Have you ever been to a pantomime? Essentially, it’s a theatre production where an entertaining story is embarked upon; with large audience involvement that makes it both enjoyable and entertaining for the men and women who pay their hard-earned cash to sit front row.
Modern day transfer news acts as a form of pantomime, with the spectators and cast getting larger by the day.
In a world that was once isolated from footballing fans, transfer news is now as audience-engaging as a visit to Piccadilly Theatre. With each and every intricacy of player and manager movement being broadcast to the everyday supporter, it’s no surprise that there is a great appetite for this content.
“People like to see players move,” David Ornstein, Football Correspondent at The Athletic, insists. “And with journalists who are able to deliver that news, it’s all part of lifting up the curtain which is something that has been a growing fascination among fans.”
With teams currently only playing for eight or nine months of the year, supporters being engulfed in their own club’s transfer news makes them feel just as involved in their team during the off-season as they are when in crowds of 70,000 in the wind and rain. Yet, to follow transfer news, they just need access to their own smartphone, and then they’ll have endless opportunities to follow and find all of the latest scoops.
However, it isn’t just in these months where they are engaged in the details off the pitch, and in fact, Ornstein claims some supporters are more invested than they are about the games.
“Transfer news has become an industry within an industry and it’s become as passionately followed and supported by many fans as the actual action on the pitch,” he says.
“Many fans that I see in my interactions seem to like it even more and get more emotional about it. You could even post a transfer story during a match and they would be far more occupied by that than what’s going on in the field of play.”
Freddie Pye, owner of independent Manchester City channel City Xtra, agrees with Ornstein’s statement: “You can’t even go through matchdays without people talking about a transfer.
“With how much the media talks about it throughout the course of a year, it’s hard to distance yourself from it. There’s always one particular transfer for people to want to be involved in.”
However, these situations can also be frustrating for supporters. The dragged-out negotiations and stories regarding a certain player can eventually confuse the fans attempting to follow the tale. And sometimes that’s exactly what they turn out to be – a tale.
Harry Kane looked certain to wear sky blue this season. His absence from Tottenham’s pre-season training riled up the rumours and his comments about his future to Gary Neville on The Overlap were anything but subtle.
“I never said I’d stay at Spurs for the rest of my career, I never said I’d leave Spurs… but I feel like I’ve got another career to play. I’ve got seven, eight years left in the Premier League.” Kane told Neville with intent clearer than a summers day.
Pye and his team at City Xtra covered the rumour as it unfolded, but with Kane still at White Hart Lane, this roller-coaster was anything but enjoyable for those riding along.
“From what we were told from within, there was so much confidence that it would be done, so you kind of write your stories in a way that brings across a lot of confidence…” Pye told us regarding the 29-year-old’s transfer saga last summer.
“It was really frustrating,” Pye stated from the aggregator’s point of view. “You’d be writing a story on an update that came out an hour ago, saying it’ll be done, and literally an hour later it’s off. It’s all changed.”
“It was a dragged out, frustrating story,” he concluded.
However, the complexity of transfers is also one reason that makes them so intriguing to both media outlets and supporters, and the ever-increasing roles that agents and clubs have in negotiations is one explanation to why some stories have more twists and turns than a roller-coaster.
“They’ve got the ability to complicate it because they’re involved in the story.” Ornstein explained, talking about both agents and clubs. “They can manipulate and use media and journalists to their advantage in transfer situations. They can use transfers as smokescreens. They’re the ones in a position of power.”
It’s almost like a game of chess, which is watched by millions each and every day, waiting eagerly for the next move. However, these moves are highlighted for the world to see and that makes the checkmate – or the marque summer signing – even more of an exciting prospect.
In Manchester United‘s case, even the rumours of who will be the next manager are engulfing the fanbase during the campaign, despite the fact that Ralf Rangnick will remain in charge until the end of the season.
Pye believes that the role of top tier journalists has been crucial in the growth in this field in the last few years and highlights the exponential growth that Fabrizio Romano has experienced through his journalism.
“These people have made transfers massive. He’s [Fabrizio Romano] bigger than 85% of footballers,” Pye remarked. “Transfer journalists in the game right now, they’ve been the factors that have changed transfers in the past three years.
“For a journalist to build up half a million followers on YouTube solely reporting on transfers… if you told someone that three years ago, it’d be laughed at.” Pye said back in December. The Italian journalist now has just under 750,000 subscribers.
Meanwhile, even though Ornstein echoes the opinion that journalists like himself and Romano have elevated the transfer demand, he almost feels that it is at the expense of other quality content.
“Honestly I’ve never seen an appetite like it for anything else in our industry.” he proclaims, talking about the ever-growing desire for transfer news. “A normal transfer gets bigger numbers, bigger interactions and drives bigger traffic than massive stories of a different nature.
“It’s quite sad really, because there’s some amazing journalism out there that often gets overlooked because of transfers. A big transfer wipes the floor with any story out there in the industry, but even a small transfer will do so much more business than some really valid stories.”
Whether the increasing demand for transfer news is good or bad for the other forms of journalism, it’s certainly not going to go away, and its growth is all but a guarantee.
As they say at the theatre, the show must go on.