Football is not only the most popular sport of the world, but also the most globalized one. With its popularity and passion, football attracts the support of billions of people and sponsorship of international companies almost every single corner of the world. This paper examines the globalization of football in accordance with the concepts consumption and empowerment with concrete examples. The paper addresses economic globalization of football by considering the world’s major clubs turning into multinational corporations (MNCs); and affirms the utility of football as an important strategy for the empowerment, particularly in less-developed and developing countries. There will be given place to the initiatives that are being carried out by FIFA, UNICEF and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) where football is the main strategy.


Football, Globalization, Consumption, Empowerment, FIFA, UNICEF

Introduction: Problem Description

“I fell in love with football as I was later to fall in love with women: suddenly, inexplicably, uncritically, giving no thought to the pain or disruption it would bring with it.” says English novelist and essayist Nick Hornby in his worldwide famous book ‘Fever Pitch’.[1] As it is looked at the popularity and passion of the football that surround billions of people from all around the world, Hornby was totally right. There is no other ‘thing’ which is more global than football. History of humanity witnessed tons of actors who were trying to establish huge empires: Atilla, Chengiz Khan, Napoleon or Hitler. However, none of them even came close to the magnificence of this gigantic empire: Football… In this research paper, firstly, I will give a place to the history of football briefly and then I will focus on the globalization process of football that started as a local phenomenon and then became a global passion. ‘Does the globalization of football encourage people for the consumption?’ and ‘Is it possible to use football as a strategy for empowerment?’ will be the questions which are going to be answered with concrete examples.

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Background: History of Football

There have been different types of games that were playing by ‘foot’ and ‘ball’ in different corners of the world. “There are claims that suggest ball games were played earliest in Ancient China, maybe as early as 2500 BCE.”[2] Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), world governing body of football, also declared that “football, with the name of ‘cuju’, was born in the Shandong Province of Linzi during the West Han Dynasty. A primitive version of football existed in China centuries before it was modified and given rules by English scholars to become association football”[3]. The evaluation of football took place in Britain and football, with the type which is very close to the modern style, was first played in Britain in the late nineteenth century. As an inventor of modern football, British were also effective in the spreading of football to the continental Europe and overseas countries with the help of railways and seaways. When the English sailors and merchants give a break in the harbors, they performed this game, and the indigenous people imitated them very easily. That is why, in the continental Europe, first football teams were established in the harbor cities such as: Le Havre Athletic Club (France), Genoa Football Club (Italy), Athletic Bilbao and Barcelona (Spain), Hamburg and Hannover 96 (Germany).[4] The spreading process of football to Africa and Asia took place in a different way; they met with football through colonial powers. For this reason, British colonies met with football earlier than the other nations.[5]

Globalization of Football

In the 1930s, the evolution of radio accelerated the spreading of football. However, football started to become more popular with the help of television. At the beginning, TV and football were not very good friends since those who were responsible from the football were blaming TV to unload the stadiums. In the following decades, the relation between football and television became better and latterly it started to base on bilateral benefit. The first football broadcasting on television, namely on BBC, was the final match of the English Football Association Challenge Cup (FA Cup) in 1938. The 1954 FIFA World Cup in Switzerland was the first world cup that was broadcasted on TV. Football- television partnership was conquering the world; however, “the most important factor that has reinforced the restructuring of football and football clubs has been the arrival of cable and satellite television”.[6] The 1966 FIFA World Cup in England was broadcasted via satellite and the final match of the tournament was watched by 400 million people from 36 different countries. The statistics of the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France shows that, the final match of this tournament between Brazil and France attracted 2 billion viewers.[7] “Television coverage of the 2006 FIFA World Cup was the most extensive to date with 376 channels showing the event. What is more, the 2006 event had TV coverage in 214 countries. The tournament had a total cumulative television audience of 26.29 billion.”[8] Another point, which came to the fore as a result of this football-television partnership, is the broadcasting right agreements between football federations, football clubs and television channels. In 1960, European Football Championship’s broadcasting rights were sold for only 8,000 pounds. As a natural result of globalization and industrialization of football, the broadcasting rights agreements, which cost billions of dollars/euros, started to be signed. For example, the broadcasting rights of the English Premiere League were sold to the British Sky Broadcasting (BskyB) for a fee of 1, 65 billion pounds in 2000.[9] I believe that it is very helpful to look at the numbers again in order to understand the globalization process of football. The shift from 8000 pounds to 1, 65 billion pound proves that television has great influence on the globalization of football and there is a double-sided benefit between them. TV has helped to the ball to bounce in whole world, and the ball has helped to the successes of the TV.[10] Another indicator, that proofs the globalization of football, is the selection of rival teams. First international football matches were played between neighbor countries such as; England- Scotland (1872), Portugal- Spain (1923), Sweden- Norway (1908), Costa Rica- Salvador (1923) and Japan- China (1917).[11] However, nowadays, it is very common to see football matches between England- Brazil, Australia- Uruguay, Turkey- Costa Rica, or Lebanon- Vietnam. Besides these, football shifted from bilateral concept to the multilateral one with the help of tournaments like World Cup, European Cup, and African Nations Cup. The passing of football from local to the international arena firstly took place in the World Cup in Uruguay, where 13 national teams attended, in 1930. At this point, it is very helpful to look at the statistical datas of the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, in order to see evolution of football better. For the last world cup in Germany, 198 national teams attempted to qualify, and 32 of them from six different continents competed in Germany.[12]

