The Last Word: Idealists v 'the monetisers' – a struggle for football's soul

A worrying tale of two Citys in which loyal fans are treated with contempt by ruthless operators

Claudio Borges became Head of Fan Relationship Management at Manchester City on Wednesday. He announced he was "ecstatic", praised the "loyalty, passion and authenticity" of the club's supporters, and then made the schoolboy error of telling the truth.

His mistake was to describe his role, on the social media platform LinkedIn, as "creating direct relationships with fans worldwide, learn about their interests and beh-aviours, and better engage them, serve them and monetise them".

The Orwellian overtones of such candour challenged the carefully constructed illusion of empathy and informality between football and its followers. Little wonder that within 24 hours Borges was covering his tracks. He removed the M word, and revised that clumsily composed sentence by insisting his job was to provide fans "with relevant commercial offers".

Unfortunately for someone who boasts he is "passionate about football, revenue and innovation", a screengrab of his indiscretion was already circulating amongst supporters' protest groups. He had invited scrutiny of City's strategic approach to relieving their fans of their disposable income.

It seems Big Brother is alive and well and doing the Poznan. City's fans are segmented into 33 target groups. Each represents a different commercial value to the club. Data is collected through the official website and membership cards which report purchasing patterns via a radio-frequency ID system.

City identify individual supporters, monitor when they arrive at the stadium and what they buy when they are there. In the jargon of the trade, they analyse "unrealised potential value". The database differentiates between fans so they can be cross-sold merchandise and other services.

Robo-marketers like Borges create a parallel universe in which multi-millionaire players are "the lads". They use Facebook to promote the cosy assumption that "we are together". To outline a typically crass initiative, fans are offered "the opportunity to have a permanent place in City history" by buying personalised discs for up to £350.

The sales patter promises the stadium will be "transformed when thousands of supporter messages, inscribed on to individual discs, are connected in a giant circle to spell out the words in 'Blue Moon' ".

Of course, City are no different to other clubs who robustly milk football's cash cow. But as they do so, the struggle for the sport's soul intensifies. The idealists and the monetisers, true believers and barrow boys, are increasingly entrenched.

The bookmakers have got their sticky fingers on the Football League, which is now sponsored by SkyBet in a deal which highlights their incestuous relationship with the television company. The legitimisation of an intrusive industry which profits from an insidious social problem continues apace.

Pressure to follow the French lead, to help fund community programmes by imposing a levy on bookmakers known as a "sports betting right", is being resisted. The League's choice of commercial partner merely adds to the sense of alienation.

Their supine response to the ridiculous, and entirely avoidable, prospect of Coventry City playing at Northampton Town for at least the next three years is shamed by supporters' groups such as the Sky Blue Supporters Trust, which picketed the Mayfair offices of club owners Sisu, the hedge fund controlled by the reclusive Joy Seppala, on Friday.

No known photographs of her exist in the public domain, an eerie echo of the opaque situation Portsmouth fans found themselves in before they won their club back and became a role model for a supporter-owned enterprise.

Pompey will have nearly 10,500 season-ticket holders when they kick-off in League Two, at home to Oxford United on Saturday. Sales of replica shirts and sponsorship packages have soared. Fans paid up to £100 to watch a "pay what you want" pre-season friendly against Charlton.

Regrettably, in the current climate the final word belongs to the likes of Borges: "Some end up working for a football club by chance. Others do it by embracing their passion as a career mission."

That went well, then.

Cooking up a way to attract players

Alastair Cook escaped from the intensity of the Ashes series by turning up at my village cricket club to watch friends play in a Young Farmers' match.

The England captain spent two hours bowling at the Under-11s in the nets without complaint. It was confirmation of his grounded nature but a deceptive commentary on his sport.

Club cricket is struggling in a modern, time-poor world. The game's search for a new constituency requires foresight and imagination. It was intriguing, then, to follow yesterday's launch of Cage Cricket, staged in the shadow of Old Trafford, venue for this week's Third Test.

Despite the misleadingly violent connotations of the title, the initiative, championed by Ian Botham, has genuine potential to attract a contemporary urban audience. A partnership with Fearless, an anti-crime project for young people, hints at its wider scope.

The hour-long game is played by teams of six, in gyms or small-sided areas such as basketball or tennis courts. Points are scored by batsmen hitting numbered target zones, bowlers taking wickets and fielders catching the ball directly, or one-handed off the wall.

Uniquely, there is no umpire. Players take responsibility for their own actions. It's different, but a compelling experiment.

Nice big earner

Radamel Falcao, the Colombian striker, is a master at monetising his talent. He is being paid £300,000 a week, tax free, as Monaco's trophy purchase. To put that into perspective, he has earned £10 in the time it has taken you to read this short item.

Suggested Topics
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn