A league of their own?
January 23, 2011 2 Comments
Something that has been spoken about in many pubs and bars across Europe for many years is the prospect of a European Super League. How many times have you heard someone make the statement “It’s inevitable, football’s all about money anyway and TV money drives everything so it’ll happen”. Usually this is closely followed up by someone else chiming in with “Yes but, who wants to watch Man U – Real Madrid four times a season, what about the local rivalries?”
And so it goes. Most supporters feel that someone, somewhere is working away at making this happen and that there is a willingness there, a desire to make this happen. However, you look at the current set up for the clubs, the money-spinning Premier League and the really major cash-machine of the Champions League.
Why change? Well certain other planets are currently coming into alignment which might push the game’s power brokers into reviewing their future horoscopes.
Platini’s so-called financial fair play rules are upon us. Rules which may – on the face of things – make European football more equitable and lessen the power and influence of the major clubs.
In short, clubs could be banned from European competition from the 2014/15 season onwards if they do not comply with the new financial rules. So what will this mean for the clubs?
The rules state clubs must break even over a three-year period, club owners will only be allowed to put in up to €15million a year but as equity, not as loans. That figure would then drop to €10million annually. Conversely, the clubs will be able to spend as much as they want on stadiums, training facilities and youth football.
Failure to abide by the rules will result in UEFA applying a range of sanctions from warnings to a transfer ban to possibly even exclusion from European tournaments.
So why are UEFA applying these rules? UEFA say it’s for the good of the game, to make competition more fair, to stop spiralling debt. Across Europe, total club income in 2009 rose by nearly 5% to €11.7billion – but expenditure increased by just over 9% to €12.9billion, resulting in a €1.2billion deficit overall. Of that spending, most goes on player wages and a huge one in three European clubs spent 70% – or more – of their income on salaries. As a result of this pattern of debt and expenditure just over 55% of European clubs ended 2009 in the red.
So then, obviously M.Platini is riding across the horizon on his white charger just in time to save the day. Greedy players and their agents will be swept away as the light of financial truth burns brightly and we will stride confidently together into the future of fair play, excellent facilities for the supporter and a level playing field allowing more clubs the opportunity to scale the heights of on the field success.
Maybe the clubs who are currently at the top of the European tree will want to stay there and make sure the branches below are sawn through.
Top players want to go to top clubs. Top clubs need to pay these guys top wages. Of course you can argue that rather than open up the game to more and more clubs being successful, all these rules would do is cement the current European hierarchy into place. If the only spending allowed can be as a function of revenue then what chance does a club lower down the pecking order have? Platini would argue that they would spend their money on youth development and stadium facilities and that would be the way they would – slowly – progress.
However, the reality is more like what we have seen at Chelsea and are beginning to see at Man City.
To move quickly into the more elite levels of the sport, very rich owners have simply spent billions. Forget youth development. Stadium development? We’ll spend if we have to, but why would we given the oil money we have?
These new rules impact more on the Chelsea’s and Man City’s of this world and may well aid the current elite in staying there, but what of Man United’s current €billion debt?
What of Barcelona’s current financial struggles?
What of the fact that there is no salary cap in European football?
This is not heavily-regulated US sport. No salary caps. No draft picks system for the less successful clubs to benefit from.
These rules only work if many other enablers are put into place. Wage caps being the principal one. Clubs’ spending will have to pass certain tests and spending over 70% of income on wages is one of them. Will a wage cap be introduced? You better bet that the clubs will try, although that would be a difficult one to introduce into a European marketplace that produced a Bosman ruling.
Some time ago, Professor Stefan Szymansky of the Cass Business school in London postulated a European Super League based largely on the format of the American NFL and the model suggested that the clubs would gain much greater TV revenue, but I feel that we in Europe are much more “tribal” than in US sport.
In the USA, the health of the league and the fact that the league itself remains competitive with other competing leagues or sports is the principal goal. Everyone gets a slice of the apple pie.
In Europe, the top football clubs are more like the old medieval city-states, more insular and while the viability of the Champions League is in everyone’s interest, annexing it year after year would be the principal goal of a Barcelona, Real Madrid or Man United. The fact that so far it has not happened is mainly down to the highly competitive – not co-operative – nature of the Champions League. Much of that is due to the nature of the clubs themselves and also the element of nationalism still inherent within the sport.
Professor Syzmanski also once regarded the Premier League itself as the de facto European Premier League; with his view being that Germany could threaten the Premier League’s dominance once the huge football loving population of a unified state was taken into account.
It’s arguable now that the good old Premier League does indeed have a major rival in the Bundesliga and that is without taking into account Spain’s La Liga, the home of Barca and Real Madrid.
What of the latest wheeze of Sepp Blatter? A World Cup in Qatar in 2022? When it was then pointed out that the summer temperatures in that country could melt lead (slight exaggeration but you understand the point), he then suggested that the European leagues close down for a Winter World Cup.
With such decisions being made by FIFA and UEFA you could forgive the club chairmen and owners of the likes of the ex-G14 members opting to have a quick chat in a hotel bar somewhere.
The Europa League, the weedy second cousin of the Champions League is merely a sop to the European clubs who can’t currently get into the main European competition. You feel that there is more and more willingness for the top clubs to establish a competition of their own.
You can even begin to see the sort of format it could take. Minimum stadium size of 60,000 for entrant clubs, all seated of course. “X” number of executive boxes / corporate places to sell on. Good infrastructure for supporters and media. Wage cap (Sky high of course and reviewed on a regular basis). Sweet pan-European TV deal in place and across a range of platforms.
It would be – as the Champions League is now – THE place for the top players to play. A World Cup in Qatar? Stop the league mid-season to allow it to take place? Don’t be daft, we’ll just take our travelling circus to Qatar and probably sell out more games there than an increasingly meaningless World Cup.
What of the supporters? Well they factor in these days less and less, seen more as Customers, not as the fanatical loyalists as many people still are, who cares as long as they buy the merchandise, get their backsides on the seats and keep up their TV subscriptions?
This sort of scenario may never happen of course but my own view is that the likes of the Glazers, Fenway Sports Group and Randy Lerner didn’t fly into good old Blighty for the good of their health.
Change is likely, sooner rather than later and when it happens I doubt many of us will be surprised.
by Larry Moran
Have a read of similar article: ‘Omar Cummings and the American Way’