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Fandom in a Globalizing World by Adebayo Kester

Introduction Football is a global sport that continues to drastically extend its reach and subsequent fan base at a higher rate than most sports worldwide. Known as soccer to residents of North America, football has been the adopted national sport in over 60 countries. With tournaments like the World Cup and Continental championships held in different regions, footballs popularity not only increases, it serves as an opportunity for infrastructural and economic development and exposes national cultures of hosts to the world. Accompanying contemporary globalization is the commodification of football, like other sports, as a means to pursue economic gains; this is evident in the increasing branding and commercialization of football teams, players, memorabilia, media rights and even destinations. Improved media technology has enabled global accessibility and stirred great interest in the game. This essay examines the English Premier Leagues (EPL) global transmission and how it has helped to create new spaces and forge new identities among football fans worldwide. The essay further investigates the methodologies and processes that have shaped the structure of what can be described as the most lucrative football league (Forbes 2011). In addition the article describes the uninhibited activities and politicking of capitalist actors- in the form of club owners, city governments or corporations- pushing the boundaries of consumerism to whatever available extremes. Lastly, I illustrate the multidimensional effect of the intense penetration of English football clubs on people from Africa and how these impacts shape new cultures, practices and identities. The Globalization of Football The idea that a game between two local clubs in England can generate thousands of passionate, possibly rival fans 4000 miles away in Lagos, Nigeria exemplifies the intensity at which globalization is taking place. It would seem quite rational for matches involving a set of countries to be broadcasted across a spectrum of nations including non-participating nations, obviously because they all share a common interest which is to win the tournament, or in the case of non-participating countries to see a neighboring country win. Accordingly World Cup games, inter-continental games (European, African, COPA America,) were transmitted across the globe for this reason and also to ensure fans are able to support and be entertained by their national teams. On the national stage, the shift in economic processes and introduction of neoliberal policies in the 1990s introduced new forms of football management, capital and labour flows became global and the market became more competitive. Martin, (2005, pp. 350-1) invoking Arjun Appadurais term, describes this as financescape of elite football, referring to the German and English footballs financial turnover. At this point, football became an attractive investment that required huge capital that could only be committed by international and multinational corporations. (Ben-Porat & Ben-Porat, 2004) (Boon, 2000) (King, 1997). Rookwood and Chan (2011, p. 899), Hognestad (2009, p. 359) argued this era revolutionized football with optimized television coverage, team branding and high player salaries. In this period until date, the dramatic increase in labour flows from all parts of the world signifies the imminent force of globalization as seen in Darbys (2007) illustration of African football migration and as discussed by Akindes (2011, p. 2182) and Groves (2011, p. 266). Advancement in information technology and telecommunication has paved the way for media companies to broadcast not just international tournaments but translocal games across the world. With cable television and the internet, live games can be watched anywhere on the globe. What games are watched is dependent on the popularity and the importance of the competition, in the case of translocal matches it is a matter of what league exerts the most influence and interest. Such improvements have instituted several local leagues and clubs to compete for global coverage with many clubs detaching from their local communities seeking new markets and fans. A remarkable example is seen in the decision by several English clubs in a move towards attracting a

Fandom in a Globalizing World by Adebayo Kester


new breed of global supporters, following the violence of and low-income label placed on British fans (Rookwood & Chan, 2011) The English Premiership as a Global Force Of the most popular of leagues the English Premier League is the most watched compared to others like the Italian Serie A, Spanish La Liga, German Bundesliga and the French Ligue 1. Hognestad (2009, p. 358) describes how the English Premier League has colonized the footballing media world. It is claimed that 70% of the worlds 2.08 billion football fans follow the English Premiership with matches broadcasted to 643 million homes globally in 2011 (English Premier League, 2011). Research reveals that the English Premier League generated the most revenue in 2011 with almost 2.5 billion compared to around 1.6 billion each generated by German and Spanish leagues (Deloitte, 2012). Furthermore, four out of the top 10 most valuable clubs, in terms of revenue are from England with Manchester United topping as the most valuable sport franchise in the world (Forbes, 2011). The momentum behind the English premiership has ensured the transition of English football beyond local consumption and identity to a global audience, a trend that is not uncommon with other super-leagues. This phenomenon can be easily linked to the emergence of neo-liberal and free-market policies in the 1980s when capital became footloose and investors sought any venture in the hope of maximizing profits. By 1992, amid pressures from interest groups, several top-flight clubs gave in to reorganizing the Premiership league such that it is presented as any other commodity, a motive quite similar to the transformation of Israeli football (Ben-Porat & Ben-Porat, 2004). As such the media rights were sold and 20 clubs benefited from an overall revenue of 191.5 million, an extreme increase from around 6 million ten years prior (Mainwaring & Clark, 2011). The outcome of such investments resonated globally to which in several African cities, like Accra and Lagos subscription not only increased for satellite and cable television, but also viewing theatres and pay-perviews became popular for live-broadcast of transnational football enabling the connection of local audience to live games abroad (Akindes, 2011; Majaro-Majesty, 2011) . Akindes (2011, p. 2183), discussing this development cites Giulianotti and Robertsons (2004) description of how world media cartels have emerged to project football images globally such that the game is an important component of popular culture. Similarly, steps towards internationalization of English football saw, as at 2009, half of the 20 English Premiership clubs owned by foreigners with most teams fielding predominantly foreign players (CNN, 2009). With such measures, the proliferation of EPL ensured much wider reach and subsequent success than other football leagues. Rookwood and Chan (2011) captures this diffusion with respect to the EPLs proposal for an extra round of domestic match to be played in an international city. Described as the 39th game, global cities will get to host English teams in an effort to bring clubs closer to their international fans and in the process entice more followers. While the proposal was aborted, some individual clubs like Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United now embark on pre-season tours, designating specific global venues for friendly matches, meet and greet with fans and parades. Impacts As a consequence of the proliferation of the Premier League, global fans were able to identify themselves with their favorite super-clubs, in some cases relegating the support of their national or local team. Such penetrations have resulted in cultural hybridization as seen in the expression overseas sweetheart cited by Kerr and Emery (2011), (Ben-Porat & Ben-Porat, 2004). In his example, Akindes (2011, p. 2184) discusses how Kenyan fans felt a Premier League game was more significant than the most prestigious African tournament. For some, the interest in super-clubs stems from supporting one of their nationals playing in the league, for others its a construction either through the style of play, coach, star player, or even the successful reputation of the club. Keer and Emery (2011) analyzed this position by studying media coverage, style of play, the presence of a particular player, team success, history of success, participation in the highest division

