Soccer in South America
Just as my final undergraduate exams finished in June 1970, the World Cup finals started in Mexico, and I settled down to three weeks of watching soccer. Across the world, fans of my age remember those finals—the first we saw on color television—for the unforgettable third World Cup victory with Brazil’s “Beautiful Team,” the magical squad that included Pelé, Gerson, Rivelino and Jairzinho. Since I was hoping my exam results would be good enough to obtain a postgraduate grant for research on Peruvian history, one match particularly enthralled me—Brazil’s brilliant 4-2 victory over a strong Peru side in the quarter-finals. I looked forward to seeing Peruvian stars like Teófilo Cubillas and Ramón Mifflín playing for Alianza and Sporting Cristal in Lima.
It would not be the same today. Of the 66 players in the Brazilian, Peruvian and Uruguayan squads in 1970, just one played for a club outside his home country (an Uruguayan who had crossed to Buenos Aires to play for River Plate). Compare that with the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa. Just three of Brazil’s squad of 23 still played for a Brazilian team; twelve for clubs in Italy or Spain. The Uruguayan squad contained only two who represented teams in Montevideo; six played elsewhere in South America while the remaining fifteen were spread around seven European countries.
Why do so few South American fans manage to see the stars of their national team playing, except on television? Since 1995, when the European Court of Justice issued the so-called Bosman Judgment, which relaxed restrictions on foreign players in European leagues, star soccer players have effectively gained the freedom to play for whichever club they want, and, not surprisingly, they have flocked to the wealthiest teams in Europe. In 2010-11 the CIES Football Observatory counted 132 Brazilian and 111 Argentine players in the top five European leagues, as well as 93 from other South American countries. Lionel Messi, an Argentine who won the Ballon d’Or, FIFA’s award for the Best Player in the World, for the third successive year in 2011, moved to FC Barcelona at the age of 13 and made his first-team debut four years later. However, legal changes provide only part of the reason. Generally, the soccer business in South America has lagged behind the enormous commercialization of Western European soccer that has occurred over the last twenty years, even though countries like Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina continue to produce some of the best and most valuable players in the world.
Conventionally, in Europe, we divide the revenues of leading clubs into three income streams: matchday (the money earned from spectators attending the game), media (mainly television, but also the Internet and mobile platforms), and commercial (mainly jersey and kit sponsorship, commercial partnerships and merchandising). In Western Europe, all three revenue streams have grown enormously since the early 1990s. According to Deloitte’s Annual Review of Football Finance, the English Premier League clubs earned $3.3 billion in 2009/10, with roughly half coming from media income and the remainder split between matchday and commercial income. The total earnings of the top five leagues in Western Europe reached just over $11 billion, $7.2 billion of which went for player salaries.
Rory Miller’s professional career took an abrupt turn in 1997 when he was asked to become the founding program director of Liverpool University’s MBA specializing in Football Industries. Since then he has pursued research on football finance and the football business in Britain and Latin America, co-editing Football in the Americas (London: Institute for the Study of the Americas, 2007) with his colleague, Liz Crolley. At the same time he has continued to do research on Latin American business history, publishing Empresas británicas, economía y política en el Perú, 1850-1934 (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2011) and jointly editing the Journal of Latin American Studies for Cambridge University Press.