Stories From the Vault

Adverts at the Grounds

By Posted in - History on April 29th, 2015 0 Comments

A friend of mine is a West Ham supporter, born within earshot of Upton Park and dyed claret & blue. During the last transfer window we were discussing potential departures from West Ham, unfortunately for supporters the club is generally a stepping stone on the way up or a stop off on the way down. It was around that time when former West Ham sponsor Alpari, a foreign exchange company, went bankrupt almost overnight when the exchange ceiling was lifted on the Swiss Franc. West Ham are in pretty good financial shape but the loss of payments from their shirt sponsor could have potentially caused issues in the short term.

Would moving a player in January solved a short-term financial issue? I honestly have no idea, but it was an interesting discussion because the chain of events that led to Alpari’s collapse was in effect started by the growing conflict in Ukraine and reactions to it in the west. What it helped emphasize is how Premier League football is a global business and how that change is reflected in our photo archive, one obvious indicator is the change in advertising at the grounds.

Until 1961 there was a maximum wage for professional footballers in England and when that was abolished the financial side of the game was forced to evolve. Top quality players could now demand wages that were previously inconceivable: Johnny Haynes, considered the top English player when the maximum wage was abolished, went from (where is my pound symbol?!?) 20 to 100 pounds per week. Owners needed to find new revenue streams to afford to pay for top level talent and one way to make more money was to sell advertising space around the ground.

Initially most advertising was relatively local, it still is as one moves down the divisions, but some larger nationwide and international companies made early forays into football grounds. Local hire car companies and other small businesses names lined fields, fronted fences or the facade of a stand. Their signs were always less professional looking than those few for national products like for Ribena or Yorkie. Bolton’s Burnden Park featured a sign encouraging people to eat at The Pack Horse Restaurant on Nelson Square as well as adverts for Magee’s Ale and Players No. 1 cigarettes.

Times change. Some companies get priced out of the market, some companies disappear and for the top clubs bigger names appear. Local names give way to more national, then international and finally multinational companies. Some boards became LED displays and those began to include adverts in foreign languages as the world wide TV audience grew. Bringing in top sponsors became as important to some clubs as signing players, in some cases the two are directly related.

When the players fought to eliminate the maximum wage they did so for sound reasons. Their earnings had remained comparatively stagnant and while the maximum wage was above the average for industrial workers footballers had comparatively short careers and had to find employment following retirement. Football was a trade with apprenticeships that began at a young age and prepared players for a career that they would be fortunate to have last a decade. When they were done with football most had little in the way of outside education and many hadn’t considered life after football.

The elimination of the maximum wage was an important step in giving players control over their careers, a process that didn’t end until the Bosman ruling. What I don’t think anyone could have envisaged was how the market value of footballers would change. A player earning the maximum wage of £20 per week in 1961 had approximately £400 of relative purchasing power in 2015 based upon the retail price index and that was the best players. According to data from the 2013-14 Premier League season the average salary was £43,000 per week, in 1961 pounds that is approximately £2150 per week. The current highest paid player in the Premier League is on £300,000 per week which is approximately £15,000 per week in 1961 pounds: 750 times the maximum wage. When Johnny Haynes was signed for £100 per week Fulham had to find a way to cover that increase and the others that followed, as did every other club in the Football League. One solution for increasing revenue to cover the salary increases was expanding advertising which has evolved from hand lettered signs on plywood into what we see today.

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