Soccer With a Conscience

This week, Gareth Bale became the world's most expensive soccer player when he transferred to Real Madrid for $130,000,000. This highlights the enormous amount of money in international soccer, which has largely resulted from TV broadcasting deals hitting an unprecedented high. Days later, a newspaper in Kenya pointed out that Bale's new monthly salary would be enough to pay for over 4,000 secondary school teachers. Reason enough to ask whether the sport is nearing its commercial saturation point, with profits staying largely within the industry. And: is this really the future of the beautiful game?

Soccer has proven to be a valuable tool in stimulating social change and strengthening communities, but this aspect of the game continues to be largely ignored by the industry.

International soccer is becoming increasingly disconnected from the reasons for its success: its values, such as fair play, respect and teamwork, and its fan base. When soccer fails to honor these, it begins to isolate itself from society and the game loses its appeal.

In June, Brazilians, known for their love of soccer, took to the streets in large crowds to protest the high cost of the preparation for the 2014 FIFA World Cup against a backdrop of poor public services, in particular healthcare and education. The Brazilian public used soccer as a platform for action, demanding to see ordinary Brazilians benefit from it.

The gap between the soccer industry and the communities of which it is part and which are essential to its success has to be bridged. The time has come for the sport to reconnect with society.

The soccer industry does not own the game. It owes everything to the fans, who get little investment in return. Charity and CSR engagements by the industry's key players adhere to its marketing principles and are aimed at increasing market share. However, soccer needs to seize its full potential. The industry has to change its way of thinking and develop an attitude of real responsibility by embracing the social dimension of the game. If it does, the business returns will follow in the form of increased consumer spending, brand value and long-term fan loyalty.

This Sunday streetfootballworld will hold a major new event in the USA called 'Beyond Soccer' as part of the Beyond Sport Summit and Awards. The aim of this one-day conference is to examine the power of the game to create social change in the USA and across North and Central America. We're inviting everyone -- from community non-profits to MLS clubs, from leagues and federations to corporate sponsors and academics -- to join the conversation and find new ways of working together.

This is the first time we have held this event in the United States and we're particularly excited about it. We believe that the soccer industry in the USA can become a model for how sports business connects with, and gives back to, its community. The game is growing here like almost nowhere else in the world and that brings an opportunity to make the social dimension an integral part of the value chain from the very beginning. Here soccer leads the way over all other sports because there are already thousands of years of aggregated experience and best practice to draw upon from all corners of the world. Soccer in the USA has traditionally struggled to find its value proposition for American sports fans -- we believe that the social dimension can be that value.

2014 is shaping up to be the year that soccer examines its social conscience like never before. We believe that it has to change -- or it could quickly start to lose its allure.

See more at: streetfootballworld