Opinion Piece By Stephen Ignacio
A couple days ago I had the strange task of defending the actions of a seventeen year old who had played his first match in the Gibraltar first division to a mother who was concerned of his studies. Whilst a believer in studies first and football second, an ideal indoctrinated in me since childhood, it was the one comment made that demonstrated that philosophies and ideals change and in this case rightly so.
“Don’t worry if he isn’t into studying don’t force him,” I responded, “he will study and he will continue with his studies, but don’t stop him playing, he has a future and if what you want is for him to get a job he has already started one, its football.”
This might seem hard to believe. Moreso it might seem hard to grasp by many whose mentalities are still set in the days before UEFA and FIFA membership first arrived on the Rock. Yet with the influx of foreign players to the Rock one should assess the reality. Would these players come to Gibraltar merely to kick a ball about when they could do so in their very home town, without the expense of travel, or is there a financial gain that they are after.
Many come from unemployed status, or low employment areas, many come because competition is fierce in their own regions and Gibraltar offers an opportunity. Yet this same opportunity exists for the local players.
Indeed the remuneration at present is not that which you would get in other employment, even the lowest wages in the private sector might be higher than those offered by football in Gibraltar in the majority of the cases. In some it is still pocket money in comparison to the larger clubs. Yet it is the embryonic stage of an industry in which Gibraltar continues to be 60 years behind the time purely due to external politics which has prevented its progress.
A young boy can today dream of playing football for a living. Whilst his dreams, like many others will always be of earning the millions the likes of the superstars receive, it will nevertheless be a wage earning industry in the short-term once the realisation that a choice can be made between a low paid private sector employment away from football or the choice of full-time football in which a “living wage” can be earned.
There are many factors though which Gibraltar still needs to adapt to. A social cultural change must first be seen for this to happen. At present there are a crop of Gibraltarian players who earn a reasonable amount (for Gibraltar’s standards) for their participation. There are those who have also managed to work the system and benefited from playing their cards well to gain the same reasonable amount for their non-participation, purely to meet the conditions which clubs require to be in the league. And then you have some who are bidding their time because they believe that they can earn more by doing so and playing for the higher bidder, even though this sometimes does not happen.
However, there is that change which has in many ways started happening in some clubs where they are seeing the future long term picture and providing steps to generate the future components. Small steps as they are now, these steps with a socio-cultural change in mentalities within our society could breed the scenario where football can earn a living wage, not just to a handful of players, but to a whole crop of young players where their love for football and passion for it goes beyond the immediate wish to become millionaires from the sport.
Earning the living wage in the first place is after all one of the key steps towards even reaching that dream goal just a handful of people worldwide will ever achieve.
Football itself also has to adapt. A culture of wanting things done for them exists across the league in the majority of clubs. Complains over installations, over marketing, over opportunities to create financial benefits are all directed at the main organising association. Yet it is this very culture of wanting things to be done for them which holds football back in many cases.
Associations are there to provide the foundation base, the resources and laws, but not the opportunities or the hard graft to obtain the benefits. Whilst many today work with funding provided by associations such as the GFA and UEFA, clubs wishing to make something of themselves need to think beyond the financial benefits the associations can provide them and only have those as one of the objectives to add to their list of OTHER income revenues.
Few clubs provide any sort of realistic provisions which would attract a supporters base from which an income revenue can be generated. With attendance numbers going to as low as 25 people at a match and never higher than the 600 mark, the opportunity to generate a supporters base which could follow the club and increase attendance seems to have been forgotten.
Fans are not just an audience who might even pay for the privilege. They are an economic partnership with clubs whose loyalty can last a lifetime. They are consumers who will invest in purchasing club products to support the club. They are the foundation base from which benefactors emerge. They are also potential advertisers whose bias can be swayed towards support the club and generate further income. They are also the key to a “lifetime campaign” which will generate future supporters (consumers if you wish to call them) who will pledge their loyalty to the club in generations to come.
