At The Emirates Stadium in London this evening, a prime example of the globalising force of football can be seen as Brazil take on Italy in a friendly international. Over the last decade or so, Brazil have started to more and more resemble a footballing equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters, crossing the line between friendly international matches and exhibition matches being played at the behest of the highest bidder. Tonight’s match is being laid on by the Swiss sports rights agents Kentaro, who are pretty open about the motivation for it all: “it is a compromise to the big clubs that players do not have to fly across the Atlantic, there are Brazilian fans all over the world, and it is impossible to generate the same revenue in Brazil”, they said, confirming that these fixtures are primarily being played for one reason.
It has to be said that there is a certain logistical sense to Brazil playing some of their qualifying matches in London. The CBF, the Brazilian Football Association, will earn itself few friends amongst Europes top clubs if they fly Europe’s top players out to South America every few weeks or so during the club season. It makes sense from a commercial viewpoint, too. Playing the match during peak hours for a European television audience will maximise the revenue for the live broadcasting rights, and playing it in London, where ticket prices for football matches are possibly the highest in the world, guarantees the highest revenues from television audiences. The multi-cultural nature of London also helps to ensure that the match will be a sell-out.
This is the fourth time that Brazil have played at The Emirates Stadium, where, considering the links that the CBF and Arsenal Football Club have with Nike, the rent for this evening’s match isn’t likely to be very high. There is also a possible benefit to England’s World Cup bid for 2018. International matches are now a regular part of the London football afficianado’s calendar, with one day in 2007 seeing four matches being played in the capital on the same day. It certainly does no harm to the reputation of London football to see matches of this calibre being played out in front of television audiences that run into hundreds of millions on a semi-regular basis. Gate receipts of £2m were reported for a friendly at The Emirates Stadium between Brazil and Sweden last year. Not bad for a single nights work.
Arsenal aren’t the only London club hosting European football this week. Nigeria play Jamaica at The New Den, the home of Millwall FC, tomorrow night, and other London venues such as Loftus Road, Brisbane Road, and Craven Cottage have also been used in the capital. These are matches that are played largely for the benefit of the expatriat population and, while they seldom manage to sell out their venues, the fact that they keep coming back for more would seem to indicate that someone believes that they make financial and/or logistical sense. For smaller international football associations, there is still more of a reason for playing these matches in London. They can charge higher ticket prices and quite possibly attract a bigger crowd and, in so far as leverage with clubs is concerned, they are in a weaker position that the CBF or the FA are at the negotiating table. Playing in London allows them a better range of their European-based players as well.
Meanwhile, at The Emirates Stadium, Brazil beat Italy 2-0. You can see the goals here: