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Book Review - Football in the New Media Age

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Ironically enough, while reading Football in the New Media Age by Raymond Boyle and Richard Haynes and attempting to write a review about it, my computer was stolen from my apartment, effectively cutting off around 90% of the soccer-related interaction in my life. I still discussed it in person to an extent, but without easy access to the internet, my main source for news, information, match updates, sometimes the matches themselves, and general conversation over Twitter and via email were all gone. This story not only helps to explains my absence (sorry!) but also the essential elements of the book itself, since its purpose is to discuss how the globalization of the sport has affected the media surrounding it and vice versa.

It's a broad subject, I know, and that was my primary issue with the book. The topic itself is interesting, but this is not a book that I would recommend to most people. Not only is it written at a very high graduate level, it also isn't engaging enough to keep my attention. An entire chapter was the complete and thorough history of television rights in the UK, detailing mergers and stock trading, and while I admire the meticulous detail that went into the chapter, it wasn't for me. I felt that the book was a good overall summary of television rights in soccer, especially on a historical level, and that it also did a good job of touching on the various emerging internet-related aspects of media in the sport, but it lacked a cohesive argument.

In part, that's because of the rapidly changing nature of media and the internet. The book described club websites, streaming games, betting, and SMS message updates - but since its publishing, the use of apps, 3G phones, and social networks such as Twitter have rapidly emerged as forums over which users can interact with the sport. The book describes "interactive television" and how it wasn't a success, since viewers only wanted to watch and absorb the game rather than interact with it -- and then Twitter came along and turned every game into an interactive experience, essentially. It's difficult to write a book, especially one so thoroughly researched as this, on such a rapidly changing phenomenon.

If I was to give the book one cohesive argument, however, it would be this: commercialism. This is the key feature that draws all of the subjects in the book together. The book touches on various Premier League clubs attempting to bargain for better television deals, the Old Firm attempting to land more lucrative deals by leaving the SPL, player image rights, Manchester United's successful globalized branding, and ...David Beckham. Of course. Perfect timing for this weekend. He is the most commercialized and quite possibly the most well-known current figure in soccer, especially here in the States. A full ten pages were devoted to detailing his player image rights, his 10+ running sponsors, and how he once had simultaneous deals with both Coca-Cola and Pepsi, promoting both competitors at the same time. I'll leave it at that.

It's this commercial activity that leads clubs to try to raise the bar on how much money they can extract from the fans. As fans, we willingly buy into this, though, and it's one of the past books that I've read -- I can't remember which -- that makes the best point. Soccer and sports in general is unique in that its paying customers will stay paying customers until the most extenuating of circumstances occurs. If I don't like a brand of food, I'll change it without thinking, but change my allegiance? Unthinkable. What other commodity has such a loyal customer base?

Although the book wasn't necessarily a thrilling read or even a well put together one, it does raise some good questions that can be applied to any league and any club, despite the book's primary focus on the Premier League and other European Leagues. What can MLS do to raise its viewership without taking too much of a risk? One portion of the book highlights proposed television deals falling through, time after time, throwing the clubs into financial trouble and uncertainty. It happened with the Football League, it happened with the Bundesliga, etc, and with the effects of the recession still lingering, there is still hesitance around large investments. Or is it the case of the chicken and the egg, that MLS needs more viewers before it can become more widely shown on television? On the media front, should clubs attempt to tap into the wealth of interaction that is Twitter or are they already benefiting from what's essentially free publicity?

And finally, the big "what's next?". The book makes an excellent point that it's difficult to predict what comes next in terms of media. The expected trend was "visual", but then SMS texting became - and still is - huge. Radio hasn't faded into obscurity as predicted; internet radio is on the rise, in fact. What's next for this so-called new media? It's something to keep an eye on as a soccer fan. The book charts the relationship between media and the beautiful game very well, so whatever new advance in media occurs, it will most definitely affect the sport.
Football in the New Media Age comes at quite a hefty price and is meant to be a scholarly piece rather than one for a supporter who's reviewing books for fun, but while I am not the niche target, I was lucky enough to borrow it from my school library and ultimately glad that I read it. Granted, I wasn't too glad while reading it, but I don't mind knowing a little more about the other side of soccer history.

All references to Football in the New Media Age, Raymond Boyle and Richard Haynes, Routledge, 2004.