Monday, 8 February 2021

Providing Evidence for the House of Lords: A 'National Plan for Sport & Recreation' ?

We are delighted to announce that we have had another piece or written evidence published, this time for a House of Lords Select Committee for a 'National Plan for Sport & Recreation'. 

The National Plan for Sport and Recreation Committee is appointed to consider the effectiveness of current sport and recreation policies and initiatives, and the case for a national plan for sport and recreation.

View our written evidence here (opens as pdf or) here (html).

Or, check out all of the written evidence (we are NPS0022 credited to 'York Management School') here 

More about the inquiry and all of the evidence types here.

This follows another recent contribution of written evidence, in January our work was included amongst several expert reports for a UK Parliament Select Committee for 'Digital, Culture, Media and Sport' inquiry into 'Sport in our communities'.

Saturday, 30 January 2021

A couple of things outside of the usual business and management literature: 

Firstly, we were pleased to see that we got cited in British Medical Journal in a response to an

article about traffic accidents and major sports events, written by Amy C Leach of Taipei Medical University. You can read it here:

Secondly,  we have submitted written evidence to the select comittee for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) on 'Sport in our Communities' . The DCMS was "seeking views on sport in our communities. The financial viability of community sports clubs is in doubt, with the future of many at risk even before the pandemic. The DCMS Committee wants to identify specific actions the Government can take to guarantee the future survival of the community sports sector. The Committee is looking into sports governance, funding and the case for elite professional sports to support the lower leagues and grassroots. "

They've chosen to include our contribution and it is now available here - or check out the full array of written evidence here (we are COM0009):

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Contributions to New Publications about Middlesbrough FC


Two new publications about Middlesbrough Football Club include contributions from Soccer Mad Boffins.

Firstly, 'My Boro Debut' (Sixth Element Publishing) includes contributions from fans, former players, and even a few celebrities, all writing about their first Boro game in the stands or on the field.

Dr Alex G. Gillett writes about his first Boro game, a pre-season friendly versus FC Seattle Storm, and also about the first competitive game he watched from the stands; a top tier clash against a Tottenham Hotspur side including Paul 'Gazza' Gascoigne, and also memorable for a long-range goal from Boro favourite Colin Cooper.

The project was initiated and pulled together by Robert Nichols, a passionate expert on all things 'Boro' who is also the editor of Boro fanzine 'Fly Me To the Moon'.  The whole book is an interesting read for fans of the Boro, but may also be a useful resource for anyone now or in years to come who is studying the history of football fandom.

The publisher's website appears to have already sold-out of its stock, but you can still purchase from the Middlesbrough FC Club Shop website:

Secondly, 'Boro Mag' has reached its third volume, and is another great resource featuring short articles
about different eras of club history. 

As usual its a professional looking publication jam-packed with attractive graphics and fantastic photos.  The themes of the volume are inspiration, passion, turbulence and resurrection.  

Our article 'Middlesbrough Football and Athletic Company (1986) Ltd: Resuscitating a 'Sleeping Giant'  focuses on the Boro's escape from financial administration in the mid-80s, but also contextualises this by tracing key events before and after. Based on our academic publications on the same subject (Gillett et al, 2016; Gillett and Tennent, 2018) the article provides a good overview of the story in a reader-friendly format.

Proceeds/donations of the magazine go towards charity, so you can help a good cause too. Hard copies seem to have already sold-out but electronic downloads seem to be available, contact the publisher via the website to find out more:


Gillett, A., Tennent, K. and Hutchinson, F., 2016. Beer and the Boro—A Perfect Match!. In Brewing, Beer and Pubs (pp. 303-320). Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Gillett, A.G. and Tennent, K.D., 2018. Shadow hybridity and the institutional logic of professional sport. Journal of Management History.

Thursday, 15 October 2020

New Paper Published in 'Public Management Review'

We are very pleased to announce a new journal article published in 'Public Management Review'.

The article is about the FIFA World Cup USA 1994 - specifically the hosting of the tournament locally in the San Francisco Bay Area at Stanford University Stadium.

Academically it explores aspects of project management, institutional complexity, hybridity, social entrepreneurship, and philanthropy.

The article can be viewed by clicking here

Monday, 12 October 2020

Interesting location for a 'socially distanced' meeting

The Covid pandemic has had a significant effect on the ability of fans to attend soccer games, and resultantly a significant effect on clubs' finances, a topic in the news in recent weeks (campaign to help football and its 'grass roots' ).

Similarly, the need for social distancing extends to other activities at clubs and their grounds, as I (Alex) found out last week.

A meeting with the Commercial Manager of York City FC was conducted not in the office, or even in the Boardroom. Rather, we met pitch-side, sat on the managers dugout/subs bench (and wearing face masks).

