Author: Pedro Bernardini @P_Bernardini_13
In my study, there were three things I aimed to achieve. Firstly, I wanted to argue or prove the case for Futsal as a development tool for Football using peer-reviewed academic research. Secondly, I wanted to analyse how the market worldwide reacts to large scale Futsal events. Lastly, by compiling information from key stakeholders within the UK Futsal scene and by using the aforementioned analysis, I wanted to see if there could be a market for Futsal in the UK.
It was particularly important to undertake this research as I know many members of the Futsal community believe that in order for Futsal to truly take off and gain more profile in the UK, the Football Association (the FA) need to see more value in Futsal as a support tool for Football though at the same time, Futsal must also be recognised as its own sport for very obvious reasons. Please see below my findings that are academically backed:
To begin, there are various studies which highlight the effectiveness of small-sided games (SSG’s) to improve the technical, tactical and cognitive capabilities of a player and provoke attacking behaviours/characteristics. Outcomes of the use of small-sided games include the perception that participants try to ‘penetrate’ the opponent more, touched the ball more times, released the ball quicker, moved off the ball more and attempts to build up play to get as close to the opposition goal as possible. Furthermore, other research demonstrated that using Futsal balls has a more positive effect in PE lessons than 11-a-side footballs and improvements over time were associated with more successful control of the ball, an increase in the number of times one touches the ball and a significant improvement in attacking or offensive actions while participants demonstrated markedly less fear to dribble or control with a Futsal ball.
Interestingly and curiously, multiple research papers showed that the most successful 11-a-side Football teams at the highest professional level (i.e. extracted from Premier League and World Cup competition) tend to score on average 80% of their goals in their own box and the better teams seem to take more touches and field more players who are competent in building up play and who present strong attacking characteristics.
In 5-a-side Football induces less use of technical, tactical or cognitive capabilities.
When you combine the aforementioned studies, it becomes much clearer to understand if whether the traditional English 5-a-side or Futsal’s would be more effective to develop 11-a-side players. By scrutinising the use of walls in 5-a-side Football, it can be argued that participants can use or rely on walls while under pressure which discourages the manifestation of attacking play that is realistic to Football as a participant can rely on the walls to relieve themselves from pressure in in-game situations as much as they may need to rely on a team-mate, thus inducing less use of technical, tactical or cognitive capabilities. Clearly, not ideal for player development.
On the other hand, applying this same principle to Futsal, and using the fact that clearly, sufficient empirical evidence suggest that the objective of football is to get as close to the goal as possible before putting the ball into the goal and more teams will have more success doing so – it seems that Futsal could perhaps best support this process as the spatial conditions provoke participants to manifest more attacking behaviours that enable them to become more competent and experienced in building more attacking plays with the consequence of players being more likely to shoot when closer to goal. These skills and outcomes associated to Futsal are inextricably linked to those of the top teams in modern Football. As a result, it could be argued that Futsal is a rare game that offers all of the conditions necessary to manipulate and promote skill development, especially for 11-a-side Football players.
If UK Futsal stakeholders can explore this truism, then football clubs will become increasingly more interested in Futsal and this can create opportunities for those aiming to work with Futsal to explore working relationships.
Though sport in general is being consumed in many more different ways (on social media, via internet, via video games and etc) and not just through live events or television, there is still sufficient evidence that Futsal is becoming more popular around the world and that the market is getting bigger. If we analyse the more recent major Futsal events, the Thailand Futsal World Cup 2012 reached 36% more territories and had 45% more broadcast hours than the previous World Cup in 2008. In Europe, Eurosport broadcasted the matches with 3.8 million viewers and a total of 77 hours of broadcast which was a record for Futsal World Cup viewer ratings.
Likewise, the viewing figures for the UEFA Futsal EURO 2016 of 36.4 million represents an increase of 38.3% from the 2014 edition in Croatia. During this competition, Spain’s viewer ratings for matches were up by 25% from the 2014 edition, Russia’s was up by 280% while Portugal attracted more than 1.1 million live viewers on TV1 during their quarter final match vs Spain and superstar Ricardinho’s performances create a social media frenzy around the Futsal world. In addition to this, in Serbia, the semi-final match against Russia attracted an audience of 1.2 million, representing a share of 37.8%, over 13 times the usual prime-time share of the channel (2.9%).
