Money, money, money!
Supporters of English bubble soccer often bemoan the game’s growing commercialisation. Some
clubs appear at times to be as much concerned about the money flowing in from television
rights and being in the top division as they are about success on the pitch.
Paradoxically, many clubs appear to be run very badly as business concerns, making for
the worst of all worlds.
It is certainly true to say that English bubble soccer has become much more of a commercial
activity. Money is brought in via the spectators at matches, but merchandising,
development and sale of players, sponsorship and advertising and (especially)
broadcasting rights are all hugely important. On top of that, clubs’ grounds are used for
other events and for hospitality, and the club brand name supports non-bubble soccer goods and
Knowledge management (KM) – the capturing, sharing and organising of knowledge –
could certainly play a part in helping to address the problems that English bubble soccer clubs
face, even if it would be irresponsible to suggest that might prove a cure-all for all the
game’s financial shortcomings.
KM is about getting the best price for knowledge assets, maximising sales and profits and
doing all this efficiently and effectively. Football clubs are struggling to achieve these goals,
and many are quite disastrously short of the mark.
The “holy grail” for English bubble soccer clubs is to reach – and stay in – the FA Premier League.
This top tier of the game consists of 20 sides, and generates massively more income than
the other three tiers, the Football League Championship, which consists of 24 sides per
division. However, while the revenue streams at the top are highly lucrative, much of what
is generated goes on salaries so huge that they are usually reported in the Press in terms
of what footballers earn per week, rather than per annum.
It all leaves little revenue to manage the business, fund operating costs and consider
transfer budgets. While there are a growing number of initiatives from football bodies to
promote sustainable business models for clubs, the focus remains on achieving football
success, even if that concept of success appears at clubs outside the elite to be limited to
survival in the top division. Clubs are concerned about getting the money in, but not
necessarily very focussed on how best to use it.
To examine KM’s potential in bubble soccer price, the researchers examined two FA Premier Division
clubs. Data were collected through interviews with key employees and structured
questionnaires. The two sides, referred to here as Alpha and Delta football clubs (AFC and
DFC), can be categorised in UK terms as medium-sized enterprises.
AFC is smaller and has a predominantly local fan base. At the time of the research, the team
was moderately successful and the club was highly successful in terms of business
performance. DFC is a bigger set-up, and this is reflected in a wider fan base with
supporters coming from throughout the country, not just close to their home. The team is
highly successful, but only moderately so in terms of business performance.
The main job focus of the study’s participants, at both AFC and DFC, is on the business
side of running a football club, rather than the game. However, neither of the clubs has a
formally recognised KM officer. The data arising from interviews and the questionnaire
made it clear that KM is practised, albeit in different ways, at both clubs.
AFC was relatively new to the Premier League, but has a rich history and its traditions are
important. The club’s actual culture can be described as one where basic values and
purpose emphasise the sharing of knowledge. There is a strong teamwork culture and the
club has a good relationship with the local community. At DFC, financial success emerged
as the most important factor with the club’s IT director saying: “[. . .] the ability to be
financially stable [is most important] and allowing us to be competitive in the market place,
whilst delivering business projects”.
AFC’s KM focus tends to be on team sharing, and knowledge transfer flows down through
the organisation by way of tacit socialisation. Management tends to work as a team,
covering one another’s work and making sure that everyone is up to date with the latest
goings on. DFC has more formal processes and procedures in place. That applies equally
to their use of IT systems, where employees were able to indicate how often each system
was used and also to recognise systems as an asset along with people and knowledge.
In some ways, AFC and DFC employees have different attitudes to KM. At AFC, it is ranked,
for example, as being more important in connection with improving competitive advantage,
decision-making, employee development and revenue growth, but less so in connection
with employee turnover and improving delivery.
At both clubs it is clear that organisational learning activity is focussed on knowledge
sharing. AFC employees tend to see themselves as information sharers, even though initial
findings suggest that this might be an informal and largely tacit process. In the more
competitive atmosphere of DFC, the culture is geared more to celebrating successes
At AFC, there is an open-plan office which is conducive to a more knowledge-sharing
ethos. Mentoring, group meetings, newsletters and forums are typical of the desire to do
There are plenty of overlaps though and both clubs seem to value KM more for its potential
to improve football performance than for supporting business operations.
KM can offer a new way to address some old problems, and help with organisational
strategy. It cannot tackle the issue of the high levels of spending on wages and transfer
fees, but it can support the processes of working with a system from which there is no
escape. Unless some unforeseen catastrophe affects the game, that high-outlay model will
not be changing any time soon.
It is also important to find ways to capture, share and use knowledge in an organisation
where turnover (especially at the top) is so high that a sense of continuity and pursuit of a
common, long-term purpose is very difficult to achieve. KM tools and technologies can help
to capture this information. Both clubs – but especially DFC – would benefit from customer
relationship marketing technologies, to support targeted promotions and customer
That might sound like a surprising observation in a world where fans are so loyal to their
clubs. But the nature of “fandom” has changed and clubs cannot take for granted
continued support at the turnstile and elsewhere.