From the Loser of the Affluent Society to “Football Industry”

Professional Club Football in Germany and England since 1961

Since the 1960s, professional club football has experienced a number of fluctuations in terms of its social significance – and this development was almost completely parallel in both countries. In the post-war period, football was a recreational activity with very little competition. But, with the spread of television and the automobile, the trip to the football stadium increasingly lost its social relevance. The clubs could do little to stop the symbolic devaluation of the game, so much so that stadiums in the 1980s were defined by mismanagement, shrinking numbers of fans, and incidents of violence. From 1990 onward, as part of the victory march of private television in Europe, which had discovered the marketing potential of football and pumped huge sums of money into the empty coffers of the clubs, the football business became fully professionalized and firmly anchored within mainstream society everywhere.

The goal of this study is to situate the history of club football at the macro-level within the context of social, economic, and medial transformations. Which factors led to the fact that professional football counted among the losers of the so-called affluent society? What was the context within which the transition was made to the comprehensive commercialization of the sport in the 1980s? To what degree do these developments point toward underlying structural transformations in western European industrialized countries that were symptomatic of the “nach dem Boom” era? The comparative analysis of this study has so far revealed key intersection in terms of the effects of changing patterns of consumption, the transformation of the media scene, and shifts within notions of economic order.
In a second step, the effects of this transformation will be examined at the meso and micro levels. Did the associations, organizations, and clubs realize what structural changes were occurring? If yes, how did this influence their actions and their strategic focus? Processes of adjustment seldom go smoothly; rather, they are often meet with resistance and defensive reactions, especially when the touch on issues of identity. Thus, by looking at the inherent dynamics and continuity within the football branch, as well as national particularities, this study will revise the narrative of an ubiquitous structural break in the “nach dem Boom” era.
Likewise, it questions the dominant dichotomous narrative of commercialization and sell-out on the one hand, and market success on the other, by historicizing it where possible. Rather than just looking at stories of success, it also takes into consideration accounts of loss (such as those of failed clubs or the exclusion of fans) and contra-narratives while examining the context in which they emerged.