We talked about our research on football supporters (segmenting soccer fans by 'value'), football finance and history (Journal of Management History article) and project management (Dynamic sublimes ).  We also talked about York City FC's development of a new stadium.

We also discussed exciting opportunities for research, teaching, and other opportunities between our university work and the football club. Watch this space for more details.

Saturday, 26 September 2020

New Book Chapter: Moments, Metaphors, Memories Defining Events in the History of Soccer


We are pleased to announce a new book based on the Special Issue of 'Soccer & Society' journal that we had a paper in, about the 1966 FIFA World Cup:

As the most popular mass spectator sport across the world, soccer generates key moments of significance on and off the field, encapsulated in events that create metaphors and memories, with wider social, cultural, psychological, political, commercial and aesthetic implications. Since its inception as a modern game, the history of soccer has been replete with events that have changed the organization, meanings and impact of the sport. The passage from the club to the nation or from the local to the global often opens up transnational spaces that provide a context for studying the events that have 'defined' the sport and its followers. Such defining events can include sporting performances, decisions taken by various stakeholders of the game, accidents and violence among players and fans, and invention of supporter cultures, among other things. 

This volume attempts to document, identify and analyse some of the defining events in the history of soccer from interdisciplinary and comparative perspectives. It revisits the discourses of signification and memorialization of such events that have influenced society, culture, politics, religion, and commerce. 

This book was originally published as a special issue of the journal Soccer & Society.

Publisher: Taylor & Francis Ltd 
ISBN: 9780367696160 
Number of pages: 235 
Dimensions: 246 x 174 mm

About our chapter: 

Our paper, included here as a chapter, is: "'‘Filip’or flop? Managing public relations and the Latin American reaction to the 1966 FIFA World Cup'.

"The 1966 FIFA World Cup has become part of the iconography of its hosts and champions, England. Extant literature has tended to focus on the cultural and symbolic legacy of the tournament, or engaged with diplomatic relations between Britain and North Korea. Contrastingly, we use archival sources from footballing and government institutions to explore the less studied topic of how the tournament was reported and perceived in Latin America, where England had commercial interests and influence, but where there were allegations that FIFA, the FA and even the UK government manipulated the tournament to the advantage of England and other European teams. We provide fresh perspectives on the social and cultural significance of the 1966 FIFA World Cup by analysing how the tournament’s organizers attempted to manage the situation and resulting negative public relations, and how 1966 fits within longer-term footballing and diplomatic relations between England and Latin America.

Friday, 12 June 2020

The Growth of Major League Soccer: Commentary, Analysis & Explanations from the Literature

By Dr Alex G. Gillett & Dr Kevin D. Tennent


As regular readers of this website might be aware, a significant strand of our research has been concerned with the FIFA World Cup, in particular aspects of its administration and management in recent(ish) history.  Our 2018 paper ‘Opportunities for all the Team…’  published within The International Journal of the History of Sport (Gillett and Tennent, 2018) (and recently re-published as a chapter within a book: Tennent and Gillett, 2020) examined the 1966 and also the 1994 editions of the FIFA World Cup, and it is the latter which is the starting point for this article, which critically examines one sporting legacy of the event: Major League Soccer.

It has been well documented elsewhere that part of the intended legacy from the USA’s hosting of the 1994 FIFA World Cup, was to establish and sustain a top-level fully professional national soccer league.  Whilst professional soccer had been tried in the USA before (see for example the numerous books detailing the history of the NASL of the 1960s-1980s, and indeed the prior history of soccer in North America), the emphasis this time was on a financially sustainable proposition.  The outcome was Major League Soccer (MLS) and was originally planned to ‘kick off’ in 1995, to be buoyed up by the hoped-for soccer fever spilling over from the previous summer’s World Cup.

Due to various organizational problems, the MLS did not begin play until 1996, with just ten teams competing, rather than the twelve that had originally been planned for. The first season began in San Jose, as the San Jose Clash hosted the Washington (D.C.) United.  MLS is not the only professional soccer league in the U.S. and Canada; The United Soccer Leagues (USL) was formed in 1986 as an indoor league, but expanded into outdoor soccer three years later and was granted Division II status in the 1997 season by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). 

The success and sustainability of the MLS can be claimed by the fact that the league has operated continuously since 1996 to the present date, which is longer than the previous attempt at a ‘Division 1’ caliber national league, the NASL which existed 1968 – 1984.

Deeper analysis as to the financial viability of MLS is somewhat difficult due to the amount and type of data available, the complexity of the MLS business-model, and ambiguous nature of the meaning of ‘sustainability’ or ‘viability’ in the context of soccer clubs; indeed it is common for clubs to have relatively strong brand recognition globally, but to have revenues comparable to a medium-sized enterprise such as large supermarket store.  Financial profitability is not always achieved nor is it the only or primary motive for clubs and their investors, and it is generally accepted that football clubs will often require subsidy (Gillett and Tennent, 2018; Kuper and Syzmanki, 2010).  