Football and Consumption[13]

Within the framework of globalization process, another important concept is the marketing, promotion, and as a natural result of these, consumption of football. Football is, undoubtedly, one of the most popular (probably the first one) sports in the world, and the marketing of football has become an increasingly significant issue, as clubs and product owners want to provide more profit from this sport. Football clubs started to become multinational companies (MNCs) in parallel to the globalization, and they perform like a company in order to increase their revenues with the help of different marketing techniques and financial strategies. Football clubs from all around the world use the mass media as an important tool not only attracting the people into the role of football spectator but also to associate football with the consumption of products through commercials.[14] Moreover, most of the major football teams have their own TV channel, radio or magazine in order to market their activities, organizations and licensed products; and to increase their brand value. For example, the official Manchester United magazine, ‘Inside United’ is sold in China with a circulation of 50,000 copies.[15] Examples can be increased; Italian football club Juventus has 1200 fan clubs in all over the world. The TV channel of worldwide famous Spanish team Real Madrid ‘Real’ is watched in 40 different countries.[16]

Another strategy, which is popularly used by big clubs, is to increase their visibility in Asia, North America and Middle East. Football clubs such as Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan, arrange training camps or friendly games in China, Japan, the USA, and United Arab Emirates; thus they aim to enlarge their market and to increase the number of potential customers. Major football clubs open stores in various cities where their Asian, American, Middle Eastern fans can find official products of their European clubs, such as jersey, cap, scarf, shirt, flag etc. Football clubs are trying to reach their overseas fans not only by arranging camps or opening merchandising stores; but also by developing interactive services where fans follow their team all year long. For example Manchester United and FC Barcelona’s webpage has Chinese, Japanese and Arabic version. At this point, it is remarkable to remember the declaration of former president of Italian football club Lazio, Sergio Cragnotti: “In the era of globalization, when people have more leisure time, football is the most global business of the lot. You tell me another product that is bought off the shelf by three billion consumers. Not even Coca- Cola comes close”.[17] In the same manner, transfer of David Beckham from Manchester United to Real Madrid can be a good example how globalized football icons affect the balance sheets of football clubs and encourage supporters to buy official products of their clubs. “Apart from benefiting from his football ability, this transfer gives the Spanish club an opportunity to profit from merchandising, especially in the Far East, where Beckham is enormously popular.”[18] Real Madrid paid $50 million for David Beckham in 2003. But, later “Real had put some hard numbers on the player’s off-the-field impact in his four years at the club. The club sold €440 million ($600 million) worth of shirts and other soccer merchandise during that time, increasing merchandising profits by 137%”[19], according to the Real Madrid’s marketing director Jose Sanchez.

Football is getting more industrialized day by day and accordingly; businessmen, Russian oligarchs, Arabian oil barons, old prime ministers started to perceive football as a business and invest on football clubs in order to gain their profit, to get prestige or for some other reasons. Former Prime Minister of Thailand Thaksin Shinawatra’s purchasing of English football club Manchester City and latterly selling it to the Emirati businessman Sulaiman Al-Fahim can be a good example how this football thing perceived as an income channel by business world. The same relation between business world and football can be seen in the examples such as; Russian businessman Roman Abramovich- English football club Chelsea; Russian-born Lithuanian businessman Vladimir Romanov- Scottish football club Hearts and American businessman Malcolm Glazer- English football club Manchester United.

