|Troubled times at Chelsea and Arsenal|
|Written by Wyn Grant|
|Friday, 07 December 2012 22:03|
It's been open season on Chelsea since the demonstrations against the appointment of Rafael Benitez when he made his first appearance at Stamford Bridge. With a run of poor results, Chelsea fans are even unhappier now. Are Chelsea fans are ready to bite the hand that feeds them? Actually, one Chelsea fan did put his head about the parapet on radio phone in 606 and say that it was time to thank Roman Abramovich for all he had done to rescue the club and ask him to move on.
The Financial Times even piled into the chorus of criticism, arguing that 'Football is a funny old management game, but Chelsea's capricious owner embodies a combination of short-termism, short temper and short-term memory loss that is extreme even in that curious world.'
Chelsea have not exactly endeared themselves to the world of football recently. Some matters have not been as well handled as they might have been. However, there is something of the 'cut down the tall poppy' syndrome in some of the reactions. Abramovich and the fans of Chelsea want success for their club and that is what the fans of every club want.
The question that arises is whether Abramovich is going about it in the right way? The FT argues, 'the more frequently Mr Abramovich exercises his absolute power, the less likely he is to get a manager with the independence of spirit to work lasting magic with the team - a manager, for example, like Pep Guardiola ... a short fuse and hard cash won't turn Chelsea into Barcelona.'
Fans and boards think that changing the manager can make a big difference, but any effects are short lived. Research by Warwick Business School for the League Managers Association shows that managers following a sacked predecessor enjoy only a brief honeymoon period, largely inspired by the rejuvenation of players looking to impress the new 'gaffer'.
After a dozen games under the new man, results start to tail off. Another six games later and the average points per game is less than his predecessor achieved more than a dozen games prior to his sacking, when the club was probably enjoying some kind of stability.
Since 2000, a new Chelsea manager has won an average of 2.11 points per game after 18 games, compared with the 2.00 points his predecessor was enjoying a dozen or more matches prior to his departure. According to researcher Sue Bridgewater, the one thing that separates Chelsea from other clubs is that the dip in form before its managerial sackings is shallower.
The managerial merry go-round is not confined to the Premier League. The turnover in the Football League's three divisions has been even worse in each of the last four seasons.
Mind you, things are not much happier across London at Arsenal with Arsene Wenger being booed by his fans. However, when it comes to marketing strategies using social media, Arsenal are arguably ahead of the curve.
Arsenal's marketing manager and head of social media, Charles Allen, has told the Financial Times, 'We're refocusing our whole membership strategy away from the UK market.' Social media are key to getting '100m people inside the Emirates on matchdays.'
Arsenal now has a digital matchday programme available for £3 as an iPad app, the same price as the print programme. It has been downloaded an average of 5,000 times per match, compared with sales of 12,500 per match for the print programme.
Arsenal fans seem quite tuned in electronically. The club has 1.9m Twitter followers, the most of any team in England (Chelsea are second with 1.6m). Wikio Blog Ranking lists five Arsenal-specific sites among their top 20 football blogs. Chelsea, Manchester United, Sunderland and Tottenham Hotspur occupy one place each (the rest are general interest blogs).
Arsenal sees China's 1 billion plus population as the biggest untapped football market. To attract Chinese followers, Arsenal display posts from Chinese social networking sites on its electronic advertising boards during games. They did this when they played Manchester United at the Emirates last season, which coincided with Chinese new year. In the past five months, Arsenal have attracted 920,000 followers on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter. However, Manchester City have 2.5m Weibo followers.
With fans tweeting away whenever there is a key moment or incident, the capacity of fixed mobile networks at stadiums to deal with their digital needs is a real problem. Real Madrid and Barcelona have already optimised their stadiums with suitable wi-fi connections, but even more has been done at the latest generation of stadiums in the United States.
A dozen teams in the NFL have given their fans the option of using Fan Vision, a handheld device that only works in stadiums and offers several live feeds from different angles during games, as well as real-time statistics.
Of course, it may be that watching football in the pre-Twitter, pre-smartphone age had an enviable simplicity about it.
Arsenal's new sponsorship deal with Emirates Airlines will enable the club to spend on player retention and acquisitions, but the real action is not expected to occur until the summer transfer window. Arsenal's kit deal with Nike expires in 2014 and they are expected to sign a lucrative new deal with Adidas which should further boost the funds available to them. It is understood that the club could receive £22m a year compared with the £8m a year it generates now.
Arsenal will earn £30m a year from the Middle East airline, who have extended their shirt sponsorship by five years until the end of the 2018-19 season and secured the stadium naming rights, which were due to expire in 2021, until 2028. This marks a significant increase in revenue on the previous deal but falls short of Chevrolet's £357m, seven-year sponsorship of Manchester United.
The bulk of the £150m is for the sponsorship of the shirt and training kit, with the understanding that the stadium is now widely known as the Emirates, regardless of any contract with the airline.
Tim Payton, spokesman for the Arsenal Supporters' Trust, said: 'Trust members now want to see this money spent on strengthening the team. It does give us a sizeable boost but the way you make money is by winning.'
'What you want is a team that you believe can win the Champions League, rather than in recent years where we have just been competing in the Champions League to earn revenue.'
'Ivan Gazidis has previously stated that increased sponsorship revenue will lead to lower ticket prices and we hope he will now review this going forward.'
The future of the Champions League and Europa League is under discussion by Uefa. One possibility is the absorption of the Europa League by the Champions League to create a 64-club competition. Quite how this would work out in practice remains to be seen, but it could involve an eight club group stage but with only one fixture between clubs instead of two as at present.
The Champions League has been an undoubted success: the real problem is the Europa League. It has never really matched the attraction of the Uefa Cup it replaced. Clubs compete in it dutifully, but it is seen as very much second best to the Champions League.
The financial calculations are clear. Chelsea won £48.4m in broadcast revenue and prize money from winning last year's Champions League. Manchester United made £28,4m despite departing at the group stage. Stoke City made only £2.85m from their 12 games in the Europa League.
The fixture congestion that results from the Europa League can also exert a heavy toll, particularly for teams that cannot afford large squads. Newcastle's performance in the Premier League this season has undoubtedly been adversely affected by injuries and tiredness resulting from Europa League games.
The possibility of eight English clubs entering a 64-club competition is likely to appeal to Premier League owners, although some concern has been expressed in Scotland about the possible implications for Scottish clubs.
In the short run, however, Uefa may focus on trying to enhance the Europa League. One step that is likely to be taken is to give the winner a place in the Champions League competition.
Wyn Grant is a regular contributor to Albion Road and also the publisher of footballeconomy.com, a website covering the business and economy of the game of football.