sure this 'opinion' is accepted on a nod, but the reality is that it is merely a platitude with no meaning or relevance to the situation. Football clubs have been businesses right from the start, that's not something that came along with the Premier League. And football clubs have never been JUST a business.

Let's take a look at a piece from earlier this year by Malcolm Gladwell for Grantland, and in which he deals largely with the NBA lockout, but makes excellent points about the nature of a professional sports business:

Gladwell very eloquently shoots down the ridiculous notion that professional sports businesses are like other businesses - they aren't, as he points out, "Their customers are obsessively loyal and emotionally engaged in their fortunes to the point that — were the business in question, say, discount retailing or lawn products — it would be considered psychologically unhealthy."

Gladwell's conclusion relates to the NBA owners lockout, but it parallels what Koppel argued back in 2002 and what some Franchise customers would still have us believe - that everything can be justified because it's 'just a business'. As Gladwell puts it, "But of course an owner is only losing money if he values the psychic benefits of owning an NBA franchise at zero — and if you value psychic benefits at zero, then you shouldn't own an NBA franchise in the first place. You should sell your "business" — at what is sure to be a healthy premium — to someone who actually likes basketball." In Franchise FC's case, the Norwegians sold the team (at a massive loss in their case) to a property dealer who needed a facilitator to build a supermarket! Does Winkelman like football enough to carry on pouring millions into Franchise once his stadium is completed? Time will tell - it has taken Winkelman more than 10 years already and he still hasn't finished what he started when he approached football clubs in the late 1990s with his supermarket and stadium property scheme. A lot of supermarket and bank money has gone into propping up his franchised football team, but the jury's still out on whether Winkelman really values a football club for what it really is, rather than just as a facilitator for making him rich personally through the property scheme.

By now, of course, some Franchise customers are starting to realise the importance of a football club to its fans and community. It's supremely ironic when you encounter a customer waxing lyrical about football this way:

Now, if only he wasn't a customer of a franchise that trampled over the wishes of its thousands of fans, just so another business could build a supermarket. Franchise customers are always going to find it impossible to square this particular circle - they simply can't be the football fans they desire to be while condoning what was done to Wimbledon's football fans. And they do condone it every time they put cash in Winkelman's pocket and every time they watch a team masquerading as the 'Dons' while in fact representing Milton Keynes. In the words of Billy Bragg, 'Which side are you on boys?', because you can't be on both. They're either football fans or they're customers of a franchise. They can make their choice, but they should be under no illusions as to what they are choosing.


  1. MiltonKeynesCitizen30 December 2011 at 12:31

    How is it that so many people who understand that MK Dons is just a franchise whose supporters are merely customers, repeatedly make out that they represent Milton Keynes? Including the name of a place in your organisation's name does not make you its representatives. If that were the case, the BNP would be Britain's political representatives.

    Will you please stop repeating this error?

  2. It's not an error. Franchise bears the name Milton Keynes and plays its home games in Milton Keynes. Insofar as any football club represents the community it plays in, Franchise represents Milton Keynes. Assuredly it does not represent all the people that live in Milton Keynes, but, particularly given the significant council involvement in stealing Wimbledon's football club away from its fans, it is simply wishful thinking to believe Franchise FC is not accurately described as being a team representing Milton Keynes on the football pitch.