[FOOTBALL AFFAIRS] With the numbers in hand, EU football is unsustainable

As soon as the adrenaline of the matches on the pitch went on holiday, to European football -to be more precise in continental Europe- the litigation has erupted again with great virulence which distinguishes the system at the government level at its highest levels. Clear sign that the Super League wound not only has it not been cured but the petitions filed on that occasion, although with questionable methods, are still unresolved: in particular that of the alarm cry which European football, with the exception of English football, will have a hard time keeping up without substantial financial reforms.

In fact, in a short time of a week we saw: first the president of Barcelona Juan Laporta to say that the Superleague is not only not dead, but “There is a total will to negotiate with UEFA and I think that the rough ends will be alleviated and a dialogue will be established.”. A few days later it was the turn of his Real Madrid counterpart Florentino Pérezwhich not only continued following Laporta’s words but then did not stop harshly criticizing PSG after Mbappé’s move to the Whites. To confirm that the three rebel clubs, Barcelona, ​​Juventus and Real Madrid, have no intention of letting go. The first hearings in Luxembourg are scheduled for mid-July, although it is virtually impossible for anything important to come out in those days.

But even within the camp of the “won” tensions are a thousand: The League, led by the president Javier Tebas has sued PSG and Manchester City against UEFA for violating financial fair play. In fact, being in the same line and in full convergence of interests with his great enemy Perez. In fact, Tebas has been leading the league with a strong hand and with the opposition of Real and Barcelona for years, but it is clear that a play by Mbappè would have helped a lot in the marketing effort of the Spanish tournament after the farewell of Lionel last year. Messi.

To sum up a climate of all against all which certainly does not testify to the health of European football. In all this, UEFA, in its frantic and frantic search for revenue, and regardless of the players’ complaints about the excessive number of matches this season, will be launched from 2024. a new season opener tournament in the United States and the Super Cup reform. The novelties also have a sports base but above all an economic one. It’s no coincidence that the tournament is being held in the United States with the goal of “evangelizing” the world’s richest football market in football.

Will it be enough? The feeling, in fact the almost certainty, is that it is only a small panel in the face of a much more serious and profound pathology.

In fact, looking at the economic figures of European football that Football and Finance was able to check by consulting various sources, from the FIGC Football Report to the Deloitte Annual Review of Football Funding, to the Ligue 1 LFP / DNCG report and OECD data , the football landscape in the EU area is not optimistic.

Specifically: football, according to UEFA data, creates an added value of 47 billion-50 billion euros for the European Union, of which 20% is generated directly by national clubs and federations. A figure that is worth about 25% of the total value added of the EU leisure sector, in addition to generating -directly and indirectly- 700,000 jobs in the EU. Without forgetting, then, the weight that football has both of interest and as a catalyst for European identity.

At the economic level, therefore, European football grew in value from 2010 to 2019: revenues increased by 7% per year, and television rights accounted for more than 50% of the total increase. An increase turnover, which, however, did not affect the level of profits: on the contrary, European clubs total pre-tax losses of more than 4.5 billion euros, with a significant weight in the constant search for the best talent. Just think about it player salaries account for about 60% of operating income, while in the NBA they range from 40 to 45%. Thus, to compensate for the losses, it was the real estate companies that got their hands on the portfolio, which received a billion euros in capital from payments and refinancing. And the FPF has only partially eased the pressure.

Covid-19 further aggravated the situation, with a 11% decrease in revenue between the 2018/19 season and the 2019/20 season, forcing some teams and federations to look for future revenue sales opportunities to alleviate fears on current cash flows, such as the partnership between LaLiga and CVC, which grants the latter a share of 8.25% of the championship’s television and commercial rights over the next 50 years, with a share of 1.990 billion euros.

In all this, but there are those who smile, this is the Premier League that everyone is watching from above thanks to an economic domain driven by television rights. So much so that in some medium-sized countries (such as Croatia and Sweden), the rights of the Premier League are already worth more than those of the national championship and according to experts this trend is destined to continue eroding more and more European nations. . In fact, the Premier League is eating bite after bite of football Europe under an economic and sporting dominance over the EU national teams. And all this despite the fact that the market in England is eight times lower than in the EU in terms of population and 7 times poorer in terms of GDP.

In this context, in order not to lose ground to the English clubs, the rest of the companies only have the leverage of Champions League, which nevertheless remains an unpredictable source of income (however there is no certainty of always participating) creating economic volatility and unsustainable costs associated with the actors. Not to mention that on the continent in the individual countries the situation is increasingly polarized leagues: in France, Germany, Italy and Spain the number of different clubs that win the title has been steadily declining over the past ten years.

In this scenario, the few changes implemented such as the new Champions League do not seem to ben able to address the strategic issues mentioned above: the problem of dominance in the Premier League and polarization in the rest of the national leagues. Indeed, they seem designed even to make both situations worse, rewarding the richest clubs in the destination: therefore, the English on a European scale and those participating in the Champions League on a national scale.

How to get out of this dead end? A couple of months ago this column had suggested it the only solution could be to launch an in-depth project for an EU championship. Open with ups and downs and that allows big clubs to increase their income and sell a product that every week sees competing with each other powers such as Juventus, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and PSG.

Not to mention the political significance of a possible new tournament. At a time between the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, the EU must build a sense of identity around it. something that unites all Europeans – although divided between the Germanic, Slavic, Greek and Latin souls of the Old Continent, although separated from the different religions to which they belong or from a past of countries of the Western bloc or that of the old Warsaw Pact – is the passion for football. Nothing like truly a continental tournament playing regularly and not in the spaces now dedicated to drinks would unite the interest of the various peoples.

Obviously this is a long-term project that must also rule out that the ownership of the club is less and less linked to Europe (18 changes of ownership to foreign subjects outside the EU in the last 5 years, compared to 9 in the previous 15 years). . ) and that key decision-making bodies have their headquarters and are effectively governed from outside the EU. Decision-making bodies in which, among other things, clubs are under-represented, despite playing the lion’s share in costs and risks. But above all, there are important differences in the regulatory framework, without any joint effort to promote convergence. In fact, there is no single “European standard” at the continental level: just think, for example, of the difference between the Bundesliga (with the 50% + 1 rule) and the other leagues in terms of ownership, or the fact that the FPF does. applies only to cup holders and not to all clubs.

Ultimately, the European Union will soon have to decide whether to stop and submit to a path that seems inevitable without taking a stand, that is, an increasingly rich Premier League, capable of attracting better players, monopolizing success and revenue. derived from the Champions League and therefore further attract new generations of fans, with the risk that even the major leagues may lose weight progressively, potentially following the same fate as Sweden and Croatia.

Or if you intend to move it will require a deep rethink ensure the long-term sustainability of EU football.

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