We now examine what academic and non-academic (i.e. business consultancy and news media) research tells us about the growth and financial viability of the MLS.


The MLS, as a league, seeks to be profitable.  Because its model involves an ownership stake in its member clubs which are offered to investors as franchises, it has vested interest in their financial viability, or at least that these clubs are sufficiently viable to attract investors.  In 2014 the MLS stated “On a combined basis, MLS and its clubs continue to lose in excess of $100 million per year” (Abbott, 2014 cited by Szymanski, 2015) and this is still the case according to the most recent figures published; In 2019 just seven clubs reported operating income, totaling $21 million between them, whilst sixteen reported an operating loss of cumulatively £126 million (Gough, 2019) meaning that on a combined basis the clubs lost $125million (summarized in the below table):  

Table 1: Operating Income and Losses of MSL Franchises reported in 2019

Franchise / Club
Operating Income/Loss ($US Million)
Atlanta United
+ 7
LA Galaxy
Portland Timbers
Real Salt Lake
Seattle Sounders
D.C. United
Sporting Kansas City
Orlando City SC
New England Revolution
Philadelphia Union
Los Angeles FC
Vancouver Whitecaps
Colorado Rapids
San Jose Earthquakes
New York Red Bulls
Houston Dynamo
FC Dallas
Columbus Crew
Minnesota United
Montreal Impact
Chicago Fire
New York City FC
Toronto FC

 Source: (Gough, 2019)

However, measured by revenues, MLS reportedly ranked as the 11th ‘richest’ league in the world in 2017 with ‘average’ revenues of $32 million per club (in contrast, the top of the list was the English Premier League at £331 million per club). These revenues for clubs include a share of surplus funds from the MLS. Most revenue is generated through media and sponsorship deals as well as player transfers, ticketing, and other commercial rights, and a share of ‘expansion fees’ paid to the league by new members, until all 28 of the available soccer franchises have been purchased (Abatan, 2018).  

Increasing fees for new ‘expansion’ franchise investors do not currently appear to be driven by financial performance; the league and most of its teams continue to operate at a significant loss. Investors are thus speculating on the MLS as something to develop for a longer-term pay-off (Smith, 2019)

Longer term, the MLS seeks to enhance revenues via multiple media rights deals to sustain growth and to compete with other pro-sports in the US market.  Although reasonably popular in local television markets in regions with an established soccer base, this growth will require growing appeal on a national scale, and MLS’ aims to increase the number of teams by making available more franchises, and by attracting more ‘star’ players to boost soccer’s profile and appeal to attract more fans to the sport (Young, 2020).  There will also be opportunities to ‘boost’ soccer by leveraging the momentum of another World Cup hosted by the USA (as well as Canada and Mexico) in 2026.

As distinct businesses, the financial viability of each franchise as a soccer club is less clear, but the model is based on a collective view that they are all participants in the MLS, a competition which is a greater ‘product’ than any team individually.  However, to examine the viability of having a franchise in, let's say for example the San Francisco Bay Area (specifically, San Jose)  as opposed to an alternative regional ‘market’ we can use various measures.  

(Note: which we chose for illustrative purposes firstly because it was the host team for the inaugural MLS fixture in 1996, and secondly because we happened to be preparing some research on the team). 

One way in which to approximate is to examine average match-day attendances of San Jose over the history of the MLS, and compare with the league average. Whilst this does not provide the ‘whole story’ it offers a window into the popularity of soccer in San Jose and the wider SFBA as a live sporting attraction.

Figure 1 shows the original franchise known as ‘San Jose Clash’ reported average attendances which tended to approximately follow those of the MLS generally, albeit slightly lower in some years, and never above. That franchise was relocated and for two years the city had no team. In 2008 a new franchise was launched with the name ‘Earthquakes’ a throw-back to the team by that name which played in the NASL.  After a difficult first few years in which attendance dipped to 9,713 before increasing to a peak of 20,979 in 2015 and then staying slightly under that figure ever since, albeit gradually declining. 

Figure 1: MLS compared with San Jose Total Average Attendances 1996-2019

Solid line: MLS Total Average Attendances
Broken Line: San Jose Franchise Total Average Attendances (no franchise in 2006 or 2007)

Academic studies analyse the different influences on average attendances, to indicate that some of this growth – and the growth in revenue for the MLS generally – is attributable to inclusion of ‘star players’ such as David Beckham (e.g.  Jewell and Molina, 2005; Lawson et al. 2008).  Meanwhile, DeSchriver et al. (2016) identify how the construction of soccer-specific facilities (rather than shared multi-sport stadiums) may also allow the franchise to retain most, if not all, of the revenue generated from concessions, parking, and non-MLS events – although some examples of teams which ground share larger stadiums with other sports, have attained higher attendances (e.g. Seattle Sounders).  They also identify how the scheduling of games for weekends, and the timing of games around big public holiday of 4th July, can raise crowds.   

