“Clubs engage more with fans than in the 80s and 90s”

Interview with Richard Giulianotti, sociologist, anthropologist and professor of the Master in Football Business in partnership with FC Barcelona

Richard Giulianotti has had a lifelong interest in the game. He played a lot when he was younger – still has the occasional kick-about-, and followed his local team, Aberdeen, through the late 70s and 80s especially. When he studied sociology and anthropology at university, wanted to focus on interesting and socially important subjects, so football and sport in general were obvious attractions. That academic interest in football followed into postgraduate research in the early 90s and beyond.

Could you please explain to us your research work on football?

I think my research work on football has had four main dimensions: first, football subcultures, particularly the culture and politics of fan organizations and movements; second, the global aspects of the game, particularly the forms of local, national and global identity that are constructed through football, and the interrelations of different social groups within the game; third, the governance and politics of football, notably considering the different ways in which the game may be governed with diverse stakeholders; and fourth, the role of football and other sports in promoting development and peace in different parts of the world.

What are your views on the current state of the football business worldwide? What are the main trends and what changes are needed if any?

Obviously, football has undergone very rapid forms of globalization over the past few decades, with the game having grown massively in economic terms, and gaining a much wider array of transnational stakeholders. In the wealthiest football nations and regions, the leading clubs and players have gained greatly from the game’s global commercialization. But, as in the wider global economy, we see long-term inequalities either intensifying or remaining, and this situation does have negative effects in terms of competitive balance, the sense of inclusion and exclusion that is experienced by different communities of clubs and fans, and there have been more instances of financial instability over the past two decades.

With the expanding reach of football around the planet and the commercial growth of big clubs, what is the impact on the way fans and supporters are connecting with clubs?

In broad terms, football supporters have become increasingly interconnected at the global level, so they are more able to receive and share information, opinion and analysis on the game from across the world. Clubs engage more with fans than in the 80s and 90s, to a large extent through marketing. There is also greater everyday social dialogue with fans, although this can be very patchy, varying significantly across different clubs and nations. One issue in relations between clubs and fans is the extent to which clubs view fans merely in the marketing sense, as consumers of products, or as co-producers of commercial activities (e.g. atmosphere at football matches, which can be used to market the club further).

Despite all the advances in football, fan violence is still a key issue for the industry. How do you think this issue should be tackled by governments and football governing bodies?

In the immediate sense, the control of violent fan subcultures has been a matter for the police and stadium security. Fan Projects are an important social model for seeking to prevent fan violence in the longer term, by using a social and community-education framework for engaging with young supporters. Also, fan violence does not exist in a social vacuum, so it is important that governments contribute by tackling wider social tensions and divisions.


Visit the web page of the Master in Football Business in partnership with FC Barcelona to find out more about the study program, which we deliver in English in Barcelona.

Johan Cruyff Institute Amsterdam uses a rich learning environment that fosters educational tools based on a student interaction model. We aim for a mix of students from sports and business sectors, which also enables students to share their unique experiences and learn from each other. Through ‘Cruyffian’ teaching methods the students will engage actively in creative challenges that require effort, commitment and intuitive thinking. Visit the web pages to find out more about these programs of our institute in Amsterdam, which we deliver in English:

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