‘Big Money’ Kills a Beautiful Game

With tonight’s games Barcelona vs Arsenal and Bayern vs Juventus, the UEFA-Champions League (CL) is once again the talk of the town all over Europe. A unified Europe – what the EU so terribly misses to achieve – the ‘beautiful game’ of football gathers millions of europeans from Sweden to Sicily to barock-composer Georg Frederic Handel’s CL-anthem “Die Meister, Die Besten, Les grandes équipes, The champions”.

While I can’t predict who’s gonna win tonight, let alone the winner of the final in Milan in May, I can predict, that the business of european football will be big a issue in the coming months.

For the season 2015/16, the UEFA is paying premiums to the CL-contestants in total of 1,3 billion EUR. The winner of the trophy will cash in about 75 million EUR. But this avalanche of cash still seems not enough for the big clubs.

Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern, Paris SG and both clubs from Manchester are the driving force behind plans to restructure the CL-competition after the season 2017/18 and create a european ‘Super-League’ on top of the CL, squeezing out the smaller, less financed teams.

A closer look reveals that Real Madrid tops footballs ‘Money League’ having generated 577 million EUR in the 2014/15 season by growth in commercial revenue. Matchday income also saw an increase, and the planned redevelopment of the Santiago Bernabéu should see it continue to grow in the coming years.

Spanish rival Barcelona follows on second place ahead of Manchester United:

Here is the table of European football’s ‘Money League’ for the season 2014/15.

Revenues in million EUR

  1. Real Madrid 577
  2. FC Barcelona 561
  3. Manchester United 520
  4. Paris Saint-Germain 481
  5. Bayern Munich 474
  6. Manchester City 464
  7. Arsenal 436
  8. Chelsea 420
  9. Liverpool 383
  10. Juventus 324

Based on preliminary talks between clubs and UEFA, the conditions to qualify for this ‘Super-League’ were not based on meritocracy on the pitch only (as it is for the CL) but club history, global attractiveness and marketing. If these plans become a reality, I predict (and hope) they will be unsuccessful in the long-run.

‘Big Money’ already has a negative influence on the basis of each football-team: Loyal fans and the home-competition. Last weekend, Qatar-financed Paris SG became the earliest french champion ever after a 9:0 away-victory… and in Germany (Bayern), Italy (Juve) or Spain (Madrid/Barca) the home- championship produces the same winners all over again for the last seasons and probably for years to come.

Too many games in these leagues are not pleasing the crowd in the stadium or on TV because their team is fighting to win the local crown anymore, but just to qualify for the CL or EL.

And with a possible european ‘Super League’, the local competition would lose even more appeal, since teams like AC Milan, Chelsea or Manchester United – all three most likely don’t make the CL next season based on their performance on the pitch – would still be qualified for a ‘Super League’ because of ‘attractiveness’ and ‘marketing-power’ – why should they care about their ranking in the Seria A or Premier League?

‘Big Money’ is on its course to kill a beautiful game, because it contradicts the essence of any exciting and unpredictable competition. If not superior skills, tactics (and sometimes a little bit of luck) are fundamental for success, but a big bank-account or questionable sponsors, it’s only a question of time, until more and more football-fans (who, after all pay a big chunk of the clubs revenues) will stay at home or cancel the pay-TV subscription.

My hope is that the example of Leicester City will change the view and unite real football-fans to revolt against a ‘top of the crop’-League.

Thank god, money is not everything in football and the stunning rise to the top-spot of the Premier League of ‘poor’ and small Leicester (population 350’000) excites fans all over Europe more than any 5:0 or 6:0 win of Bayern or Barcelona.

And Leicester’s success transpired off the pitch. The club utilized 98.5% of the capacity at the King Power Stadium, revenue rose more than three times to 104 million £ (from 31 million £ the previous year) resulting a record pre-tax annual profit of 26 million £. It will also pay off for Leicester City’s Italian coach Claudio Ranieri. A clause in his contract secures him a payment of 100’000 £ for every place the club finishes above 18th in the Premier League – a nice 1.7 million £ bonus payment on top of his weekly salary in case Leicester really wins the championship in England.

I’m sure any real football-fan has no objections about that pay-check because is purely based on skills and tactics. That’s what football is all about and this shouldn’t be destroyed by a pure ‘money league’ co-operated by sheiks and oligarchs.

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You can find much more about ‘Money and Football’ in a comprehensive report provided by consulting company Deloitte  here.

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