Commercialisation


Like millions of others, I have been watching Champions League football on TV. What interested me was how commercialised the whole competition had become.

I searched online and found images of the 1966 World Cup Final when England won. The difference in the representation of the two spectacles was dramatic. Whereas this year’s Champion’s League competition was full of adverts for different companies, the stadiums were little more than advertising hoardings, there were numerous ‘commercial breaks’, and even the performers were inundated with logos and names of sponsors. The 1966 Final had no such fineries. The match was played in front of an advertisment-free stadium, the players wore unadorned kit, and the pre-match and half-time discussions were free of ‘commercials’. So what brought about these changes?

The simple answer is money. The word commerciaised means ‘managed or exploited in order to make a profit’. Football, and many others sports, are now seen as potential vehicles to make money from. To further understand the mechanisms involved we need to study the logical sequence that occurs when making a profit from sport. This is often a process that is poorly understood by the average student.

In the beginning there was ‘pure’ sport. The whole basis for early sports was the idea of playing for fun. Invariably, the only people who had the necessary time and/or income to be able to play sport in their leisure time were those from the middle classes. As interest in sport grew, people began paying to watch, and so the first commercialisation of sport was when paying spectators allowed various sports clubs to make a profit and use this money to develop the sport. Some sports with large spectator bases were able to pay for better performers and so encourage an increase in spectating. These sports became professional in that they paid players. The interesting thing here is the variation in the timing of this type of commercialisation. Football accepted professionalism in 1885, tennis in 1926, while rugby union waited until 1996. So early commercialisation was attracting large numbers of spectators and paying performers. Money was being made out of sport.

The next stage in the development of commercialisation was the gradual increase and interest in spectating and the media attention that those increases attracted. The early media that embraced a massed clientele were newspapers and the radio. It wasn’t until the 1950s that TV came along as a form of mass media and by that time, attendance at matches was at an all-time high.

TV provided the spur to the dramatic increase in the commercialisation of sport that we now see. The televising of sport works in two ways. Firstly it provides a relatively cheap form of production that can be shown live or in a highlights package. Secondly it dramatically increases the number of spectators from the thousands at the event to the millions in their homes. The growth in TV viewing of sport was almost exponential during the 1970s, and this growth provided the perfect opportunity for commercialisation.

Television showed the sport to millions of people and became an advertisement paradise. Sports clubs had for years been showing adverts for local businesses to the spectators at the grounds. They were called ‘hoardings’ and they are still to be found hanging on the railings at many amateur sports venues. But with television, the number of viewers and hence the number of potential buyers of products increased. The astute businessmen at the sports clubs realised the potential of this and began charging more to permit advertising hoardings and the advertisers were only too willing to pay the money to have their product seen by millions of people.

Sponsorship was the next big development and is simply another form of advertising. Sponsors have their product name advertised while providing some form of payment. This may well be large amounts of money at the highest level, but it could just as easily be in the form of a company’s product. For example, a car company sponsors a club by providing players with cars. The advertising comes through the media, because the majority of spectators are either seeing the sport on their TV or another form of media (radio, newspapers, magazines and increasingly the internet).

So we are now in a situation where sporting events may be viewed as a means of advertising various products to as large an audience as possible through the media. We could talk about ‘media sports’, those that dominate the media and are the most commercialised. We can also talk about the ‘golden triangle’ of sport, media and business, which are so inextricably linked in modern sport.

Remember that the cause of commercialisation is increased media coverage of sport. The emphasis of the media has shifted away from radio and newsprint (although they still have their part to play) and towards television, and increasingly satellite and cable television. The media are able to dictate sport as never before because they put so much money into sport. Sky TV pays the Premier League £760 million per year to show just over 100 live matches; that’s £3-4 million for each team per game! In a typical weekend, there will be 4 or 5 live games shown. The timings of these matches are dictated by Sky TV, so we get lunchtime and evening kick-offs, instead of the traditional 3.00 on Saturday afternoon. Champions League games are arranged to be shown as and when TV dictates. Europa League games are on Thursdays to avoid clashing with the Champions League. Other sports are adjusted in similar ways. Premiership and Heineken Cup rugby union matches are played when Sky decides. The clubs and/or supporters have to put up with whatever Sky prefers.

So what are the effects of this commercialisation? There are good points and bad points like in any discussion question. The main good point is the increased revenue given to sport through commercialisation. This has enabled the various sports to use that money; for improvements to stadia; for improved training facilities; for player recruitment and development; etc. Sport itself has never been so popular, but mainly as a spectating event, a form of entertainment. This in turn has meant that the money tends to go to the main media sports, rather than all sport. Participation rates are still low. The spectator becomes a consumer, and their knowledge of sport has increased, and with increasing demand for entertainment, the format of existing sports has changed or new sports have appeared. The income from TV has meant that sports are less reliant on gate money. There are now more competitions and the playing season is invariably longer.

On the down side, commercialisation dominates sport to the extent that business interests are more important than the sport. Control of sport has moved away from the NGB to the media companies. Media sports are reliant on the media and the money that they bring in. Sport changes for the benefit of the media. Any list of how sports have changed invariably shows that the change was to make the sport more telegenic and attract media interest. The extra competitions and extended seasons lead to more injuries, player burn-out and early retirements.

The sports performers have benefited greatly from all this commercialisation. They have become global superstars, earning vast amounts of money and becoming idolised by the fans. But with the fame comes the negatives; the media intrusion into private lives; the need to maintain a suitable image; the necessity for success and the possibility of deviance.

Teaching ideas:
Compare images from 1966 and 2012 to show effects of commercialisation.

Develop lists/posters of positives and negative influences of commercialisation – guess that 6 of each might be sufficient.

Identify how sports have changed to make them telegenic.

Answer the questions:

1. In the UK there is extensive support from commercial organisations.

(a) How is this support given and how do companies benefit? (4 marks)

(b) Should a performer consider the nature of a company’s product before accepting financial support from them? Give reasons for your answer. (3 marks)

2. In the UK, a number of international sporting events are being ‘ring fenced’, meaning that they must be available for viewing on terrestrial TV rather than on satellite or cable subscription channels

(i) Why should this restriction exist? (3 marks)

(ii) ‘Modern television and broadcasting technologies can give the same spectating experience as actually attending the sport event.’

Discuss this statement using appropriate examples. (4 marks)

3. Elite sport is always highly competitive and increasingly commercial. Elite performers often attempt to make a living from sport.

Screen Shot 2013-02-07 at 20.55.21

Discuss the relationships shown in the above diagram. Comment on the benefits and disadvantages of these relationships to elite sport (6 marks)

4. Elite sports performers rely upon sponsorship as part of their income. Discuss whether an individual should consider the nature of a sponsor’s product before accepting sponsorship. (5 marks)

5. The commercialisation of sport in recent years has dramatically altered the nature of the sporting experience for performers and spectators.

(a) Explain why major sporting events rely heavily on funding from commercial sponsorship and the media. (3 marks)

(b) Discuss the impact of the media and the commercialisation of sport on spectators. (4 marks)

6. Elite performers have the potential to earn vast sums of money.
(a) What are the characteristics of commercial sport? (3 marks)

(b) Elite performers can earn additional money through sponsorship and commercial
business deals. Outline the factors that contribute to a performer being marketable in the modern sporting world. (3 marks)

(c) Explain how elite sport and governing bodies have been influenced by sponsors, the
media and commerce. (4 marks)

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