Football (soccer) suddenly became so important in the USA that the FBI prioritised corruption in FIFA, and China set up a Leading Group on Football. It just seems a few years ago that Henry Kissinger was struggling to get any attention in the USA about the game they call soccer not to be confused with their passion of American Football.
China has struggled with football since we took the first Western football team to China in 1978 and broke the embargo in FIFA against China. Some say everything in China has improved in the last 38 years , except football. In this time Chinese football has been mired in corruption and occasional visits by the world’s leading teams has lost followings, although the TV rights to European football still attract a very healthy following. Football is very popular in China.
So now we have the largest economies in the world – the USA and China both giving major attention to football. Clearly, they are responding to their peoples’ interest in football and also the major role that football now plays in the hearts of minds of billions of people. Football is probably the world’s major sport with associated huge funds involved, major TV and media coverage and, therefore, a potential role in soft power.
Probably both countries Governments realise their people need to ensure their country is represented at the highest levels of soccer, and throughout the game locally, nationally and regionally as well as globally. It is a truly globalised industry even though it is owned locally and played locally. Globalisation of football is only evident through the media coverage. So football is a spectator sport and the product itself is only seen by a small percentage of those who enjoy the sport. It is an unusual industry in that respect.
But its impact is truly global.
The USA has become the major owner of English football, followed by Middle Eastern and other interests. English soccer so long the bastion of working class areas and middle class owners, is now owned mainly by foreigners – the USA, the number one – and managed and played by foreign managers and players.
The USA has a very strong hold on the most open football league in the world – the English one.
Through that opening the USA is building football in the USA and building their influence in Europe and globally.
The USA is some 10 years into this with the Glazers leading the charge. They could not believe the potential for capital appreciation while everyone else was looking at the difficulty of dividends. The USA will revolutionise English football in the next 10 years and owners will replace players and agents as the main beneficiaries of the cash flows.
And why not? They take all the risk. Although they will probably act to reduce risk.
So the USA wants to host World Cups and be involved in the development of national, regional and global football. Their companies play an increasing role in the media coverage and the sponsorship, so they will have a core role.
China is moving more slowly. They will develop their local football, but like the USA, they will struggle to build a global product in their national leagues. American clubs may begin to compete for world class players when American games attract the audiences and commercial interest that is the case in Europe. But no matter how long that takes the USA will be at the main tables of world football.
China is quite a long way behind the USA in terms of their local football and their involvement in European and world football. Developing football in China may take 20 years and will have to manage the question of how much is played by Chinese, and how much is played by foreigners. This affects the quality of their national team which is a serious concern to the Chinese people and, therefore, to their leaders. It is around this question that much will depend.
Another major question is why has China not used its proven mechanism for closing the technology gap – the joint venture. Clearly if China wants to jump ahead of the game in China then it must embark on a deal where a joint venture in China is the best way to access the domestic market. If China wants to catch up then it must work out how to get the world’s top clubs to compete for a limited number of special j-v rights.
China has another great opportunity, arising from its system, that could enable national and regional companies, interested in soccer, to work collectively to create an Asian football championship that outdoes the European one. Chinese and Asian media, sports and sponsorship companies can work with the Clubs to bring the best players to Asia and ensure the best football is in Asia. We are in an era of Asian economic prime development, so innovate in soccer collectively. It can be done and the Americans, Russians and Middle Eastern owners will move to the Asian opportunities.
That leaves global football as a challenge for China. By building a Silk Road approach of uniting Asia, China can create a new centre of football focus in Asia. At the same time China can start buying into European football. To do this its first move of 20pc stake in Athletico Madrid needs to be followed up by bigger stakes in more European top clubs. China can buy carefully into top clubs and develop a new sense of football competition in the UK.
But I would think their money is better spent in Asia.
So how do the USA and China meet in global football’s corridors of power and with what agendas.
I think this will soon be revealed but whilst they may appear to clash, the rise of Asian football is a joint opportunity.
An Asian Pacific Football Conference may be more attractive than a European one.