The Champions League final is a farce. Forget the game. The world’s biggest annual sporting event is about convincing 200 million people to part with their cash. Worst of all, you’re going to sit and pretend that it’s all okay. The slow defrosting of your self-awareness begins here.
To begin with, both teams playing on Saturday stand to win a lot of money. If Barcelona win the ‘game’, it’ll be worth $78million to them. If Manchester United win, it’ll be worth even more to them: $79million. That’s directly from the competition: simply based on prize-money and TV deals combined. You probably don't care.
UEFA can afford that prize money, and so can the TV companies, because their sponsors are prepared to pay them even more than that. Companies like Mastercard and Heineken and Playstation know the value of getting their name in so many of your heads – they know it’s worth the crazy money they’re paying because you’ll end up giving it all and more back to them. You probably don't care.
Then there’s the money the two teams are getting from their own sponsors to be there. Then there's the money the two teams are getting from their own sponsors to be there. United get about $32million dollars a year to advertise AON, a reinsurance company - how reassuring. Barcelona carry Unicef’s logo on their shirt for free, but, long term, that’s worth $40million a year in each of the next five years because it’s helped pave the way for the Qatar Foundation’s shirt sponsorship. Whether it’s for profit, or apparently not, in the case of the Qatar Foundation, these organisations want your money and think they can get it from you as a result of you watching on Saturday night - otherwise they wouldn’t be paying for you to notice them. You’ll tell yourself you don’t care though.
The teams are in on it too – the money isn’t a bonus, it’s the whole point. Manchester United are privately owned by the Glazer family. That means the club operates based on the Glazers’ goals; in short, profit maximisation. Barcelona, like their new sponsors, are not run for profit, but when winning trophies has become a fundamental element of a business plan, you’re playing primarily for money. Once you’re relying on winning to pay off what the current vice president of your club has described as almost $600million of debt, glory is subordinate to cash. This might annoy you, but you’ll tell yourself it’s not true and that you don't care.
None of this is okay - you should care.
It may well not bother you that the football you’re watching is indirectly funding actions which you might not agree with – through companies that don’t pay people very much to the people who work for them or companies that aim products at children which aren’t especially good for those children. You might be able to ignore it, because it is only indirect.
You might be happy supporting your businesses of choice. You might be happy shouting: "Go on Aon...Go on...GO ON...YES! A-O-N! A-O-N!" You might be happy to pay them to wear their logo across your chest on a shirt that’s three sizes too small. You might be happy to sit down with your friends to watch the final on the massive HD TV you bought after seeing them advertised at half time of another game, with your Heinekens in your hands. You might be happy to put on your 3D glasses, which are covered in more adverts; which you paid $2 for, whilst you watch the game. You might be happy to do all of these things without feeling you’re being used; or not caring that you are. One of the most open corporate smash-and-grabs in history might just be fine with you.
But you should start to care when the money game starts affecting the real game. Your game has become a part of the money game. Bigger and bigger audience figures – made up of you, and people like you – mean bigger sponsorship deals, which inflate everything else. Players get paid more money, and you complain that they’ve become detached from the real world. Ticket prices go up because the risk of them not selling is small, given other income sources have become far more important, and only people with a lot of money can pay $350 a standard ticket to Saturday’s big game.
When you watch the Champions League final, the ultimate symbol of football’s money making efficiency, you say it’s okay, and you perpetuate it. You confirm that you’re fine with football being a business: run by business men, who sell your team’s best player to make money, or charge you more to get in to see games, to make money, or disregard the FA cup because it doesn’t make enough money, or keep goal-line technology from coming in. In that sense, when the media moves to tell you that this final is more than a game, they’ll be right; it’s a travesty.