Defending the European football ecosystem and tradition

On Thursday 12 January, the meeting Defending the Ecosystem and Tradition of European Football, organised by Sport and Citizenship and LaLiga, took place at the Renaissance Hotel in Brussels, focused on talking about the European football Ecosystem and the sport model necessary in Europe to face the threat of the Superleague.

The event based on “Defending the European football ecosystem and tradition” had a massive audience of stakeholders, clubs, journalists, and other relevant profiles and started with the introduction of Tomasz Frankowski, member of the European Parliament, which positioned, both as former professional footballer and from its parliamentary role, against the ESL.

Thus, some of the key messages that this reputed MEP shared are the following:

I consider the European Super League to be a direct threat to the European football pyramid. Because if we allow an elite to break away from the rest, the whole pyramid and system will collapse. We would be left with a commercial entertainment and profit-driven model in men’s elite club football. This is not what we want.

The reasons have been made clear so many times. By all of the EU institutions, and more importantly by fans, leagues, national associations, players and coaches. Our joint conclusions are clear: the organisation of sport in Europe is based on solidarity and redistribution, with open competitions and sporting merit.

Of course, football is not working perfectly and must keep improving. We can do better. This is why I commend you all for coming together to discuss these key matters today and I already look forward to hearing about your concrete plans for the future. The European Parliament, through its Sports Group of which I am Co-Chair, will ensure that the EU contributes to this process. Our resolution already contained specific recommendations and solutions in this regard.

Panel I – Economic and legal impact of a breakaway competition

Following this introduction, a highly value panel has taken place, in which Jean-François Brocard, Associate professor and economist at the Centre for Law and Economics of Sport (CDES, University of Limoges), Tsjalle van der Burg, Sports economist at University of Twente and Marc Watson, Group CEO and Co-founder of Eleven Sports, have discussed about the economic and legal impact of a breakaway competition. 

During the panel, moderated by the Sporza and Eleven Sports’ journalist Aster Nzeyimana, the three experts have explained the implications from an economic and legal point of view that a breakaway initiative such as the European Superleague could have for national associations, domestic leagues, clubs, players, fans and broadcasters.

Thus, Jean-François Brocard, Associate professor and economist at the Centre for Law and Economics of Sport (CDES, University of Limoges) started delivering powerful messages such as “Institutions in the room know that if they want to be defended by the judges here in Brussels and Luxembourg, they need to do more to prove that they believe in this model, in the principles of this model; the solidarity, the integrity. The European sports model has limits, but still, I think that is a good base and all the alternatives to this model are worse.”

On the other hand, Tsjalle van der Burg, Sports economist at University of Twente and specialist in key topics such as the way in which the large football clubs are increasing their dominance, and whether this is compatible with EU competition law has shared key insights: “The business model of the ESL is to found the participants of more power in each country, is basically anticompetitive by nature, they want to gain market power in they own countries.”

“They (the proponents of the ESL) will say to the judges that they will distribute some money to the grassroots, but this will be a relatively small amount. If you restore the competitive balance on the present leagues and have a clear distribution of money, it works much better.”

Finally, Marc Watson, Group CEO and Co-Founder of Eleven Sports concluded “There isn’t some great pot of money that is sitting there in the market, waiting to be allocated to a new format that happens to come along. If a new compelling format comes into the market, we will look into it. If a media company decides to buy it and allocate revenues to it that has a very binary effects, it means less money for other sports properties. So, if one property is taking money out of the market others will get less and in this case that means that the current ecosystem of leagues and federations and clubes, would in this scenario, get less. That pot could grow through many ways, compelling ways, and I’m not sure that the ESL is the way for it.”

“The pot grows over time, and over the last couple of years, the pot has been growing a lot, because, as I have explained football is a very valuable commodity, the most valuable one in the media marketplace. It will continue to grow, but it doesn’t grow because you introduce a new competition, it doesn’t grow because one club in one country starts to play against another club in another country more often. In fact, there is real value in scarcity in my view. One of the values that is generated by the Champions League is the fact that some of these big clubs do not play week in week out, but when they do play, it is a big event and a big occasion which creates a lot of value.”

“The ESL wouldn’t create an exponential amount of new money coming into the market, because, although it is not perfect, the current ecosystem is quite effective and consumers like it.”

Panel II – Importance of the current model for football

The second panel dealt with the “Importance of the current football model”, and which included representatives of European clubs and football fans: Alex Muzio, president of the Belgian club Union Saint-Gilloise; Jaroslav Doležal, vice-president of the Czech club FK Jablonec; and Stuart Dykes, director of European and Institutional Affairs of Football Supporters Europe. The panel was also attended by former basketball player and current ULEB (Union of European Basketball Leagues) President Tomas Van Den Spiegel, who has experienced first-hand the emergence of a secessionist competition in the form of the Euroleague basketball league.

The discussion in this panel focused on the current model in European football, with authoritative opinions from managers in Belgium and the Czech Republic. Union Saint-Gilloise of the Jupiter Pro League was presented as the symbol of tradition in Belgian football by moderator Laurent Thieule (president of Sport and Citizenship). Alex Muzio became president of the club in 2018, when it was still in the Belgian second division: “One of the big hopes when we arrived was the European competitions. Without this motivation and without this meritocratic pyramid, our promotion would not have been possible. The fact that everyone has a chance represents everything for European football: it is the dream of every fan. Any factor that could change that is not logical”. Today, with a budget of 20 million euros this season, Union Saint-Gilloise are second in the Jupiter Pro League, fighting for the championship title, and are still alive in the round of 16 of the Europa League and in the quarter-finals of the Belgian Cup.