Another dimension of football-consumption concept is the usage of football clubs and players as an icon, product or service by international brands. The broadcasting rights agreements which cost billions of dollars/euros with television channels (Eurosport, Fox, BskyB, etc.), sponsorship agreements with sports equipments suppliers (Nike, Adidas, Puma, Reebok, etc.), transportation agreements with automobile and airline companies (Audi, Mercedes, Fly Emirates, Thomas Cook, Turkish Airlines, etc.), communication agreements with electronic companies and GSM operators (Samsung, Vodafone, Philips, etc.) are all big income channels for both football clubs and those multinational companies themselves. In the world economy, football is an important and popular tool, especially for the companies in the consumption and service sector, to promote themselves and their products. Until the beginning of 21st century, only interaction between companies and football clubs was mostly based on simple agreements such as jersey advertisements. However, especially in the last years, international companies sign more comprehensive and significant amounted sponsorship agreements with the football clubs. Football clubs’ stadiums (Commerzbank Arena, Emirates Stadium, Philips Stadion, Bolton Reebok Stadium), names (FC Red Bull Salzburg), even their leagues (Ireland Eircom Premier League, Romania Liga I Gamebookers.com, Turkey Turkcell Super League, Portugal Carlsberg Cup) where they are competing have begun to be known with the name of international brands.

These kinds of agreements are not only take place between global companies and football clubs but also between global companies and football players. Many football stars such as David Beckham, Christiano Ronaldo, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic earn large sums of money not only for their sporting abilities but also through sponsorship agreements. The gain is mutual; while football players make a lot of money thanks to those sponsorship agreements; international brands have chance to expand their markets and increase the number of their potential customers with the help of football icons. Moreover, these kinds of agreements among football players and companies may affect players’ professional career as well. “Pepsi and Adidas played a big role in forcing David Beckham to move to Real Madrid. For Pepsi, it would be more profitable for them to have David Beckham to play in Real Madrid because Real Madrid has three other players that have sponsorship deals with Pepsi. But the biggest influence came from Adidas, which is the main sponsor to David Beckham. Manchester Untied is sponsored by Nike, Adidas biggest competition in the industry and Real Madrid is sponsored by Adidas, so it would be so much better for Adidas to have David Beckham to play in Real Madrid instead of Manchester United.”[20] Another remarkable example is the transfer of worldwide famous Portuguese football icon Cristiano Ronaldo, from Manchester United to Real Madrid that is sponsored by Adidas. Nike, which is the personal sponsor of the player, sent him to the official unveiling in Madrid with a T-shirt where a big Nike logo on it.

Football and Empowerment

Football is one of the most globalized concepts of the era that has tons of followers in all around the world. They play this game in stadiums, dusty streets, beaches, deserts, in the middle of war zones; in the rainy, snowy, windy weather. On the other hand, the same people are suffering as a result of armed conflicts, ethnic and religious disputes, poverty and HIV/AIDS in almost every corner of the world, especially in less developed and developing countries. But even in dreadful situations, children played/are playing/will play football in every chance that they have. Football is a universal language for all those children from all around the world. “Football is more than ‘just a game’, it is a positive lifestyle. It teaches children to trust each other, lures them away from drugs and violence and provides them with a protective environment – where they can grow up healthy, fit and self-confident.”[21] It is obvious that those people (especially children) in the problematic areas of the world should be empowered. The question is that is it possible to use football as a tool for empowerment? The World Bank defines empowerment as “the expansion of assets and capabilities of poor people to participate in, negotiate with, influence, control, and hold accountable institutions that affect their lives.”[22] When it is looked at the social economical and cultural effects of the football, yes it is possible to claim that football can be used as a tool for the empowerment of people who live in the problematic areas of the world.

