Let this be a wake-up call before it’s too late, as Susy Campanale warns clubs must fundamentally change their approach after the pandemic effects.
The coronavirus pandemic has revealed a lot of what we take for granted is in reality teetering on the most precarious of precipices. We already knew many clubs were performing a delicate balancing act with their finances, but the extent to which even the biggest giants in European football are built on a house of cards was perhaps not entirely clear. Imagine what the situation would’ve been like without even the weak and ineffective Financial Fair Play rules.
There already wasn’t enough money to keep the system going without the constant risk of bankruptcy and what we’re seeing almost a year into games with no fans is that the world of football is too broad for its revenue streams. I have long advocated the return of major leagues to 16 or at most 18 clubs rather than the current 20. This is more important now than ever before.
Cutting the number of clubs would allow the revenue to be spread more evenly, reward those sides with a genuine long-term project and who can organise themselves both on and off the field. The competition would be of a higher standard and more exciting – no more minnows who every year are content to grind out enough draws that will allow them to stay in the top flight and show zero ambition beyond that.
Above all, this plan would also streamline a fixture list that was already excessive and in the age of the pandemic has become utterly insane. Teams are playing every three days for almost the entire campaign, certainly for the months of January and February, with injuries inevitably piling up and players pushed to the point of exhaustion. It’s not even benefiting the consumer, because for the first time in years, even for those in lockdown, it has started to feel as if there’s frankly too much football. Not even the biggest fan wants to watch a game every single day of the week. There has to be some kind of balance for all concerned.
It has been this way for a while, but now truly football is a televisual product and nothing more. With fans barred from most stadiums and travel restricted, the sport is tailored more than ever towards the audience watching at home, all over the globe. Serie A was somewhat ahead of the curve in this sense, as it already took the vast majority of its revenue from pay-per-view television rights, whereas the Premier League tried to limit the number of games shown on TV to encourage more supporters to attend in person.
Ligue 1 has found the limits of that area too, because the dissolution of the contract over TV rights and the row with companies refusing to pay the previous demands for a sport that has immeasurably changed, had French clubs and the league panicking over the potential shortfall until a resolution was found.
As I’ve warned before about transfer values and player salaries, they are evaluated only by what the market deems them to be worth. There is no objective value judgment that says a player is worth €115m or deserves to earn €300,000 per week. Clubs and agents calculate what they feel the player will generate in terms of revenue, so his marketability, shirt sales, sponsorship deals and also eventually what he brings on a sporting level to the team. All of that has been transformed by the changing landscape of the sport in this global pandemic.
The leaked version of Lionel Messi’s Barcelona contract is a shameful expose of just how out of touch the salaries and clauses have become. No wonder clubs are on the verge of bankruptcy if they are paying these sums, because it’s not just one star man. Even fairly mundane players are getting massive wages. Once the average has climbed to that degree, it’s a difficult genie to stuff back in the bottle.
At the same time, this is why I have to say the fight for equal wages for female players makes no real sense. The players aren’t getting paid for equal effort or even for their performances on the field. They are paid based on what the clubs think they can get in return. Women’s football doesn’t have the same revenue streams, so demanding the same salary is just daft.
A third division player probably works harder than a top flight talent, but he’s not going to get rewarded for it. In much the same way that a singer at a piano bar works harder than Madonna, but won’t get paid the same because she doesn’t sell as many CDs or tickets. Football is not about meritocracy, it’s a business.
I do hope the lessons of this pandemic will not be used to impose a European Superleague. If anything, the compressed fixture list has shown us that there is such a thing as too much football. If the big games are every day, what makes them feel special? Even fans need a day off.