Money league, elite men’s football and rankings: an interpretive narrative
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/07/2022
Robbins, Mason Dylan
The 2020, 23rd edition of the Deloitte Football Money League (DFML) opened with the headline that 'FC Barcelona reached the top of the money league for the first time and became the first club to break €800m revenue barrier'. Real Madrid (€757.3m) and Manchester United (€711.5m) take up the next two positions followed by Bayern Munich (€660.1m) and Paris St Germain (€635.9m). Since its emergence in 1997, the DFML has been a dominant force in the world of football finance rankings. They are at the heart of the broad interpretive narrative that is presented in this thesis. This thesis is concerned to document the key changes in football money rankings and explore how they contribute to our understanding of the role of rankings. The research questions provide a basis for investigating, analysing and interpreting an evolving relationship between the football industry and the rankings industry. The questions are: 1)How have football finance rankings emerged, and how have football clubs responded? 2)What is the contemporary relationship between the football industry and ranking systems? There is a twin issue that is present namely how have rankings evolved and how have they reacted onto football clubs and how have football clubs simply reacted or have they been more proactive in terms of influencing the ranking process. More specifically (i) how did football finance rankings emerge; (ii) how have football clubs and ranking organisations responded; (iii) how and when has a multiplayer ranking ecosystem emerged; and, (iv) what is the role of the ranking ecosystem in current football industry and what does it mean for a club to have a ranking? The research orientation adopts an interpretivist-constructivist approach and by doing so, acknowledges both the ontological and epistemological consequences of taking this strategic decision. In consequence, the research design is qualitative and adopts a longitudinal multi-site ethnography approach to collecting data [Pollock and Williams, 2016; Marcus, 1995]. The data was collected through the use of observation, participant observation, field notes, semi-structured interviews, conversational interviews and analysis of documents and reports [Atkinson, 2012; McHale et al., 2012; Fine, 1993]. Such an approach, it is argued helped to accommodate a disruptive research process which was never straightforward, or evolutionary but helped the researcher to overcome challenges and a more reality congruent research journey. The thesis draws upon notions of proactivity, reactivity, audit society, digital transformation [Pollock and Williams, 2016; Kornberger and Carter, 2010; Espeland and Sauder, 2007; Power, 1997] to contextualise the investigation. Ideas about involvement and detachment and dominant, emergent and residual practices have been helpful sensitising concepts as opposed to guiding theory [Williams, 1977; Elias, 1956]. The thesis is embedded in and draws upon two bodies of knowledge. Firstly, a significant body of knowledge about rankings [Pollock et al., 2018; Sauder and Espeland, 2006] and secondly a growing but a smaller body of knowledge around football business [Chadwick et al., 2019; Morrow 2013; Moorehouse, 2007]. It is argued that one of the original contributions to knowledge, afforded by this thesis, is that it has applied and tested the rankings literature against a study of the football sector. It has also introduced rankings research to the studies of football and sport more generally. The findings suggest that: the development and sustainability of relationships is crucial to the football money ranking process; the early evolution of football finance rankings in part coincided with what Power (1994) has called the advent of an audit society; the conventional wisdom and the current state of rankings knowledge need to be refined in the light of this study of the football industry; in particular, it was discovered that while the current rankings research suggests that consumer-facing rankings tends to produce a dualistic account of ranked organisation and consumers whose choices are driven by rankings, this study has suggested that the football rankings industry and practices suggest that it operates both reactively and proactively to provide a multi-sided market for ranking knowledge; the dominant force of the DFML has been challenged by the emergent force of the KPMG while acknowledging that residual ideas and practices of football business still exist; the football rankings ecosystem has shifted from a single to a multiple rankings system thus making it possible to challenge both theoretically and empirically existing notions of proactivity and reactivity within the current body of work that constitutes rankings knowledge. The thesis provides an original synthesis of research and knowledge that affords a broad interpretive narrative about the evolving relationship between the money league, football and rankings.
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