Interestingly, this figure is higher than the viewing numbers from the FIBA Euro Basket 2015 third-place play-off between Serbia and France on RTS1, an already popular sporting event throughout most of eastern-Europe and especially Serbia. The FIBA Euro Basket 2015 event was at the time, the most watched match of that event in the country before the Futsal semi-final.
These numbers alongside the increasing popularisation and exposure of Futsal in Brazil, India and the USA (all analysis of these countries are included in my research) would suggest that Futsal is primed for more commercial opportunities should the increasing numbers continue to be sustained in future major events.
After conducting interviews with 16 people who either play or coach Futsal at the highest level in the UK, there is a perception that the Football Association does not value Futsal enough and that the biggest barriers for participation include a ‘lack of visibility’ and a ‘lack of facilities/infrastructure’. The research question was also unanimously answered as ‘there is no market for Futsal in the UK’ because the perception is that most if not all stakeholders of Futsal (i.e. owners of Futsal clubs) do not make a return on investment on their involvement and as a result, many people do not want to get involved with Futsal on the operational side and this also represents another huge barrier which further affects the organic development of the sport.
The Premier League is home to stars who grew up playing Futsal such as Aguero, Coutinho, Oscar, Willian, Lamela…
To partially resolve the issue of lack of visibility, Futsal in the UK would benefit from Celebrity or Athlete endorsement. This would help to improve the status of Futsal, engage more people to participate and more stakeholders into consuming the sport. It is plausible to suggest that if the Football Association or the Premier League could tap into the Premier League market by associating their stars who have played Futsal in the past such as Philippe Coutinho, Sergio Aguero, Willian, Erik Lamela, Oscar, amongst others, with the sport of Futsal in order to promote and create a stronger image of the sport – a bigger market will inevitably be generated.
The question of course is; what would be the incentive for either sporting body to do this? This is where proving Futsal’s worth to Football as a development tool comes into place (see Objective 1) and why it is so important for UK Futsal stakeholders to exploit this.
Undoubtedly, Futsal’s increasing popularity in India, the USA and, more recently, Germany has increased as a result of its associations with sporting celebrities. Futsal is beginning to take off in Germany despite being the current Football world champions. Football stars Douglas Costa, Matt Hummels and Tomas Muller have all publicly backed Futsal and/or have shared their support towards the sport. The Germans are known for owning one of the most successful and professional youth systems and even they are really beginning to embrace Futsal.
England must do the same and align this to a marketing and/or broadcasting strategy in order to succeed. Failure to receive this sort of support from the FA means that hopes of professionalising the sport is simply a fantasy.
In regards to the lack of infrastructure, hypothetically, if all 5-a-side pitches in the UK would be converted into Futsal courts, it is possible for the nation to see a sharp increase in the number of talent coming through the youth systems. Participation numbers are so high in Brazil because out of every public school in Brazil, three out of ten have a sports hall (2014), and as there are two-hundred and twenty-thousand schools (Alves, 2011) there is an estimated sixty-six thousand sports halls that are accessible only for school children. This number does not include Futsal courts from sports clubs, gyms or companies. There are strong suggestions that part of Brazil’s success in Futsal is owed to the fact that there are many indoor and outdoor Futsal courts that fit the minimum requirements of FIFA.
Football stars Douglas Costa, Matt Hummels and Tomas Muller have all publicly backed Futsal and/or have shared their support towards the sport.
With this in mind, in order for Futsal to develop the Football Association needs to give more attention to and allocate senior staff members to spearhead its development. Perhaps, Futsal should try to blend with the existing 5-a-side culture in order to have or create a viable product and market as the small sided games market is very saturated and this can be done through a partnership between the FA and 5-a-side providers with the aim to try to incorporate promotion of Futsal (5-a-side is very well marketed without the assistance of the FA) and including the conversion of 5-a-side pitches into Futsal courts. There is certainly a demand for Futsal friendly facilities. Without a strategy and the support of local authorities, governing bodies and politics, the development of Futsal and/or a market for it will never become anything more than just a fantasy.
Thanks for reading and sharing this research.