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The debate about football’s finances rages almost as fiercely as arguments about who’s going to win the league this season, writes David Little, a Partner in our Corporate and Commercial Law team.

Whilst football is a sport, it’s also a business. And thank goodness for it. The Swansea.com Stadium where I watch my home team play, opened in 2005 to provide a home to Swansea City and Ospreys Rugby while giving the city a facility to be proud of. Driven by the vision of City and County of Swansea Council, the Swansea.com Stadium was built just a few minutes from Swansea City centre.

Built on the site of the former Morfa Athletics Stadium and playing fields, our 21,000 seat stadium has become one of the foremost sporting venues in the country. As well as home to two hugely successful sporting teams, we now regularly hold international sporting fixtures, numerous sell out concerts and host to thousands of conferences and events every single year.

However, even when Swansea were playing in the Premier league with a full stadium, our capacity and the revenues from each game, go nowhere near close to matching Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal’s.

According to data reported here, Manchester United has the highest attendance among Premier League clubs, with 73,520 fans on average per game. Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham average around 60,000, but due to its capacity Manchester City round out the top five, with average attendances of 54,216 and 54,143, respectively.

In 1937, when Scotland beat England 3 – 1 in Hampden Park in Glasgow, the attendance that day (which was before the era of all seater stadiums) was officially 149,547. Which remains the highest attendance of all time in the UK.

Gate revenues are by far the most significant source of matchday revenue. The stadium’s capacity and the club’s overall standing are a couple of the factors that affect how important this is to different clubs. For instance, Premier League teams with larger stadiums can accommodate more fans, which generates more revenue.

People across the game point to cracks in the foundations that underpin the status quo. Football’s financial model is not working, too many clubs lose too much money. On the pitch, the issue of competitive balance is becoming more acute, with a small group of six to eight of the same teams winning their domestic leagues far too often. It’s claimed that younger people are beginning to switch off, posing a long-term challenge for broadcasters.

However, I think fans have always felt exploited by the push to make money from football. It’s part of the DNA of supporting the game, to moan about the owners, or your team’s poor performance on the pitch. At the recent Business of Football conference run by the Financial Times there were two interesting – but diametrically opposed views, by two prominent owners – about how football should be funded.

Gerry Cardinale, founder of AC Milan owner RedBird Capital Partners, said that professional investors should be ashamed of the financial state of play in European football.: “We have to be more self-sufficient, we have to be able to run these things more professionally,” he said. Reported by the FT, calls for new competitions, such as the European Super League, were a “distraction” from years of mismanagement across the game, he added.

While Cardinale urged clubs to rein in spending, some put forward the opposite view. John Textor called for the Premier League spending rules to be relaxed — or ditched altogether — so that rich owners can pump their own money into clubs and cut the gap with the top teams.

Textor’s Eagle Football Group owns Olympique Lyonnais, RWD Molenbeek, Botafogo and is the largest shareholder in Crystal Palace. Textor said spending limits stopped ambitious clubs from upgrading their squads in the transfer market and amounted to “anti-competitive behaviour”.

He cited the example of Nottingham Forest’s billionaire owner Evangelos Marinakis. Forest were charged by the Premier League earlier this year for breaching spending rules: “If you get an injury you don’t get to pull a £15m player off the bench, you’ve got to take somebody from your academy because you can’t afford to have that player on your bench. That’s not sport. Is anyone really having fun with this?”

There’s a chant at many grounds that most fans are familiar with, “Sing when you’re winning, you only sing when you’re winning…” It’s easier to complain, or shout at the ref than it is to look at oneself and ask, “Is this the best we can do?”

By definition there can only be one winner of a tournament, so inevitably all the other non-winning teams and their fans are going to be disappointed, by varying degrees, at the end of the season, bar one team.

And yet, whenever I sit in the magnificent Swansea Stadium, or visit other palaces of the beautiful game, wherever the business of football has been developed in concert with the sport itself then the combination works.

Football doesn’t need fixing. It’s not broken.

 

Contact our Sports Law and Corporate & Commercial Solicitor

David Little is a Partner at Bishop & Sewell in our expert Corporate & Commercial team. If you would like to contact him, please quote Ref CB458 on either on either 07968 027343 / 020 7631 4141 or email company@bishopandsewell.co.uk

The above is accurate as at 18 March 2024. The information above may be subject to change.

The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.


Category: Blog, News | Date: 18th Mar 2024


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