Not playing around: global capitalism,
modern sport and consumer culture
Throughout the twentieth century leading sporting figures, chairmen of economic
corporations with direct and indirect interests in sport, think tanks, and social analysts
preoccupied with making sense of the contemporary world recognized the unique
of sport. At the beginning of the present century,
m the context of a w1de-rangmg analysis of the consequences associated with the
free-market economic policies, sport was
descnbed _as the most Important thmg in the world' (Beck 2000: 62).
Early m the last century Walter Camp, a formative figure in the development of
football, reportedly referred to sport as "'the broad folk highway" of the
3). In 1939 Mass Observation confirmed the status of sport as a
key socialmstitutwn by pointing out that sport-related economic activity represented
biggest English industry' (Kuper 2003: 147-8). In 1985 the Henley Centre
estimated that sport constituted the sixth largest employment sector in the UK (Mason
1989: 10). In the closing decade of the century the founder and chairman of
commented that sport was at the heart of contemporary culture and increasingly
defined 'the culture.ofthe world' (cited in Katz 1994: 199).
Sport is an economically significant, highly popular, globally networked cultural
form. It occupies} prominent place in a 'deep area of the collective sensibility' (Eco
198?: 160) and 1.s able, as Nelson Mandela reportedly suggested, to mobilize the
sentiments of people in all countries in an unrivalled manner (Carlin 2003). The
Secretary General of the United Nations subsequently endorsed this view when he
remarked of one sport, football, that it is 'more universal' than the UN and that the
FIF A World Cup brings the 'family of nations and peoples' together 'celebrating our
common humanity' in a way that few other cultural events can equal (Annan 2006).
As the century progressed, the commercial world drew increasingly on sport's
cultural capital value to raise the global profile and appeal of corporate brands and to
expand the global market for their products. Taking stock towards the close of the
Not playing around: global capitalism, modern sport and consumer culture
twentieth century, one analyst remarked that professional sport, the media and
corporate sponsorship constituted a seemingly indivisible trinity, 'a golden triangle'
of the parties was able to derive substantial profit (Aris 1990: 9).
Subsequently, professional sport became more closely articulated with the media, in
particular television, commerce and the world of corporate sponsorship (Smart 2005).
This state of affairs received a ringing endorsement from FIF A President Sepp Blatter
who, speaking in defence of the growth in World Cup sponsorship money in the run-
up to the 2006 tournament, remarked that ' [ w ]hat is important is a partnership
between soccer, the economy and television which benefits all sides' (Anonymous
2006). Without doubt, the growth of a global sport network has been very closely