Football: Is Fair Play Going to Bring a Greater Divide?

Posted: April 19, 2013 in Football
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Football is a fickle sport, and it could become even more so.

The brains behind the scenes within the European Football setting have devised the Financial Fair Play standard that goes into full effect next season. This standard is aimed at targeting out of control spending that has caused teams like Leeds and Portsmouth to go into free fall in recent years. It’s aimed at ensuring clubs like Rangers learn to live within their means. It’s also aimed at levelling the playing field somewhat given the influx of billionaire owners coming into the game and buying titles – yes, I’m looking at you Chelsea and Manchester City.

In theory this seems like a sensible set of rules. After all, if everyone in society has to learn how to balance a budget and live within their means why should a football club not have to do the same?

However, as many of us know well, theory and practice are often two different things. Having glanced over the Financial Fair Play Regulations, understanding very little within my take on it is as follows.

Teams must balance their books (really? How odd). Teams need to prove that they are bringing in as much, or more, than they are spending. Spending on things like player transfer fees, player salaries, staff salaries, club supplies, etc, etc. These expenditures are to be balanced by income from ticket revenue, merchandising, sponsorship deals, player sales, and so on and so forth. Like I said earlier, in theory it makes perfect sense. Here’s where I see a problem, however.

The majority of money coming into clubs is going to come from sponsorship deals. Sure, a nice full stadium is bringing in a good chunk of money, but the more bums in seats, the more security staff need paying, the more catering need to supply for, the more cleanup is needed between games. Need I go on? Butts in seats is to create an atmosphere, not generate the money needed to run a team.

So, back to sponsorship. Which teams are going to attract the best sponsors? Anyone? I see a hand in the back…no, it’s a hat! The answer is simple, the big teams with the largest global reach. As I’ve noted English Premier League teams so far, lets continue on that trend.

In England you have two clubs with a rich history that has led to a large global reach. Those teams are Manchester United and Liverpool. For those of you who are new to supporting the sport, Liverpool were the Manchester United of the day before Manchester United were Manchester United. Get it? Good. No, really – before Fergie turned Manchester United into the force they have been for the last 20 years it was Liverpool who were feared across the lands. They had the best players and were the team to beat each year.

As a result of past and current successes, these two clubs are well-known around the world and can get sponsorship deals many clubs would only dream about.

Next you have the current “darling buds” of Chelsea and Manchester City. Teams who have a less endearing history to the aforementioned two, but who have achieved great recent results on the back of huge a huge influx of finances from new owners. Their recent success has made waves and they too can attract big sponsors.

Finally you have Arsenal and Tottenham. Many people love a Cinderella story, and these two offer that. Neither team has close to the financial backing of a Chelsea or a Manchester City. While both teams have had their success, it is nothing compared to the past and present successes of a Liverpool or Manchester United. In spite of this these two teams are consistently on the fringes of success, even threatening right to the run in on occasion. This almost, but not quite from these guys will bring in money, but not as much as the four listed above.

To put it simply, everyone outside these six will struggle to bring in the type of revenue needed to break into the big time. Save an absolutely unexpected run of successful results, the other 14 teams in the top flight might as well give up and fight for survival.


With Fair Play restrictions the lower ranked teams will have less money to invest in a player with potential and will suffer as a result. With fewer avenues to explore for sponsorship deals and fewer peripheral company funds to fall back on (such as Chelsea and their hotel), the lower teams will have a tougher time being able to bring in new players due to the ever-growing transfer fees, and will be less able to offer competitive wages as they have to be more structured with their pay scales to stay within the rules.

My fear for football is that we will slide back into the zone we have finally begun to dig ourselves out of – that of the six teams listed above being able to simply open up new sponsorship deals every time they want to get lavish while the rest struggle to keep pace.

After a season that, other than runaway leaders Man U, has seen teams on the fringes be closer than ever we are about to see the divide grow once more. After a miserable start to the campaign this time around, Liverpool can still mathematically make the Champions League. A few years ago that wouldn’t have been the case with a runaway top 4 every year.

Give Financial Fair Play 12 months and we’ll have a runaway top six in England followed by 14 teams embroiled in a relegation battle.

Financial Fair Play? Don’t make me laugh.

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