Two decades of doing football business at Soccerex

Christian Benteke signed Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Mr Revie says that much of the new money in football has gone to big-name players and agents

The business of football has come a long way since the first Soccerex conference in 1996, with the sport moving over the past couple of decades from the sports pages onto the City ones.

The world's biggest football finance forum is holding its 20th annual global gathering this week, and there is not one commercial aspect of the sport that has not been transformed in that time.

Clubs have been traded on stock markets and acquired by overseas billionaires, major international stars have become globetrotting guns for hire, while grounds and facilities have been upgraded - with accompanying rises in ticket prices.

Meanwhile, the value of live TV rights have rocketed, particularly in England's top flight, with an accompanying globalisation in football viewing.

Fan experience

Soccerex founder Duncan Revie, the son of the former Leeds and England manager, came up with the idea for the event after being inspired following a visit to a music business event, and realised he could do the same for football.

The first conference was held in 1996 at Wembley Stadium, and since then has been held in Paris, Los, Angeles, Dubai, Johannesburg, Rio (one of the events here was cancelled in acrimonious circumstances), as well as in Manchester, before returning to the North West city in 2014.

"Obviously there has been a huge growth in the amount of finance in football over the past 20 years," he tells the BBC website.

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Image caption When Soccerex began Eric Cantona was in his pomp at Manchester United

"Primarily the money has gone to players and agents, but a lot of it has gone on making the fan experience more enjoyable both at the game and in the home.

"The fan experience at the match is amazingly different from 20 years ago - it has become much more family oriented, with more women and children attending the games.

"In the dark days of the late 1980s the game was in a terrible state, but the formation of the Premier League in 1992-93 changed things tremendously."

On the international stage he says that the growth of the World Cup from 24 to 32 teams between 1994 and 1998, giving more smaller nations the chance to qualify, has helped increase football interest globally.

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Image caption One of the biggest transformations has been the increase in TV rights fees

"Meanwhile, lucrative TV deals and the growth of specialist sports channels have brought football to a wider audience," adds Mr Revie. "In fact it is amazing the widespread coverage of the game that we enjoy today, compared to the mid-1990s."

Digital developments, from the growth of the internet, to the development of social media, and invention of smart devices have stoked the demand from fans for more football product and output to consume.

"Everybody I see is in on their phones and tablets reading about football," says Mr Revie, adding that "the tech crowds at Soccerex are some of the biggest we get for sessions".

Digital-based topics at Soccerex include looking at the impact of technology on refereeing and the potential for future development, the future use of social media for fan interaction, plus the growth of the "connected stadium".


Some 45 years ago there was an even earlier attempt to hold a football exhibition and conference in Manchester, namely Soccer 70.

Backers included Coca-Cola, Bells Whisky, the Daily Mirror and Manchester & Salford Constabulary. There were a number of exhibits, while a handful of clubs and football associations were represented including Benfica, Sporting Lisbon and Real Madrid, as well as the Swedish FA.

Nowadays there are hundreds of club and association administrators in attendance at Soccerex.

Meanwhile, footballers taking part in 1970 on the discussion panels, or "soccer forums" as they were described. included Alan Ball, Tony Book, and other star players.

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Soccer 70 was officially opened in Manchester by Man United's then-General Manager Sir Matt Busby.

As the Manchester Evening News reported: "Sir Matt outlined how he hoped the exhibition - on for a fortnight in the Town Hall extension - will help curb football violence.

"'Many footballers will be coming to Manchester for the exhibition, and their autographs will only be given on special cards asking the fans to combat hooliganism and vandalism,' he said."

With 65 major trophies from all over the world, the exhibits were insured for £250,000. However, items that were due to be loaned by Brazilian legend Pele were withdrawn after Lloyds only offered to insure them for £25, rather than the thousands of pounds in cover that he wanted.

'Football bazaar'

Of course, football - like other industries - had to negotiate the choppy waters that followed the 2007-08 global economic downturn.

But according to Mr Revie, football's ability to tap the passions of those involved meant it was able to overcome the worst of those times.

"We were holding our conferences in South Africa and then Rio during that period, and we did not see a slowdown, quite the opposite," he says.

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Image caption Goal-line technology will be in the spotlight at Soccerex

"Football is like a religion - those who follow it are totally involved, and it can transcend difficult economic times."

He says there will be 3,000 delegates in Manchester this week, including representatives from each of the global confederations, and from the world's major leagues.

"There will be multimillion pound deals done on a daily basis - it is a bazaar for the football industry," says Mr Revie.

"We are very lucky, we started as a direct result of the Premier League and the money that consequently flowed into football.

"But football comes first, there would be no business without it. We have to keep the game fresh and exciting for fans, and to continue to delivery it in a modern and innovative way."

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Image caption The Soccerex founder is the son of former Leeds and England manager Don Revie

And he says his legendary father saw before many others that football would transcend its sporting base to become a major industry.

"In the 1960s when I was a kid, my dad took me out on to the pitch at Elland Road, back when it was a mud heap," he says.

"He told me that one day in the future that there would be executive boxes and private areas and dining facilities at the ground, and that people would come to Elland Road hours before kick off for their lunch.

"He saw it back then, and he was proved to be right."

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