Perhaps the clearest factor attributable to rising attendances includes the Leagues expansion in the number of participating teams.  Literature summarized by DeSchriver et al. (2016) and also confirmed by their own study, and more recently by Love et al. (2013), indicates a type of honeymoon period exists in various sports but including for new MSL franchises, for at least 3 seasons, and there may be several reasons for this:  

  •       The novelty might attract spectators who are simply curious; 
  •     The new team’s marketing team might work harder or with more enthusiasm for a ‘start-up’ and new challenge in comparison to those of an older team; 
  •     The accuracy with which the MLS has determined the best markets for its expansion.

DeSchriver et al. (2016) also found that both the proportion of the local population that was Hispanic, and median household income, were both positively related to attendance.  Conversely, Jewell and Molina (2005) found a negative relationship between the size of the Hispanic population in a city and MLS attendance. Other variables that they found to be statistically significant with attendance included the degree of competition from other sports teams within a market, population size, the year in which the season took place, and star players (mentioned above) – in fact they found that in general,  performance of individual players’ tended to influence attendance, but team performance did not.

In Conclusion

There are many variables which might help to explain the apparent growth and buoyancy of the MLS.  Although the numbers give some indication as to why investors continue to speculate, it is useful to interpret them critically when trying to predict the future of professional national league soccer in the USA and Canada.  In particular, the recent Covid-19 pandemic has had significant effect on attendance at large-scale events, and on the jobs and income of supporters.  It is therefore difficult to predict the effect on attendances at ‘live’ events or the effect on take-up of televised and streamed events played to limited crowds or even behind closed doors, as has been the case in some countries.


Abatan, E. 2018 “MLS will ‘imminently join’ world’s top 10 leagues by revenue” Sporting Intelligence, June 12. Accessed 15 May 2020.

DeSchriver, T.D., D.A. Rascher, and S.L. Shapiro. 2016. If we build it, will they come? Examining the effect of expansion teams and soccer-specific stadiums on Major League Soccer attendance, Sport, Business and Management, 6 (2): 205-227. Doi: 10.1108/SBM-05-2014-0025

Gillett, A. G., and Tennent, K. D. 2018. Shadow Hybridity and The Institutional Logic of Professional Sport: Perpetuating a Sporting Business in Times of Rapid Social and Economic Change. Journal of Management History, 24 (2):2 28–259. Doi: 10.1108/JMH-11-2017-0060

Gough, C. 2019.  “Major league soccer teams ranked by operating income 2019” Statistica, November 21. Accessed 15 May 2020.

Jewell, R.T. and Molina, D.J., 2005. An evaluation of the relationship between Hispanics and Major League Soccer. Journal of Sports Economics6(2), pp.160-177.

Kuper, S. and Szymanski, S., 2010. Why England Lose: & other curious football phenomena explained. HarperCollins UK.

Lawson, R.A., Sheehan, K. and Stephenson, E.F. 2008. Vend It Like Beckham: David Beckham's Effect on MLS Ticket Sales. International Journal of Sport Finance3(4): 189 – 195. 

Love, A., Kavazis, A., Morse, A.L. and Mayer, K.C., 2013. Soccer-specific stadiums and attendance in major league soccer: Investigating the novelty effect. Love, A., Kavazis, A., Morse, A., & Mayer, KC (2013). The influence of soccer specific stadiums on attendance in Major League Soccer. Journal of Applied Sports Management5(2), pp.32-46.

Smith, C. 2019. “Major league soccer’s most valuable teams 2019: Atlanta stays on top as expansion fees, sale prices surge”, Forbes Online, November 4. Accessed 15 May 2020.

Syzmanski, S., 2015.  “So what is the MLS business model?”, Soccernomics, 23 April. Accessed 15 May 2020.

Tennent, K.D. and Gillett, A.G., 2018. Opportunities for all the Team: Entrepreneurship and the 1966 and 1994 Soccer World Cups. The International Journal of the History of Sport35(7-8), pp.767-788.

Tennent, KD & Gillett, A 2020, Opportunities for all the Team: Entrepreneurship and the 1966 and 1994 Soccer World Cups. in W Vamplew & D Porter (eds), Sport and Entrepreneurship. Sport in the Global Society - Historical Perspectives, Routledge.

Young, J. 2020. “Major league soccer has a 25-year plan, but it needs to secure huge media deals first” CNBC Markets, Feb 27.  Accessed 15 April 2020.