21 March 2014

Minor Controversy Creates Maximum Cash

by Thomas Simpson | Guest Contributor

Major sporting events heavily rely on the promotion of their product. Professional wrestling organisations such as the WWE are a prime example as they are masters of creating hype. This market has a particular advantage as everything is scripted. A creative team is responsible for planning a narrative that gets people interested. The feuds are orchestrated to create as much tension as possible; the aim to turn the audience’s attention into profit.

Legitimate sporting events are also good at this as boxing and MMA shows make a fortune from it. They expect the fighters to trash talk and simulate hatred for each other to build-up the bout. Customers want to see animosity between the competitors – now the same rules apply to the world of football. They all have the same goal, convince people to part with their money.

On the back pages of the newspapers you’ll often find managers and footballers talking about an upcoming match. Some of these comments are controversial. They either appeal to fans of the club or provoke a hysterical reaction from rival supporters. As former WCW President Eric Bischoff said, “Controversy creates cash.”

Charles Green was good at this. At a time when the 54-time league winners were humbled by playing in Scottish football’s bottom tier Green was seldom out of the paper. Whether he was having a go at the SFA or a rival club, his words were gold for a media that exist to direct the traffic of conflict.

In 2013 Rangers would face Dundee United in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup. It would be the first time the clubs would meet since playing each other in the SPL. Many fans felt that United were instrumental in preventing Rangers from playing in the top flight and organised a boycott of the game. Green sided with the fans and announced that the club would not be requesting tickets.

He was playing to the gallery but that wasn’t important.

The boycott was an instant story and generated additional interest in the match. It may as well have been an Old Firm game such was the level of animosity that manifested between the two clubs. It didn't end well for Rangers that day, but fate has given the Teddy Bears a chance at redemption and the scales look tipped in our favour, much to the clear annoyance of Stephen Thompson.

When the SFA announced that Celtic Park and Ibrox would host the Scottish Cup Final and semi-finals respectively Thompson was quick to voice his opinion. He wasn’t happy that the SFA announced the venues so far in advance and to be fair he had a point: The idea of tournament favourites Celtic getting a home tie should they reach the final did seem unfair. The same applied to Rangers reaching the semis, though I don’t think many held their breath on us getting this far. The draws may have been kind but the games were not and now Rangers find themselves in the semi-final against Dundee United at Ibrox.

At a time when the Rangers board are quiet in defending the club Thompson has taken centre stage to promote the match. He has attacked the unfairness of Ibrox as a neutral venue and scoffed at the amount of tickets that have been allocated to his club.

One would think that tickets for this tie would sell themselves, but is the United chairman worried that his own fans may stage a boycott? It’s possible and no one would blame the United fans for petty revenge, especially considering that all of Scottish football is behind them (well, according to Twitter, anyway).

Arab Trust chairman Steven Hughes has further stoked the fires by claiming that Ibrox isn’t a safe place to take your children despite his own supporters' group planning family buses for the day. This ludicrous claim only further highlights how poisonous the atmosphere between the two clubs has become.

Whether Thompson and Hughes' concerns are genuine or exaggerated doesn’t matter, nor does it matter that Thompson has been proven by the SFA to be less than truthful over the ticket allocation dispute.

What matters is that he has created more interest in the match. The media are salivating at every twist and turn in this story and fans across Scotland are lapping it up. The Tangerines are rallying around their chairman while the Bears are fired up more and more with each word said.

I don’t know how many fans United will bring, but I’d wager Ibrox will be sold out. The atmosphere will be electric and the passion of the fans will be tremendous. When it’s all done and dusted Thompson’s words will gently fade from the minds of most, consigned to the odd retweet. Both clubs will look at the next challenge ahead of them while counting the gate receipts.

Football without fans is nothing and fans without passion are pointless. Even if that passion is carefully manufactured it is still real. And more importantly, very profitable.