A Conversation with Professor Simon Chadwick.

In this new episode of ScorePlay talk, we picked the brain of Global Professor Simon Chadwick to get his insights on the importance of content as soft power for football clubs, on Football clubs as lifestyle brands, and on how smaller clubs can compete with others in terms of content.
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Simon Chadwick is a Global Professor of the Geopolitical Economy of Sport at EM-Lyon.

Could you tell us about the concepts of Disneyfication & Netflication of football?

Getting to think about athletes, they're not just athletes anymore. We're beginning to see for example City Football Group with the All-or-nothing Amazon documentary series. They go from being athletes to actually being performers and when I talk to students, very often about the All or nothing documentary series and not just the Manchester City case but you know other clubs that have done this as well, they actually talk about the players not just as players but almost like friends, as people that they know, about their lives, they understand what their trials and tribulations are. So they are becoming performers. So I think that that very much is a characteristic of Disneyfication. What can sport learn from Squid Games? One of the most amazing things for me about Squid Games is within the space of weeks, this product was able to drive engagements globally in a way that most sports clubs, most sports events can only dream of. It's no longer about in The Spurs case, 11 against 11 kicking the ball around and we know that's a rich product. It's this tension and drama and excitement and loyalty and anger and aggression. So it's still a rich product but it does seem as though Netflix and the creation of content like All or nothing has added a layer, it's added a depth to the product because it's no longer just about football, it is about individuals and lifestyles and who they are, what they like and what they think, what they stand for. And that is how digital technology has changed the way that we see sport and engaged.

Clubs are becoming lifestyle brands that focus on content production. What do you think are the long term implications on the game itself?

Football clubs have always been about lifestyle. What we now have is a set of characteristics that are impacting upon our consumption of football which is being conceived of in terms of lifestyle and that lifestyle is around fashion, it's around the use of digital and mobile technologies, it's lifestyle in terms of trying to understand if there are local regional cultures of consumption, global cultures of consumption. But in some ways again, they're not necessarily any different to what we were encountering in the 19th century. I guess what is different is obviously that there's a commercial imperative. There's also a geopolitical imperative as well you've got countries, not just private equity investors, investing into sport. So I do think we are living in a unique incredibly exciting and dynamic time which is in many ways is characterized by the convergence of a set of unique factors.

What opportunity does this create for these smaller clubs?

I respond in two ways I think the first way is to respond by saying, talking about glocalization and trying to, for organizations, to try and reconcile their global presence or their global nature with specific local needs. I think it’s a real challenge and we've seen for example Wolverhampton in recent months announcing a record label to promote new musical talents in the west midlands in England which is really local but you've got to keep in mind obviously this is a club, in China you go to the Bund in Shanghai, you visit the very exclusive shopping mall and you have a Wolverhampton store there. So this attempt to reconcile the two is a big challenge. I'm not sure that football clubs always get it right but I think there is this growing awareness particularly the elite profession professional level top level.

You can simultaneously meet the needs of global and local markets. Beyond that, my response is, my background as a marketer is marketers segment their markets you have to use different products to appeal different iterations different versions of the same product that you sell to different segments of the market. And segments never meet because they don't share the same motives, hopes, aspirations and so you are actually trying to manage different products in different markets

