Football is coming home! Sheffield FC, the world’s first football club are on the way back home to their original football ground. Everything started here. Two teams, one with red caps, the other with blue ones played the simple game of soccer. Who would have thought in 1857, when the club was founded, how important the game will become and how much money will be spent over the next 160 years? Today, Sheffield FC is playing in division 8, 7 Leagues behind the Premier League and is popular all over the world.
The Premier League today is far away from the original game. The new TV deal, high sponsorship revenues, clients all over the world and owners, who spend billions into the clubs all play their part in making the Premier League clubs more and more to successful businesses. It does not mean that small teams are becoming less popular over there. Even in division 6, more than 1,000 fans attend the matches on average. In addition, a lot of supporters even oppose professional, capitalised football, and run their own clubs. We have looked at three pretty impressive stories of the last decade. FC United of Manchester, Portsmouth FC, and AFC Wimbledon. In each case, fans took matters into their own hands.
Contrary to the big investors in British football, more and more fans take over football clubs or establish new ones. In 2005, Manchester United was sold to Malcolm Glazer, an American investor who regarded the club just as a lucrative business without having an emotional relationship with the club and the city. Even though Manchester United has won five Premier League titles, four League Cups, one FA Cup and one the Champions League since then, a lot of fans still do not advocate the takeover. The reaction of some fans was pretty radical. They established a community called “Red Knights”, a supporter trust, and their own football club – ran by the supporters themselves: “FC United of Manchester”- They started in division 11 in 2005 and just got promoted to division 6. They have already built their own “New Theatre of Dreams” with a capacity of almost 5,000 and are welcoming more than 2,500 fans on average to their home games. They are already a role model for fan-owned clubs all over the world, like HFC Falke in Germany or Austria Salzburg in Austria. With more than 920.000 Facebook Likes, they have already more fans worldwide on social media than some Premier League clubs.
Another incredible story is the one of AFC Wimbledon. Back in 2004, the original Wimbledon F.C. was moved to Milton Keynes! After that, Wimbledon fans created a new club called “AFC Wimbledon”. Starting in division 10, the club was unstoppable on their way back to professional football. Today, AFC Wimbledon plays in League 1, the third tier in the UK, likewise Milton Keynes Dons. Back in 2004 they have played in division 9 – 6 promotions in just 12 years.
In Portsmouth, the worst scenario thinkable became true. After winning the FA Cup in 2008 and playing successfully in the UEFA Cup, Portsmouth went almost bankrupt in 2010 as a result of mismanagement by their last owners from China and the Middle East. Without it’s fans, Portsmouth FC probably would not exist anymore. In 2013, the club did not get a license for any league and everyone thought that the club is not going to play in the following seasons at all. The fans established the “Pompey Supporters Trust” and took over the club. Today, they still play professional football in League 2 and could get promoted this season. Even in division 4, their home ground Fratton Park is packed with 16.500 fans every single game.
All in all, Football stories can’t only be told with high budgets. Wherever you go in Europe, there is always enough space for big stories away from the massive football market in the first divisions. In Germany for example, a club called “Würzburger Kickers” plays in division 2, back in 2012 they played in division 6. “SV Darmstadt 98” are already playing their second year in the Bundesliga after two straight promotions. In 2013, the team was basically relegated to division 4. Only the licence refusal of the rivals from Offenbach made them stay in the 3rd tier.
Having a look at the shirt-sponsors of the Premier League clubs for example, you notice that the majority of the clubs have sponsors from outside the UK, more than 10 are from outside Europe. As a comparison: Only three clubs from the German Bundesliga have shirt sponsors from abroad; thus, the sponsorship volume is much lower. Almost none of the Manchester United sponsors are British. This emphasises that the Premier League teams have become rather international brands. Thus, British middle-sized companies need to have a look at lower leagues to find affordable sponsorships in the football market. No problem in the UK, as you find more than 100 professional football teams in the first five tiers. Most of them are still well-supported by loyal fans and can be considered national brands. Unlike in other countries around Europe, the England has five national leagues and the football association is thinking about installing a sixth.
No doubt, Premier League clubs need big investors from abroad to be competitive and thus, semi-sized businesses do not have many options concerning sponsorship in the first tier. However, you can still write football history with teams in lower leagues.
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