Thursday, November 20, 2008

Soccer and Globalization: Manchester United/ New York Yankees “SuperClub”

In the wake of Frank Foer’s visit to BYU this week, I felt it might be worthwhile to use my first Sports Academic post (Thanks, Corry!) to revisit one of the most glaring examples of sports and globalization in recent history: the New York Yankees/Manchester United “SuperClub” pact of 2001. Orchestrated by none other than George Steinbrenner (who else?), this historical merger, the most lucrative in the history of sports, basically added up to revenue sharing and streamlined marketing between the two largest, richest clubs in professional sports.

Before hastily assuming this is another Yankee-hater post on the “Evil Empire” of Steinbrenner, let me preface my comments in saying that I have a strong historical affinity and love for the Yankees (for reasons I mentioned in my “Love Letter to Baseball” in my comments on Corry’s "Baseball's Demise II" post on my birthday). My reasons for resurrecting this beast of a deal nearly eight years later is to highlight the impact it’s had on sports in the global scene. Not only did Steinbrenner’s plan include televising ManU matches on his YES network, it would send Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter to Old Trafford for a British Tour, bring David Beckham and Fabien Barthez to Yankees Stadium for a US Tour AND, perhaps most significantly, capitalize on marketing by posting the one’s insignia in the other’s stadium and selling their trans-Atlantic counterpart’s merchandise in each team stores.

What did this mean to sports? If we’re talking championships, very little—the Yankees have only won one AL pennant (2003) and NO world series since the merger; ManU continued their dominance in the Premier League but took time in claiming an FA Cup (2004), League Cup (2006) or UEFA Championship (2008). As far as marketing goes, that’s another story: both teams have greatly enjoyed the spike in their stock and revenues that allowed them to buy the biggest names in their respective sports. In 2002-2003, Steinbrenner was able to bring Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and some guy they call A-Rod to a team that already had Roger Clemens, Derek Jeter, etc. Immediately following the merger, ManU broke the national transfer record THREE times consecutively with the purchase of Ruud Van Nistelroov, the Argentine Juan Sebastien Verón and Rio Ferdinand—adding them to a team that already had Beckham and Barthez. In essence, it made both teams—the richest in their respective sports—even richer and, ultimately, immune to any potential salary caps or luxury taxes. What’s more? It made great strides to making ManU and the Yankees international teams.

Steinbrenner has since retired from baseball and passed the team to his inept son Hank (C’mon, Joba as a starter???). American impresario Malcolm Glazer managed to buy the majority of United stocks in 2005, much to the dismay and chagrin of the ManU faithful. Yet, the teams continue to buy the big-ticket stars (Christiano Ronaldo, Johnny Damon, Nick Swisher) and continue to lead the league in revenue, payroll and global markets. Yesterday, at the Frank Foer Q&A, I was sitting in front of an American student with a ManU sweatshirt AND jersey... in Provo. And, I defy you to spend an hour near the Tube station at Piccadilly Circus without seeing the iconic white NY on a field of navy on the crown of an average Englishman.

Sports are a global commodity—as big as McDonalds, Coca Cola, Nokia or Ikea. Barcelona just sold out to corporate sponsors. Franck Ribéry’s Bayern Munich jersey has a giant T-Mobile logo on it. Soccer, this organically-grown, grassroots, beautiful game of tribal warfare, has succumbed, as Foer so eloquently wrote, to the capital market of globalization. Alas, the pitch has seen the end of a José Bové approach to selling cultural exceptionalism. Indeed, soccer is not Roquefort.


Corry Cropper said...

And their jerseys sell for over $100 a piece... while the poor person who makes the shirts probably makes about 25 cents per.

Any chance they'll add a Pakistani cricket team to the mix or a Formula 1 team? Also very lucrative sports.

Anonymous said...

Now that you mention it, Steinbrenner's company, YankeesNet, actually owned the New Jersey Devils (NHL) until 2003, YES cable station, and the New Jersey Nets (NBA) before Jay-Z and Bruce Ratner coughed up some serious cash to move them to Brooklyn.

Believe me, it will be a HUGE label! Jay-Z is going to make an historical push to bring LeBron to Brooklyn next year.

This raises another question about rap, sports and marketing: Jay-Z and the Nets, 50-cent's trademark Yankees hat, Nelly and St.L., NWA (Ice Cube) and the Raiders back in the 80s, etc. Hey, even Lil' Wayne is doing a (very entertaining) sports blog for ESPN.

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