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The beautiful game? Not quite.

Respect. No, this isn't a paean to George Galloway. More on the mixed messages coming from football to fans and vice versa since the Olympics.

I write this a couple of days after Leeds manager Neil Warnock encouraged his players to applaud fans — a tactic which, along with international teams singing the national anthem, is designed to make them appear more human — when one of them had just decked the Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper.

The Games offered up a different type of sport, and a different type of audience. But that's not to say that the two are incompatible, or that, in time, there might be even more of a rapprochement.

Football outside of the Olympics is thought of as a tribal sport, the audience traditionally largely male, who go on a week in/week out basis. Fly by night females like me pay the occasional visit when their team is on a winning streak, which is why I haven't visited QPR yet.

The Olympics, though, conjured up two constituencies for sport overall who might not respect each other very much. The first is the traditional (largely male) sportsgoer who identifies with a team, participant, or sport over a long period of time. They may have got rather less out of the Games and certainly the Paralympics.

The second is the non-traditional (more female) audience who identifies with particular high profile events and then moves on to the next (which may have nothing to do with sport). Here the attraction is about individuals" stories/journeys.

The result was a much more family oriented audience at the Games. They got caught up in the hype and goodwill, there was minimal swearing, and they basked in a non-threatening atmosphere.

"The enthusiasm for the Games (in general, not football) that I have sensed has come mainly from women and from men who I don't think of as committed sports fans," says Roger Titford of Further Thought. "In short, sport for people who aren't consumed by sport on a continuous basis."

Yet the irony is that some aspects of this audience hark back to the late "90s, when football was seen as a nuclear family activity. And the majority of clubs, given shrinking attendances, would like to turn back the clock. A marketing exercise which can deliver a family of four rather than just one individual is always going to be far more cost effective. Small wonder that clubs are beefing up the family sections in their stands, too.

The halo effect from the Games did result in more favourable attitudes towards football — among the general public and particularly parents — at least till the start of the season. Changing the sport's profile in the long term, however, will be a much tougher task and who is to say what impact that will have on core supporters?

 

Louella Miles
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2012