By those, who noticed the importance of sports as a tool for development in the last years; sport, particularly football, has been started to use as a strategy for the empowerment of people (especially children) worldwide. International, regional and local organizations, governments, NGOs and individual activists launched and are still launching programs and campaigns, where football is the main strategy, for the empowerment of children and woman especially from the poorest and most marginalized regions of the world. All those organizations have their own techniques, methods and ways of working; but they all have one purpose: to improve the lives of children and women by fostering empowerment. With its popularity and passion; football surrounds billions of people and “reaches more youth than any other recreational activity in the world.”[23] According to the UNESCO report, related with the variety of sports activities in 48 less developed countries which are located in Africa, America and Asia-Pacific region, only three sports are practiced in all of those countries: athletics, football and basketball.[24] And football is the only sport that is being performed in every single corner of all those countries. As a result of an idea “Harnessing the power of football, a universal language that all children understand, can translate into an effective tool to combat violence and conflict, enabling children to grow up in more peaceful societies.”[25], football is being used as an important empowerment strategy by many international organizations such as UNICEF, FIFA or football clubs. Since 1999, UNICEF and FIFA have many collective campaigns under the framework of “Unite for Children”[26] for the rehabilitation and development of children especially in problematic areas of the world by using football as a strategy. The main purposes of those programs are to “prevent children from being recruited as child soldiers, inform them about the dangers of HIV/AIDS through education and discussion, and promote educations for girls, among many other objectives.”[27] To reduce the damage of HIV/AIDS is one of the priorities of campaigns which held by UNICEF and FIFA. According to the 1998 numbers, 2.2 million people died from AIDS just in Sub- Saharan Africa.[28] The diseases like malaria or HIV/AIDS are serious threats to economic, social development and stability of developing countries both in Africa and in some other regions of the world. In January 2000, the former secretary- general of UN Kofi Annan stressed the seriousness of health problems, particularly AIDS, for African countries with these words: “The impact of AIDS in Africa was no less destructive than that of warfare itself. By overwhelming the continent’s health and social services, by creating millions of orphans, and by decimating health workers and teachers, AIDS is causing social and economic crises which in turn threaten political stability… In already unstable societies, this cocktail of disasters is a sure recipe for more conflict. And conflict, in turn, provides fertile ground for further infections.”[29] Yes, that is obvious that football can not eliminate those health problems by itself, it can not realize the development by itself; but it is again obvious that it can help the empowerment of people in those less- developed and developing countries by using its popularity and attractiveness.

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Another campaign that was launched by UNICEF and supported by FIFA is ‘Say Yes for Children’, that “urges people to pledge their commitment to improve and protect children’s lives.”[30] Recently, the campaign has more than 94 million supporters from all around the world. The 2002 World Cup, which was organized by Japan and the Republic of Korea, was dedicated to the children of the world by FIFA in order to support ‘Say Yes for Children’ campaign and attract the attention of world to this humanitarian cause: children.

“Girls and women face a disproportionate number of life challenges, which reduce their ability to achieve their full potential. Recent studies show that despite formal guarantees of equality, the overall rate of progress for women, particularly those from the poorest and most marginalized regions of the world has been slow.”[31] In this manner, the campaign “‘Go Girls! Education for Every Child’ is UNICEF’s public outreach campaign to raise awareness, generate public support and mobilize resources for girls’ education in countries around the world.”[32] Accordingly, FIFA dedicated ‘Women’s World Cup 2003′ to this campaign. During the tournament, a lot of advertisements and promotions were held about the campaign, and at the same time “FIFA has also donated more than 600 ‘sport-in-a-box’ kits to support UNICEF programmes around the world.”[33] Those kits which contain equipments to play football, aim to attract girls to the school and encourage them to do sport. “In Guinea and Djibouti, for example, UNICEF is using the sports kits as a way of improving girls’ attendance in schools, empowering girls and changing attitudes towards girls.”[34] Football takes a very significant place at UNICEF’s agenda and the cooperation between UNICEF country offices and FIFA national associations is held in more than 75 countries.

Campaigns such as in Fútbol para la Vida (Football for Life) in Honduras and Fútbol para la Paz (Football for Peace) in Colombia are two other examples where football is being used as an empowerment strategy. Both during and after the conflicts in Balkans, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Georgia or Sudan, football was used as an important tool to decrease the trauma of conflict. There are also some education programmes, where football is used as a tool, in Kenya, Liberia and Honduras tosupportHIV/AIDS preventioncampaigns.

Apart from UNICEF and FIFA campaigns, there are various empowerment initiatives to provide a better and safe environment for the children and women of countries which are affected by war, poverty and HIV/AIDS particularly in Africa and Latin America. ‘Women’s Soccer Unity’ in Rwanda is a project which aims “to empower girls and women through football in all regions of Rwanda and to create a solid women’s football federation.”[35] After the education program in Kigali, participants return to their hometowns; found and develop their own female football teams on a volunteer basis. “They also take on the development of peace and reconciliation and the eradication of gender based violence by using football as a platform for outreach and education.”[36] ‘AFESCO’; a campaign that deals with teenage girls and women who were displaced from their homes and live in refugee camps in Democratic Republic of Congo, has “initiated a project in 2008 with approximately 50 girls and women learning football skills and partaking in education about women’s rights, overcoming trauma and peace and reconciliation.”[37] ‘Moving the Goalposts’ (MTG), a community based organization in Kenya, is helping more than 3000 girls and women (between the ages 9 and 25), who are participating in football tournaments and ongoing leagues. “Participants are encouraged to be active in leadership roles such as: committee membership, coaching, refereeing, first aid, peer educating and counseling. Moreover, MTG has used football projects successfully to address reproductive rights and economic empowerment, for in school and out of school girls.”[38] ‘Family in Need Trust’ organization is “dedicated to reducing poverty and empowering girls and women”[39] who are suffering and can not participate actively in the social life as a result of political situation in Zimbabwe. The organization is supporting sport activities, particularly football, as well as professional education for 300 girls and women. ‘Kroobay Women and Girls Sport’ in Sierra Leone is a women’s rights organization, that aims sustainable development and gender equality through sport movement for girls and women who were affected negatively from the war between 1991 and 2004. The organization “uses different sports (running, football, volleyball) to reach 200 girls and young women in the Kroobay community in order to increase their physical endurance, learn conflict management, develop their leadership skills, and develop a higher self-esteem and pride in themselves.”[40] ‘Associación Bogota Colombia’ is another community based NGO which “develops projects for homeless and excluded people facing problems of social disparities, poverty, discrimination, violence, insecurity and conflicts.”[41] The method of the association is using street football as a uniting element for the girls between the ages 15 and 19. Thanks to the campaign, participants are also being engaged to the income generation projects, community service, and education programmes.