Whilst Gibraltar might not generate the thousands of supporters per club other regions might be able to target the fact that the attendances can be as low as 25 shows that there is a potential to increase this level to much higher, and therefore there is a potential to increase revenue streams into the club. At least to the levels seen at regional semi-professional league levels in the UK or Spain.
Clubs, and football in general has yet to adapt to the idea that football is not just a mere sport but part of the marketplace and as such more consideration should be given to the overall product.
Football as an entertainment event has many deficiency, especially when compared to other social entertainment events.
A lack of promotion, a lack of marketing a lack of proper planning on what the product on offer will be has been seen in recent years. Whilst clubs concentrate on the big European matches, in which a poster or two might be put about, the day to day domestic league gets little mention by the clubs themselves. Many under the belief that it should be the association which should promote it.
An increase in marketing the product. A better presented product in itself aimed at attracting audiences and keeping them should be aimed at. Simple interactions with the crowd, simple entertainment such as providing music before matches and half time, or providing some sort of entertainment could easily change the response from the public. Real interaction with audiences and people, especially the young should be considered. Clubs should involve themselves more in providing opportunities to seek more of the marketplace. The organisation of club tournaments for the young. Workshops, meet and greet opportunities, even event organisation for charities and school events where the younger generations would meet players are potential areas which few have yet to venture into.
Clubs such as Brunos Magpies have benefitted from simple offerings such as food and drink for their fans when attending matches. To the point that many would not necessarily part ways if this offerings where not in place now as they become loyal to the club. The club in this case being more than just the players on the field. The supporters on the stands becoming an integral part of their reasons now for attending.
Simple things such as planning events, even providing food, drinks, competitions, programmes, newsletters, or increasing their social media activity. Something which many clubs have yet to muster properly.
These simple things could increase attendances, and thus could lead to an increase in support, and with it come other valuable revenue streams such as advertising and sponsors.
A club who can attract a crowd will attract sponsorship and it does not take thousands to get advertisers interested.
With crowds of 500-600 people, which are very possible on the Rock, advertisers would feel happy to part with at least a small part of their annual budget to see their names across the stands, on the side of the pitches or programmes. Where at present the revenue is “zero” a mere one pound more would be an improvement.
These minor steps are steps which day to day companies across Gibraltar follow to increase their market position. Yet in football the concept of football clubs being companies is yet to be fully understood in full. Whilst many already know the implications of being companies, their mentality continues to be that of playing the game and attempting to win the trophies only, without yet considering the business element of their venture and the marketing potentials that their activities can generate.
Importantly when you merge the marketing potentials and the increased revenue streams that can be generated, though they will never likely be of the level seen in the Premier League or La Liga. The fact that they will be at least similar to small business ventures, they will create the “living wage” scenarios for future generations, and with it, comes the chain reaction which could see teams looking beyond their generations future as this same “Living wage” potentials will also create a new foundation for new fans. Families, friends and supporters of players who will become loyal to the clubs and will increase the numbers, though small in numbers, they will nevertheless be another source of revenue which in the overall global picture means that even clubs not entering the European scene, clubs could eventually compete at an even keel to each other. And as such create an industry which could live on for decades.
Blank walls at the stadium, a lack of information during matches for those watching, a lack of interaction with crowds, a lack of social media presence or even websites which have not moved for weeks, in some cases months are things which should be addressed.
A Gibraltar’s football industry is merely at its foundation base. The first brick has been laid. Whilst it might not become the giant building like the Premier League, La Liga, the Chinese Super League even, it could nevertheless be a cottage industry which , if today it attracts media interest because of its unique nature, but a lack of results, could attract ten-fold the media attention if it produced results such as players entering the top leagues to play alongside the superstars.
In football nothing is impossible whilst the ball is round. It’s even more possible when the ball is round and its rolling. Especially when football looks beyond the perimeter of the pitch and towards the stands and beyond, without the blame game, and looking at a proactive participation.