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The future of football

While Manchester United enjoys the rewards of a trip to the USA, clubs like Bury are forced to spend their pre-season in ... Bury.

Such contrasting destinations highlight the ever-increasing polarisation within football. With the elite end of the game running away with the spoils, clubs in the lower leagues could be on the way out forever with polarisation becoming consolidation.

Media values highly inflated by the competition of digital TV now appear to be a thing of the past. With the possibility of the European Commission imposing the fragmentation of football media rights, restricting exclusivity and enforcing individual selling, the ‘hey-day’ of media related income for most clubs might already be gone.

With lower league clubs already tormented by the effects of market consolidation in the digital TV industry and with larger clubs pushing for the ability to retain certain TV rights for sale into overseas markets, if not domestically, the gap between the bigger established ‘branded clubs’ and the smaller more parochial teams could accelerate out of sight.

And with TV income looking set to decline, a scramble for a greater share of the smaller pie could well be in the offing. As the relative media values between the large and small clubs are now more established, the temptation for the big football ‘brands’ of Europe to claim what they will probably believe to be rightfully theirs has never been greater.

The comparative maturity of the digital TV industry today provides the means for the established brands to distribute their own content, gathering greater customer bases and collecting larger revenues around the world.

The smaller clubs that manage to survive the current financial crisis, face the prospect of re-inventing their value proposition and business model. Smaller clubs that fail to respond to the changing environment, by not offering an alternative experience targeted at a different market segment to the increasingly synthetic TV ‘product’ of the rich and famous, are unlikely to survive in the long term. For the ‘small’, some could get much smaller and a fair number may disappear altogether.

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