The Homeless World Cup, which aims the empowerment of children in all around the world, has been held annually since 2003. The Homeless World Cup is an international football tournament that aims to combine young homeless people from all around the world and to give them a chance to represent their country and meet other young people from different countries. “It has triggered and supports grass roots football projects in over 70 nations working with over 30,000 homeless and excluded people throughout the year. The impact is consistently significant year on year with 73% of players changing their lives for the better by coming off drugs and alcohol, moving into jobs, education, homes, training, reuniting with families and even going on to become players and coaches for pro or semi-pro football teams.”[42] The organizations such as UEFA, UN; football clubs such as Manchester United and Real Madrid and football players such as Eric Cantona, Didier Drogba and Rio Ferdinand are some of the supporters of the initiative.

Another contribution to the empowerment of children, in problematic areas of the world has come from football clubs. Manchester United is one of the first football clubs that started to work with UNICEF to support children which were affected by HIV/ AIDS. “The club that has been working with UNICEF since 1999 under the name of the ‘United for UNICEF’ “has raised over 2 million for UNICEF programmes and has benefited over 1.5 million children worldwide.”[43] Another football club that supports UNICEF is Barcelona FC. For the first time in the club’s 107 years history, they signed an alliance with UNICEF in 2006, “which included an annual contribution of €1.5m to the charity for the right to wear the UNICEF logo on the Barcelona jersey. Barcelona and UNICEF’s global partnership has supported more than 100,000 children, notably in sub-Saharan Africa.”[44] For example, in the first year of this agreement, the donation was canalized for the rehabilitation of children affected by AIDS in Swaziland. As a result of education and sport programmes there was a remarkable improvement in the better protection, support and care of orphans and vulnerable children. Besides, the public awareness to the AIDS has risen as well. Another Spanish football club Real Madrid launched a partnership with UNICEF in 2004, to work for children’s right. “The club works to improve the lives of children by harnessing the power of football and the global influence of the team and drawing attention to children’s issues.”[45] Real Madrid FC also welcomed four Somali youth in 2004 under the framework of an education programme jointly held with the UNICEF Somalia, and provided them two week summer football camp.


Football has always been a popular sport, but especially after the globalization process it has become a business as well. The marketing of football has become an important issue, as clubs and product owners want to provide more profit from this sport. Football clubs have started to act like MNCs. They follow strategies which aim to increase loyalty of fans to their teams and to encourage them for more consumption. Even if globalized football triggers the consumption, amateur spirit in football should be kept in order to maintain its passion that attracts billions from all around the world.

I believe that ‘Football Empire’ will never collapse unlike the previous ones which were established by Atilla, Chengiz Khan, Napoleon or Hitler; since it grew and spread up by acceptance not by force. “Football is Old Europe and New Europe. It is Brazil and the rest of Latin America, along with Africa, Asia, Australia, and the United States. It is the Islamic world. Every World Cup is a celebration of a happier globalization than the one we all know. The nations of the world come together for a contest between peers, with no single party calling the shots. Football can be our role model for a just world order.”[46] Football should not be extremely overestimated or underestimated. Football, by itself, can not cause a tension or a war between two countries that have good relations. Football can not stop a conflict without the political will of actors. However, it can be used in one of these fields. In its own measure, football can be effective to increase or help the detente of violence. Football can be an important tool for the empowerment of people in Africa, Asia, Latin America; it is obvious that it can not finish the poverty, malaria or HIV/AIDS; it can not provide economic stability or political order by itself; but it can help to create a more secure and peaceful environment within its own concept.



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