Futbol And Money

As I graze through the assemblage of sports channels on my cable provider, I run across lots of international soccer.  Recently, I saw something new to me; the UEFA Nation’s League.  I knew about UEFA running a Champions League for the top clubs in Europe and I knew about the Europa League for a wide range of European futbol clubs, but I did not remember ever encountering the Nation’s League.  The three things that kept running through my head were:

  1. This must be a scheduling nightmare for the folks in UEFA and for the folks in all the various futbol leagues all over Europe.
  2. How do the players remember where they are supposed to be and for which team they are playing in these myriad overlapping seasons?
  3. How many games a week do those players participate in?

[Aside:  In England, the diversity of competition includes not only the EPL and the various European competitions, it also includes the FA Cup tournament which involves 170 club teams in the country from the top-shelf Manchester City and Liverpool four levels down to the likes of Woking, Wealdstone and Weston-super-Mare.]

I am not going to try to pretend that I did any investigative journalism of the quality of Woodward and Bernstein here, but I did a bit of Google searching and chatted up a good friend who follows the German Bundesliga about as closely as I follow college football.  I hope you are sitting down as you read this because I have some shocking news for you.  The basis of all this complexity and all this overlapping participation by players on club teams and national teams is:

  • Money

All of these competitions draw lots of interest and lots of interest generates revenue for the clubs.  When it comes to the concept of “money” in sports the maxim to keep in mind is this:

  • Whatever we have is not enough; there is always room in the coffers for more.

So, all these teams are out there generating revenues and that means that all the teams are fat with cash, right?  This is not like MLB where the Yankees and the Red Sox and the Dodgers have such a revenue edge on teams like the Marlins and the Rays and the Royals that they can scoop up all the best players for salaries that the “have-nots” cannot possibly afford, right?  As Johnny Carson once opined to Ed McMahon when he incorrectly guessed the answer to one of Carnac the Magnificent’s queries:

  • Wrong, buffalo-breath…

In European futbol, the revenue disparity and the operating budgets for teams varies hugely.  That is why when a player like Ronaldo is available for transfer, there are only a handful of clubs who have the wherewithal to meet the price that Real Madrid set for his transfer (€100M = $118M).  The UEFA Champions League gives you insight into this phenomenon.

To get into the Champions League competition from England, a team must finish in one of the top 4 slots in the EPL.  In other leagues, there are slot allocations based on prior successes in the Champions League by teams from those other leagues.  But it is a BIG deal to be part of the Champions League because:

  • Real Madrid won last year and received a prize of £42.1M = €47.7M = $54.7M.
  • For perspective, the winner of the FA Cup in England last year received a prize of £3.4M = €3.9M = $4.4M.
  • In the less prestigious leagues, the participation revenue for playing in the Champions League gives the one or two teams from that league a huge advantage in their home league.  Olympiakos is a regular in the Champions League from the top association in Greece; Olympiakos has won that league in Greece 19 times in the past 22 years.

As I noted above, I am neither Woodward nor Bernstein.  However, given my “investigation” in order to understand why all of these various complex leagues and competitions exist in the first place, the answer is similar to the advice the Woodward and Bernstein got from “Deep Throat”:

  • Follow the money…

I got back to my friend who tracks the German Bundesliga closely and asked if anyone ever thought of leveling the playing field a bit in European soccer with something like a salary cap as we have here in the US in football and basketball.  He said that I would win the Nobel Prize for Literature before the leagues and the clubs – – and FIFA – – would agree to such a thing.  He said they have something there called “Financial Fair Play” which is what he calls “fancy talk” to make it seem as if FIFA is trying to give the “have-not clubs” a fighting chance to get even with the big boys.  His advice to me was simple and direct:

  • Don’t try to understand Financial Fair Play; it will just make your head hurt.

The Miami Marlins announced yesterday that they have signed two brothers from Cuba and some have declared these signings as a coup by Derek Jeter in his role as the major domo for the team.  Over the weekend, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald had this to say about the impending announcement:

“[Marlins] on Monday will formally announce the signing of highly regarded Cuban outfield brothers Victor Victor Mesa, 22, and kid bro Victor Mesa Jr., 17. Yes, the more MLB-ready of the two Mesas is named Victor Victor. I guess among the many things in short supply in Cuba are middle names!”

Finally, Brad Rock of the Deseret News noted the intersection of sports (sort of) and politics and international relations with this item:

“Some are urging WWE to cancel its November show in Saudi Arabia, following the suspicious disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“Now that’s a first: wrestling drama that isn’t staged.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………