WILL DAVID Beckham leave Manchester United? That's the question every tabloid newspaper is asking. And in the chase to get the latest scoop, the exploitative world of big business and football is being exposed. One friend of Beckham says he feels Manchester United have betrayed him. He feels he is being 'traded round like a piece of meat'.
I can hear the groans already: 'Surely Martin is not going to ask us to sympathise with one of the world's richest football stars?' But he has got a point. Of course football has always been about making money and buying and selling players on the open market. But now with the possible transfer of Beckham, football agents have gone one step further. They openly boast on TV of selling 'The David Beckham Product'. He is no longer seen as a footballer or a person. He is a commodity, a brand for multinational corporations to buy and sell.
If you are so inclined, you can now get reports on Beckham's marketability and the estimated share price increase of any club he may join. Some jumped-up City type has even worked out Beckham's different market values as an individual, married or divorced. Just imagine. There are City analysts praying that he doesn't get a divorce. Why? Because they will get a bigger return on their investment if he remains married!
You see, multinational corporations have a problem. If a suited fat cat from Shell, GlaxoSmithKline or even Manchester United plc came knocking on your door asking for your money or support any sane person would slam it in their face. Therein lies the strength of Beckham. He is the respectable face of corporate football.
Manchester United has an annual turnover of £146.1 million a year. Merchandising accounts for around £10 million and yes, you guessed it, Beckham products dominate. Analysts believe the club's base is something in excess of 50 million people. The club has its eyes firmly set on foreign markets. The United brand has a 79 percent name awareness in China, which could add another 20 million supporters to United's fan base.
The club wants to open up this market. Its 2002 business strategy document states: 'With 50 million fans worldwide, our twin-track business strategy is to grow existing and new domestic revenues while also unlocking the substantial commercial potential represented by the club's global fan base.' Beckham is the man who can unlock doors.
In the wake of his recent much publicised tour of the US and the Far East the promotion men follow in behind. They are searching out new markets, selling television rights and football merchandise as they go. So why do United want to let Beckham go? They now fear that Beckham is becoming bigger than the club, and that is a dangerous thing.
For the last few years the club has been preparing for his departure and making sure that it is carried out on the club's terms and at the same time protecting its profits.
Beckham's huge popularity meant that in November 2000 United were able to sign a deal with Nike worth £300 million over 13 years. The whole business of shirt sales has been handed over to Nike. The club now receives a guaranteed income rather than depending on the popularity of their players.
Added to the £30 million price tag on Beckham, that represents judicious business. Management have now decided that they have exploited Beckham to the limit and they want to cash in on their investment.
But no one should feel sorry for Posh and Becks. They will go on living the high life. At the last estimate they were worth a staggering £125 million and any new signing will see Beckham pocket another £32 million over four years.