Football finance expert says signing gay player could benefit lower league teams
Football clubs lower down the pyramid could benefit from signing an openly gay player, according to a football finance expert.
Despite a recent BBC survey suggesting eight per cent of fans would boycott their team if they were to sign a homosexual footballer, Professor Tom Cannon from the University of Liverpool believes extra support would be found in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
The Radio 5 Live research, carried out by ComRes, questioned more than 4,000 people on the subject of homophobia in football after Football Association chairman Greg Clarke said last week he was "cautious" of encouraging a player to come out as gay.
While a drop in attendances could come after eight per cent of those questioned said they would not go to watch their team if they signed a gay player, Cannon insists the goodwill from the gay community would more than make up for those stay-away fans.
Asked by Press Association Sport if clubs could actually see an increase in finance through ticket sales and merchandising if they were to sign a gay player, Cannon replied: "Absolutely.
"Given the situation, we have seen it in America in American football when a player comes out as gay, there is suddenly more interest from the gay and lesbian community, the LGBT community as a whole.
"The evidence in America is that the gay community want to support anyone who comes out in that way, if you are a lower division team I think you are more likely to gain than lose.
"We know it has happened with the black community, the Asian community, the Chinese community. Once somebody takes the first step, you realise the clubs and supporters embrace it."
There is currently no openly gay footballer playing in the Premier League but Cannon insists no top-flight club would be worried by any financial impact of a minority of fans no longer attending matches if one of their squad came out.
"Anybody who says that, their loyalty must be pretty skin-deep to the club they claim to support," he added.
"There has been no evidence that a club with an openly-gay player has affected behaviour in terms of following and supporting. I don't think it would have any effect on the Premier League or the Championship.
"Certainly in the Premier League demand remains high, most clubs point out they are operating with full stadia and most of the giants - Manchester United, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal - they have all got waiting lists.
"When you get to the lower divisions there may be effects there because when you're talking about a team in League One, League Two or the Conference, every fan counts and they wouldn't want to lose those supporters.
"But most supporters have the level of integrity that they wouldn't let that kind of blackmail effect them.
"I spend a lot of time talking to clubs and chief executives, marketing directors and the like, they are very clear that on the business side in some ways they would rather players were open and felt the confidence to be open if they were gay."
While eight per cent of fans who took part in the BBC survey said they would stop watching their team if a gay player was signed, i t found 82 per cent of supporters would have no issue with a gay player joining.
The survey also revealed 71 per cent of football fans said clubs should do more to educate fans about homophobia, with Kevin Hylton, Professor of Equality and Diversity in the School of Sport at Leeds Beckett University, calling on Clarke to work alongside others in the game to help eradicate the issue.
"My message to Greg Clarke is be brave," he said.
"Bet on the majority and not the small minority in football. Be vocal, ramp up any anti-homophobia work in the game and let the eight per cent know that they are being policed out of the game.
"Be inclusive, you're not alone, the clubs, and fans, media and national governing organisations can all support this movement for social justice."