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Last Updated: Monday, 14 November 2005, 11:43 GMT
Football urged to put house in order
By Bill Wilson
BBC News business reporter at the Soccerex conference in Dubai

Football supporters
Fans have become more critical of some aspects of the game
Football's most powerful figures have been urged not to blindly chase revenues without taking into account wider social and regulatory issues.

Soccerex chairman Tony Martin told this year's conference in Dubai, attended by more than 2,000 delegates from 97 countries, that the "global commercial opportunities for the game are exceptional".

However, he warned that it also faced a number of significant challenges.

The sport has had something of a reality check since last year's meeting of the global football finance forum, when Newcastle United chairman Freddie Shepherd said top clubs should take over the running of the game, in England at least.

Since then there have been claims that the top clubs in many European nations are getting further away from their less-well funded competitors, that matches in many countries are stale and boring, and that ticket prices are too high.

Other major issues include the row between clubs and international federations, drugs, racism, crowd violence and corruption.

Growing imbalances

With the potential rewards of football success so lucrative there has been a growing creep of corruption in the past year, with match fixing in Italy, referee-bribing in Germany and the collapse and reformation of the Chinese league amid a welter of claims and accusations.

At the same time, the European Commission is closely watching television deals and is forcing England's Premier League to change the way it awards contracts.

"Fans are identifying ever-increasing ticket prices, which are driving away the family culture we are striving to achieve," Mr Martin warned.

We've got to look after the game first and foremost, taking it forward on the pitch - so the financial side can also continue to evolve
Sir Bobby Robson

Meanwhile, he said the "imbalance between the rich cubs and poorer ones is growing more extreme".

"This is a fledgling industry enjoying economic growth - but the finances of football are becoming highly complex, and are subject to change and constant media scrutiny."

On television rights, he said "the monopolies issue is changing the way major clubs create revenues".

That shift has brought even more attention onto the rumbling "club versus country" row, with the top clubs seeking greater compensation for players appearing on international duty.

"Clubs are the main revenue earners of our industry," said Mr Martin.

"Their success is essential for the prosperity of football. But international football is also important, with its own growth - FIFA having to manage a very big business of its own.

"Federations, football associations and leagues also mean big business.

"But business plans need to be considered at all levels of hierarchies and on consultations with clubs and grassroots."

Player power

Football players compete for a ball in the air
What goes on off the pitch can be as important as results on it

Yet despite all the financial projections he warned that what made football different from other industries was that the best-made business plans were still " totally dependent on 11 speedily depreciating assets" - the players.

And former England, Ipswich Town, and Newcastle United manager Sir Bobby Robson agreed.

"Without the players, and the fans, you don't have the business," he said. "They are the most important."

He said the game had changed since when he started out as a player in the 1950s, when the only extra revenue clubs took were through programme sales.

"Since then football has changed dramatically, in terms of tactics, technique, physically - and also financially," he explained.

"We have seen the growth of floodlit football, European football, and new stadiums.

"Now we have got to look after the game first and foremost, taking it forward on the pitch - so the financial side can also continue to evolve."

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