John Dewhirst1, Wray Vamplew2
1 Independent scholar; 2 University of Edinburgh
During the final quarter of the nineteenth century football was transformed into an industry. From being dependent upon the supply of enthusiastic participants, it became reliant upon the demand of spectators. Decision-making criteria became increasingly dominated by financial considerations and the generation of positive cashflows. Bradford and Glasgow were cities at the heart of the British industrial revolution in the nineteenth century and they were also at the forefront of the commercial transformation of sport. What is striking about their economic performance is the growth in their income, an achievement that would be impressive for any business. By the second half of the 1880s, rugby team Bradford FC was consistently generating annual revenues in excess of £3,000 compared to only £520 in 1880/81. By this stage, Queen’s Park FC turnover averaged slightly less than £3,000, a near tenfold increase compared to 1875. By 1914 Bradford had switched codes to become a soccer club and Queen’s Park, while remaining an amateur team, was the owner of Hampden Park, the largest football stadium in the world. This article traced the reasons behind the economic histories of the two clubs by developing a framework which consists of three reviews, one of the local environment (broadly defined), one of the transition process, and a third looking at organizational change.
The assessment of environmental factors brings a localized focus to the study and identifies the significance of local circumstances to the transformation of the sports club into a business. Six distinct themes were identified that might be categorized as environmental enablers in the transformation process: urban geography, a receptive sporting culture, availability of players, proximity of competitors, spectator catchment area, and substitute entertainments.
It is one thing for environmental, external conditions to create a favourable scenario for a sports club to become a formative business, quite another that a club should actually take the opportunity. This stage of the framework focussed on the dynamics by which the transformation of a club from a recreational body to a business took place and embraced an assessment of what motivated clubs to embark on the change process. In the beginning, the financial affairs of both the Bradford and Queen’s Park clubs were limited to the collection of member subscriptions for paying rent, ground maintenance and travel expenses. The first stage of the transition to becoming a business was persuading people to pay to watch, in other words, to monetize the activity. The second stage could be described as ‘commercializing’ the sport and developing a model capable of generating an operational monetary surplus. Commercial activity constitutes a business if it is repeated regularly with the intention of generating a financial surplus from the aggregate of all activity. The conversion of both Queen’s Park and Bradford FC to being businesses can be traced to their development of spectator facilities and investment in grounds as once clubs began to invest in permanent structures they were required to act as a business in order to pay for them.
The third part of the framework focussed on the operational configuration needed to deliver an entertainment product or experience. Nine elements were considered within three separate categories: the external face, the core operation and the internal dynamics. First, the external face covered the clubs’ missions; civic endorsement, status and community identity; and public engagement (which includes links with the local community but also looks at how the club marketed itself both in price and non-price terms). Second, any club has to have a viable business model at its core if it is to prosper, or indeed survive, and have the capability of generating sufficient income to ensure a surplus to keep it solvent or to allow for investment. Both Queen’s Park and Bradford invested in resources and infrastructure and the superior facilities respectively at Hampden Park and Park Avenue were used as a basis for differentiation in marketing. Both clubs could also boast of the business acumen of their leadership. Finally, internal dynamics considered the ability to recruit talented administrators and players; the change from being members’ organisations to taking company status; and adopting a different capital structure.
The framework employed allowed the identification of key influences and decisions in the process of commercialization of two football clubs. Their economic history suggests that commercialized sport should be viewed in the context of a continually evolving market for urban entertainment. Both Bradford and Queen’s Park were pioneers in football’s initial period of commercialization but they learned from the experiences of previous sports clubs in the locality. The financial success of Bradford after 1880, for example, was based around three components of its operations that embodied learning from the cricket club’s experience: investment in a permanent, dedicated sporting arena; the staging of other activities to cross-subsidize; and a collaborative relationship with a local brewer and caterer to provide refreshments. By eventually abandoning rugby in favour of soccer in 1907, Bradford FC demonstrated the critical success factor required of any business – the need and willingness to adapt to changing circumstances. The same could be said of Queen’s Park FC which eventually decided to join the Scottish Football League in 1900, a decade after it was formed, to safeguard its turnstile income and the decision to build the third Hampden Park in 1903 as a major source of external funds for the club. The leadership of both clubs accepted the business model of an entertainment business and had an awareness that, like any commercial organization, a sports club survives or fails according to its cash flows.
Copyright © John Dewhirst & Wray Vamplew 2020