I think for smaller clubs the way in which, the comparison I always make is with the global brewing industry because again go back to when I was a kid, there were lots and lots of local breweries and and eventually a lot of those local breweries were bought out so now what you'll find certainly in the kind of 90s into 2000s you would find very few local breweries, they all tended to be owned by multinationals, they were operating globally and I think therefore you saw that the pubs certainly Britain pubs became very generic. The same pubs selling the same beers and so on and so forth. But what we've seen over the last decade in particular I think is the development of the craft brewing sector. Because there are some consumers out there in the world, they don't want to you know they don't want to drink an unhealthy product. What they want is, they want locally. Locally sourced, locally brewed you know, sitting in a small bar and that's what they do. And so what I see is that for those smaller clubs in Europe, smaller clubs in world football generally is trying to learn some of those lessons from the craft brewing industry because there is something about locally produced products and the way in which they can engage local audiences and there is I think there is something around you know for example authenticity. Those smaller clubs have got to be looking. They've got to be looking to demonstrate their history demonstrate their heritage, highlight their proximity to community to family. Certainly organizations feel the pressure that you know you've got to be big you've got to be visible you've got to be successful you've got to do well and you've got to you've got to be everywhere. But there's nothing wrong with being small and there's nothing wrong with being focused, there's nothing wrong with being targeted you know. If you if we look at this purely in commercial terms, small businesses, small and medium-sized enterprises can be successful. I think there is a tendency in football in particular we've all got to be like Manchester United we've all got to be like Real Madrid we've all got to be like Juventus, we don't. What clubs have got to do is understand who they are and know what is possible. Understand the opportunities but also know the limits and manage accordingly. And as I said I think if you look at what's happening at Forest Green for example at the moment establishing or asserting its environmental credentials there. What you have there is a club that's very clear in its mind about what it wants who it is and what it wants to be there are other clubs and there are great clubs out there like you Motherwell, is a club that sticks in mind for me, It’s very clear about who it is, what it does, what its position is in the local community. If we're going to mention Red Star Paris you know I've got to mention Sankt Pauli. Radical, non-conformist et cetera et cetera et cetera. Whenever I go to Hamburg, you can buy Sankt Pauli merchandise in the airport. And I'm thinking well actually this is not consistent with radical politics and non-conformity and yet in reality I think what Sankt Pauli has done is there are people who want to engage with the club and they want to exhibit or demonstrate their affiliation with the club. So of course they're going to sell merchandise. I think Sankt Pauli and Red Star Paris are both great examples of create a proposition that is imbued with a set of values and the leaders and managers of those clubs are very clear in their minds about, you know, this is who we are, this is what we do, and this is how we're going to conduct ourselves. So in a world of consistency and certainty sport and specifically football has always given us something that is different but I am starting now to change my views of this. For sports fans you know perhaps we don't, I mean for many sports fans now in the 21st century actually they don't want certainty because they don't want loss, they don't want defeat, what they want is they want the action, the excitement and the drama but they want their team to win ultimately. And so I think we are seeing a shift in the nature of the product and I think we're seeing a shift in the nature of people's engagement with the product as well and just, to kind of bear that out a little more, and what again what's interesting for me and increasingly seems to be happening is: in my case you're born in a town, you support the team, you stick with the team no matter what. What now seems to be the case is that people are identifying more with individuals rather than teams so I'm a Mbappé fan so therefore iI’m a PSG fan when Mbappé eventually leaves and goes to Real Madrid, I'll follow him and I'll be a Real Madrid fan and I think that as you're moving from the collective to the individual it’s different as far as I can assert. I follow football because my father told me you will follow this team, now I know that there are still lots of people in the world like me but I also know there are lots of people in the world who aren't like me. So I guess what I'm saying to you is that the product is changing and the way in which people engage with the product is changing and I don't think we can generalize. I think the overall picture is very fragmented and for those working in the industry to actually begin to understand and respond to this very fragmented landscape is a big challenge.

How can media and content increase good in the game? Can it help clubs take moral stances on societal issues?

One person's morals are not necessarily another person's morals.And I think the Enes Kanter case is a pro example of this. In this globalized, digitalized world in which we live, when people openly begin expressing or asserting moral positions inevitably it is going to lead to contradiction and juxtaposition and dare I say antagonism as well. So this is an area but particularly for global sport organizations, of how to reconcile these different pressures is really important. I think what many of us don't realize is even when we freely express an opinion on social media that is an expression of our ideology of our moral position because clearly there are places in the world where the freedom of speech that Americans and Europeans might enjoy, people may take a completely different view of that freedom of speech and the way in which people post on social media. So I understand the opportunities that have been created by globalization and digitization but careful to rush head-on into it without really understanding the ramifications of what it all means. And the NBA is doing this but otherwise I mean from a very personal point of view, I'm really happy to see and hear people like Lewis Hamilton advocating for stronger representation of a much broader ethnic constituency within Formula 1. I think that's a really amazing thing that he's doing performing in a very white sport, that needs to do, in my view , that needs to change and so I admire Hamilton for what he's doing and how he's used, not just his social media presence, but his voice and his influence more generally to represent that. I then think about somebody like Patrick Bamford at Leeds United who is now speaking about environmental issues and the responsibilities that sport has. And again I think this is a really important way of raising awareness, not just of the issues within sport but also raising awareness of issues more generally around the environment and the way that we live. Athletes have to learn to do it responsibly in a way that ultimately does affect positive attitude and behavioral change. We've all got to go beyond words you know. Our actions have got to be the outcome of our words and so some of the things that we saw: Lewis Hamilton for example he constituted a black and minority ethnic motorsport commission to investigate this. He is backing up his words with actions. But as I said this is my very this is my personal view because I think as we know from countries like China for example, openly expressing somewhat controversial views publicly about whatever it might be and we've got a case in tennis right now in Chinese tennis around patriarchy and gender inequality and abuse of power and we talk about this openly, we talking about it now you and I! We talk about this openly but in China, the Chinese government doesn't want this conversation to happen.

Thanks Professor for the chat!


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