By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Dec 21, 2011) US Soccer Players — As we rush toward the UEFA vision of Financial Fair Play along with various European leagues trying to figure out what might make their leagues more competitive, one doubt continues to nag. Well, at least one doubt. How does any of this change the marketing and sponsorship power of the elite European clubs? In any foreseeable future, the ability to generate revenue and spend more of it on players than other clubs will remain the biggest – arguably the only – competitive advantage.
Maybe UEFA believes that bringing the playing field to a grade that’s not quite level but certainly closer than where we currently are will change everything. It would require a bit of guessing and a dose of naivety to think the elite clubs and the would-be elite would willingly cede that much power. They won’t, because they simply can’t afford it. There’s also the issue of giving up power – or the more polite ‘influence’ – to UEFA, a prospect that would undo the last 20 years of the elite clubs acting in their own best interest and dragging the wannabe elite along with them.
What we have in Europe are competitive visions of the future. There’s the game for the elite, pushed by the G-14 lobby and any and every rumor of someone somewhere organizing a super league versus the UEFA vision of a fairer economic playing field. These are about as mutually exclusive as we can get, regardless of what the proponents happen to be saying. What UEFA is implementing is very much about control, removing the benefactor model entirely and pushing clubs toward a constricted revenue generating business model. That UEFA continues to be the easiest way to generate that revenue through making the later stages of the Champions League is no mistake.
For the bulk of European clubs, this isn’t a problem. The UEFA future is better than the one they currently have. Clubs hitting the wall financially and having to reorganize or go out of business entirely is mitigated in the UEFA plan. In fact, it’s a failure of that UEFA plan and something to be avoided. Should clubs across Europe continue to face significant economic issues under UEFA’s reforms, it’s a symptom that those reforms aren’t working.
Imagine the same situations we’re already seeing continuing a few seasons after the UEFA Financial Fair Play system is in place. Remember, we’re now working without the safety net of the benefactor model, so there’s even greater potential for clubs to hit the wall economically. Under the current models in place around Europe, what normally happens is the club is treated as an individual, potentially part of a wider problem, but usually left to figure out their issues on their own. That’s happened to clubs as big as one-time Premier League title contender Leeds United. In that case, it was the peculiarities of the Leeds situation that were stressed, along with the typical English response to any organization or individual with the arrogance to overreach. In that story, the fall is as important as the rise, nothing much to see here and better if we all simply move along.
The concern is when its entire classes of clubs. Not just the ones that propped themselves up on benefactor money that was never expected to be repaid, running up substantial losses in pursuit of trophies. What about the ones that manage to check all the right Financial Fair Play boxes and still end up in trouble. What if we’re talking about similar clubs across European leagues? What’s the response, how quickly does it happen, and does it actually work?
With that in mind, there’s at least the impression that UEFA failing in practice rather than theory with their financial reforms once again plays to the desires of the truly elite clubs for a different vision of a new game for Europe. Though probably not a franchise model in the North American sense, it would be something closer to one elite league with feeder leagues or independent regional leagues underneath. UEFA’s reforms falling flat would be a better launching point for that new Europe than anything we’ve seen so far. It’s the stalking horse in the conversation about an equitable vision for soccer’s immediate future. There are other potential futures, and they’re easily ordered by what would most benefit the elite clubs.
Comments, questions, solutions to problems that have yet to present themselves. Please, tell me all about it.
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