A love of football for many individuals is generational, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s experience is the same. Though they will try, the new generation of football fans, consumed by social media platforms like Twitter and spoiled by watching Mo Salah and Sadio Mane play on the same team, will never truly understand the game’s humble beginnings. Nor will they comprehend just how entrenched football used to be in working-class communities.
Alf Garnett from British sitcom Till Death Us Do Part once said, “Football is working-class ballet," but with the globalization of the game, which has transformed footballers into celebrities and increased ticket prices, it’s hard to find truth in Garnett’s statement in 2021.
During the 1980s, football clubs started to apply commercial principles such as merchandising to club administration to maximize revenue. Since then, merchandising has been one of football's biggest allies. For instance, in 2018, Statista found a large percentage of respondents in England spend around £42-61 on products by their favorite Premier League club. Yet, merchandising is more than just clubs selling replica jerseys.
The gaming industry also has a range of football merchandise, such as video games and casino games based on the sport, which has contributed to the globalization of football. There are more than 25 million players currently playing FIFA 21, and there are several football-themed casino games (or casinospel in Swedish) such as Football Glory and Gold Cup Slot.
These games keep the sport earning money long after the final whistle, and the iGaming industry, in particular, has the potential to globalize football even more by expanding into branded games. For example options such as a Clash of the Titans game, inspired by the 1981 action-fantasy movie.
This branded option has introduced new demographics to the film, and a branded casino football game could produce similar results. For instance, imagine if there was a Bend It Like Beckham casino game. It’s fair to assume, with David Beckham’s presence throughout the movie, Manchester United could see increased viewership figures or increased social media traction following the game’s release.
Football has become globalized through business ventures like merchandising, but other forms of entertainment deserve credit for glamorizing the game. Sports have always had a presence in Hollywood, going as far back as 1942, when the film The Pride of the Yankees received 11 Oscar nominations, and the film’s editor Daniel Mandell took home an Academy Award for his work. Yet, for a while, all of the award-winning sports movies were either about baseball or American football, rarely did European football films make a case for themselves.
However, streaming giants Netflix and Amazon have since reimagined the sports genre through their shows Sunderland ’Til I Die and All Or Nothing: Manchester City and have helped introduce North American audiences to the highs and lows of European football.
That said, it wasn’t until Apple TV+’s series Ted Lasso was released that football reached new heights in Hollywood stardom. Ted Lasso is a show about an American football coach hired to coach an English football team, and it is based on an NBC commercial Jason Sudeikis did with Tottenham Hotspur back in the early 2010s. The show has been nominated for 20 Primetime Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, and it is the new Hollywood “it girl.”
People of all ages are talking about the show, which has attracted new audiences to the Premier League. What’s more is that the Premier League itself has recognized this, and in October, the two entities secured a licensing deal worth roughly £500,000. The agreement lets the Hollywood darling use the Premier League’s logos, club kits, and archive footage; the top flight of English football gets the opportunity to expand its audience and reach from a demographic and geographic perspective.
Merchandising, Hollywood exposure, and lucrative licensing deals have contributed to the globalization and glamorization of football, but interestingly, so have societal changes surrounding celebrity culture. When football had working-class roots, the players were regular people. However, as players now have higher salaries, they are considered A-list celebrities who eat at the best restaurants and take expensive holidays.
Social media has played into this, as players use platforms like Instagram to post stunning views from their holidays. West Ham midfielder Declan Rice reiterated this reality when shared a video of him and Chelsea’s Mason Mount on his Instagram story playing basketball on a private yacht after their Euro 2020 campaign.
Social media has also enhanced WAG culture, which first emerged heavily in the media in the early 2000s. During the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the wives and girlfriends of the football players were spotted shopping and partying throughout the competition, which resulted in dozens of television shows like ITV’s Footballers’ Wives made about them.
These shows encouraged many to look at the wives and girlfriends of footballers, regardless of their talent, as celebrities themselves and social media apps like Instagram have continued this fixation with WAG culture. For example, Rebekah Vardy, wife of Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, has over 40,000 Instagram followers.
She often shares photos of traveling, shopping, and her various brand deals, which emphasizes this change in celebrity culture where anyone can now work with top brands and be a celebrity. Additionally, Tottenham's left-back Sergio Reguilon’s girlfriend Marta Diaz represents a new era of WAGs. She is Gen Z with 2.8 million Instagram followers and has a growing YouTube and modeling career. That means the likelihood of her fans having an eventual crossover with the world of football is high. After all, we saw something similar happen in Korea with the rise of Heung-min Son.
Almost every sport in 2021 is treated like a business. However, this recognition can be difficult for football fans as this transition has changed the nature of the game, something that was once a humble working-class sport. Football has become globalized and glamorized through merchandising, gaming, Hollywood exposure, and societal changes, and players are treated more like celebrity figures than professional athletes. Still, that’s not to say these changes are a bad thing.
The commercial imperative introduced in the 1980s has led to incredible innovations, and the sport was bound to change at some point. At least this way, football fans can access the beautiful game through other forms of entertainment like fashion, gaming, social media, and movies/television long after the final whistle goes on the pitch.