FK Jablonec appeared from the Czech Republic in the person of its vice-president. Founded in 1945, the club has been playing in the Fortuna Liga – the Czech topflight – for 30 years and, as a matter of fact, in the 2021-22 season it will be able to play in the Europa Conference League. “Participating in European competitions has an impact on 8% of the annual budget. But it’s not only because of the money, but also because of the attractiveness for sponsors and players, because of the transfers,” explains Jaroslav Doležal. “It is always a pleasant surprise when a small club reaches the top level. That’s why solidarity, distribution, should become a bit more in favour of the smaller clubs. Not just having the big piece of the pie for the big ones, but also improving accessibility and helping to reduce the gap” he commented.

From the other side of the stands, Stuart Dykes, a board member of Football Supporters Europe, the only fans’ representative body in Europe, which includes the most important fans’ organisations from 15 European countries, took part. “We still need to talk more about competitive balance, financial redistribution, the social value of sport and the specific nature of sport,” explained Stuart, speaking on behalf of football fans in Europe. “We have a quality model, the European model of sport, which is not perfect. We still have a lot of work to do to reform the existing system. But as far as we are concerned, we are not dealing with it now because there is someone threatening it. I want to say that among our members we do not know of any organisation or any serious representative of the fans who would even entertain the idea of a Super League. Nobody is in favour of it. You can see that in the case of the Super League the football family has united as one, we totally unanimously reject it.”

On the other hand, Tomas Van Den Spiegel, president of the ULEB (Union of European Basketball Leagues), gave another perspective on the current European model of sport, given that basketball has already suffered a secessionist irruption recently, similar to the one that is emerging today in football. “We know what a totally closed league is like, like the Euroleague, which has been like that for years. It is controlled by eleven of the biggest clubs in Europe, who earn 70% of all revenues,” explained Tomas, who was an elite basketball player for clubs such as CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid, among others. “We compete with the Euroleague for commercial exploitation, because we are fighting for the same piece of the pie: a fan is not going to buy 100 tickets, he chooses the games he wants to watch and it is a limited number. We have lost national broadcasting rights, revenue, sponsorship,” added the Belgian. “We need this to stop. We need to go back to the integrated model, because the Euroleague is killing basketball at European level and it’s not going anywhere. It’s a very harsh conclusion but it’s true, we need this to stop. This is not working. This is not the way forward,” he concluded.

Conclusions by Javier Tebas, LaLiga President

To cap off this highly relevant event in the European sporting landscape, LaLiga president, Javier Tebas, has shared a series of key messages supporting the current European sports model and highlighting why the ESL is not an option.

Mr. Tebas stated clearly about the future of the European sports model: “What will happen on 15 March? It seems 15 March is end to the debate to European football. In my opinion, and I hope that the ruling of the court of justice will go along, but what will happen regardless of the ruling, we need to demand our European legislators to the European commission, to defend European football, 100,000 fans families living off this. We need to regulate the European sports model. I love those declarations. We got to do this regarding of the ruling.

“For many years the big clubs have been pushing pressure on UEFA saying if you don’t give me more, I will leave, and it happened in 2016 and I experienced that 2 week because Čeferin joined. A lot of pressure on the people in UEFA so it’s necessary that the European union regulates the sports model and system. The model is dying of slowly. They ruined it. Small clubs are reducing because of this selfishness. Let’s have a football model. Let’s maintain what we have. Let’s defend it. Let’s think about the professional and nonprofessional ones. Let’s defend and build this model. If not, 15th of march will be another a battle.”

“This project (ESL) is an attack on the domestic and national leagues, and they say it isn’t because they know we would be more against it. the defence of the leagues to the model is weak because the SL would destroy domestic leagues. Real Madrid and FC Barcelona will always be the top two always. It’s an attack on leagues, attack on clubs, attack on players, we have to think that European football has 1,500 professional football clubs, over 50.000 footballers. We have dozens of thousands of families that live of football, so this is dangerous. That endangers the ecosystem. We have to think about this correctly. Laliga studied it well with KPMG. What they want is to distribute the majority to them but now they are asking to talk because in 2021 they weren’t prepared but now they want because it didn’t go well before. Everything needs to be led by UEFA.” 

“We have spoken so much about the closed model but now 18 months have gone by, and things have happened, so I think it’s important to analyse what’s going on and what they want they want us to believe. They talk about the European spots model and I’m going to talk about Competitive model and financial model. They are trying to deceive us with the promotion relegation and the sports permit. We need to be clear. They are organising an event tomorrow to organise the principles of promotion and relegation. But it’s not the same what they are defending and what we are defending. We must be clear about the models. Which means we are a flourishing industry. The richest are the ones which have the most assets have football. They distribute how they see is suitable. They think they know how to generate their own money, “we come here to save football” as Florentino said…. Real Madrid is here to save football. This is an attack of the European football model. That’s what they are doing, we have been very clear.” 

“You have to be clear; I have said it many times. If someone wants to steal something from my home, I will be rushing out and bashing out with a walking stick, which I will do now. They want to steal from our leagues and from our money. We should be polite yes, but not quiet. People need to understand this. They are stealing from our homes. The money will go from the domestic leagues to the Super league. We shouldn’t be afraid of defending things. We must be tough, clear, and not afraid to say things. I wouldn’t be able to sleep if this ends up happening.”

MG Team

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