Fandom in a Globalizing World by Adebayo Kester


and stadium as key precursors for global fans. For these fans, place-bound allegiance is irrelevant; they are just as active supporters as the local fans in England perhaps more active considering the lack historical relationship. Majaro-Majesty (2011) in a study in Ibadan, Nigeria examined fans in viewing centres display knowledge of club history, profile, sometimes even forming a mini-fans club. In a surprising case, streets were named after Premiership clubs and physical territories were formed based on rivalry between clubs resulting into violent conflicts (Majaro-Majesty, 2011). In one tragic incident, a Kenyan fan of Arsenal FC committed suicide after watching his team defeated (Akindes, 2011). This somewhat suggests the strength of identity and association formed around English clubs, or perhaps it could be an over-romanticization of the game. In contrast, English fans reactions towards their club can be justified by individuals geographical, historical or familial affiliations to clubs. Mainwaring and Clark (2011) recount the anger of lower league clubs towards the live-broadcast of English football resulting in some fans watching at home rather than at the stadiums. However, clubs are symbolic in more ways than location; they are communities, repositories of collective memories, workplaces and shared spaces. To this end one can relate with the attachment fans share with clubs like Sheffield, Manchester and especially Liverpool whose team slogan is Youll never walk alone. Although there is a lack of connection to any English club, the impacts have been enormous. Some fans have developed strong bonds with their super-clubs, so much that apart from following every game on television they invest substantial amounts in acquiring club memorabilia, such souvenirs seen on cars, desks or clothes are forms of identification that occasionally begets preferential treatment. For example, cars giving passage considerations based on bumper stickers showing club logo (Majaro-Majesty, 2011). Based on personal experience there have been fans that travelled on pilgrimage to their favorite club cities and in one case a fan who desired to be married and be buried in Old Trafford, Manchester. According to Siundu (2011) different dimension of the impacts of the English Premiership is seen in the construction of youth identity and culture in Kenya. Here fans are drawn towards the lifestyle lived by elite premiership players particularly African players in the top-four clubs, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. Kenyan youths easily liken themselves to such players because of the perceived transition from grass to grace and the notion of success as evident in appearances, wins and material acquisition as publicized by the media (Siundu, 2011). In addition, Siundu (2011) claims, the commodification of football and its complimentary items traps the Kenyan fan in a cycle of capital exchange and identity transformation that feeds into the capitalist wheel. Consequently, youth fans tend to reconfigure their definition of culture, success and identity based on the beamed images of the Premier League; their practices elucidate almost everything European, from fashion to material accumulation they imagine themselves as global citizens and therefore potential benefactors of western economic wealth.

Conclusion Sports, it can be argued, will remain as one of the topmost tools for cultural globalization. Nonetheless, the dominating actors behind football will for a long time determine what cultures and identities take centre stage. Martin (2005, p. 363) argues that football is an extension of capitalism which generates and exploits an ever willing market. In the long run top-flight English clubs have maintained a dichotomy of local and global fans - the latter constituting far more members- cultivating and shaping identities globally. The resultant effect can be translated based on the local rate of diffusion and absorption, for example as observed in the Israeli context by Ben-Porat & Ben-Porat, (2004). Likewise there has been tremendous proliferation of the commodification of professional sports and similar to the English Premier League and other European club leagues, other franchises such as the NBA, Formula One, and Tennis Grand Slam continue to gain global popularity and in the process alter cultural and consumption habits among other things.

Fandom in a Globalizing World by Adebayo Kester


As globalization transcends borders with unprecedented momentum, it becomes clearer how inevitable the process is, however what remains as a defense against it is the ability to control and mitigate its impact. Irrespective of consensual cultural or socio-economic trends, groups or individuals still maintain a right to make decisions according to their intrinsic needs. Therefore globalization should be regarded as malleable and its impacts constructed through local conditions.

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