Are Fans Important After All?
When Leicester City was confirmed as champions (through Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur—Leicester did not play that particular day), BBC Radio 5 Live (2016) immediately turned to their correspondent stationed in a Leicester pub, to speak to the fans gathered there and to transmit the celebrations (the singing of “Champions of England! We know what we are!”). Passionate fans are the spine of any club, and it is not surprising that in times of success, media turn to fans to showcase the joy and passion surrounding the sport. A Leicester fan called Tom, who was given his Chelsea season ticket holder friend’s seat for the game, was interviewed (crying throughout): “I can’t believe this has happened to my club” and “this is the best day of my life.”
There is a strong belief that “everyone” wanted Leicester to become champions, and no more so than in Leicester. The term “people’s champions” have increasingly been associated with the club. In an article in the Leicester Mercury (2016) after a game against Sunderland in April 2016, it was stated that “City wouldn’t just become English champions if they did manage to hold off Tottenham, they would be the people’s champions.” Even T-shirts and scarves were produced, proclaiming Leicester City as the “People’s Champions.”
On the morning of 3 May 2016, the day after Leicester’s victory was confirmed, the BBC website led with this story: “Fans celebrate ‘miracle’ Leicester City title win.” It says a lot about the current media climate, that we all want to write history in the present, so to speak, and that the latest achievement is always the greatest achievement, that there have been suggestions (not a joke) of the “Leicester story” as a model Hollywood film. Not everybody has jumped on the bandwagon, however, and in an article for Knees Up Mother Brown (KUMB), Paul Walker (2016) writes: “Their fans have discovered a form of entitlement, they believe they are everyone’s heroes and deserve their place in history.”
As we saw in Chap. 6, inbound football tourism to Britain increased from 750,000 international visitors to 800,000 between 2010 and 2014 (Visit Britain 2015). When we add that football tourists on average spend 27 % more during their visits compared to other inbound tourists, it becomes clear that sport tourism is a lucrative market. Most things in society are increasingly measured in profitability, and season ticket holders are less likely to spend money on souvenirs and merchandise, and certainly generate less revenue for the wider economy. The “loyal” football fan is therefore not likely to be a priority for the clubs, or for the wider business community. This was further indicated above, through the example with Liverpool and ticket prices, and Arsene Wenger urging Arsenal fans not to protest.
However, despite the changing landscape of club ownership and broadcast rights, passionate supporters going to game after game are important. Not only for the players on the pitch, and the fans themselves, but also for the broadcast giants—without the atmosphere inside the stadium, football would be a different game and would certainly not command the global interest it does. Even if watched on television, the game needs to feel authentic—and fans bring authenticity to football matches.