Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

Doyen’s Crusade Against FIFA’s TPO Ban: The Ruling of the Appeal Court of Brussels

Since last year, Doyen Sports, represented by Jean-Louis Dupont, embarked on a legal crusade against FIFA’s TPO ban. It has lodged a competition law complaint with the EU Commission and started court proceedings in France and Belgium. In a first decision on Doyen’s request for provisory measures, the Brussels Court of First Instance rejected the demands raised by Doyen and already refused to send a preliminary reference to the CJEU. Doyen, supported by the Belgium club Seraing, decided to appeal this decision to the Brussels Appeal Court, which rendered its final ruling on the question on 10 March 2016.[1] The decision (on file with us) is rather unspectacular and in line with the first instance judgment. This blog post will rehash the three interesting aspects of the case.

·      The jurisdiction of the Belgian courts

·      The admissibility of Doyen’s action

·      The conditions for awarding provisory measures More...

International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – February 2016

Editor’s note: This report compiles all relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked. 


The Headlines

The eagerly awaited FIFA Presidential elections of 26 February provided for a “new face” at the pinnacle of international football for the first time since 1998. One could argue whether Infantino is the man capable of bringing about the reform FIFA so desperately needs or whether he is simply a younger version of his predecessor Blatter. More...


Book Review: Despina Mavromati & Matthieu Reeb, The Code of the Court of Arbitration for Sport—Commentary, Cases, and Materials (Wolters Kluwer International 2015). By Professor Matthew Mitten

Editor’s note: Professor Mitten is the Director of the National Sports Law Institute and the LL.M. in Sports Law program for foreign lawyers at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He currently teaches courses in Amateur Sports Law, Professional Sports Law, Sports Sponsorship Legal and Business Issues Workshop, and Torts. Professor Mitten is a member of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), and has served on the ad hoc Division for the XXI Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

This Book Review is published at 26 Marquette Sports Law Review 247 (2015).


This comprehensive treatise of more than 700 pages on the Code of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) (the Code) is an excellent resource that is useful to a wide audience, including attorneys representing parties before the CAS, CAS arbitrators, and sports law professors and scholars, as well as international arbitration counsel, arbitrators, and scholars.  It also should be of interest to national court judges and their law clerks because it facilitates their understanding of the CAS arbitration process for resolving Olympic and international sports disputes and demonstrates that the Code provides procedural fairness and substantive justice to the parties, thereby justifying judicial recognition and enforcement of its awards.[1]  Because the Code has been in existence for more than twenty years—since November 22, 1994—and has been revised four times, this book provides an important and much needed historical perspective and overview that identifies and explains well-established principles of CAS case law and consistent practices of CAS arbitrators and the CAS Court Office.  Both authors formerly served as Counsel to the CAS and now serve as Head of Research and Mediation at CAS and CAS Secretary General, respectively, giving them the collective expertise and experience that makes them eminently well-qualified to research and write this book.More...


International and European Sports Law – Monthly Report – January 2016

Editor’s note: Our first innovation for the year 2016 will be a monthly report compiling relevant news, events and materials on International and European Sports Law based on the daily coverage provided on our twitter feed @Sportslaw_asser. You are invited to complete this survey via the comments section below, feel free to add links to important cases, documents and articles we might have overlooked. 


The Headlines

The world of professional sport has been making headlines for the wrong reasons in January. Football’s governing body FIFA is in such a complete governance and corruption mess that one wonders whether a new President (chosen on 26 February[1]) will solve anything. More recently, however, it is the turn of the athletics governing body, IAAF, to undergo “the walk of shame”. On 14 January the WADA Independent Commission released its second report into doping in international athletics. More...


International Sports Law in 2015: Our Reader

This post offers a basic literature review on publications on international and European sports law in 2015. It does not have the pretence of being complete (our readers are encouraged to add references and links in the comments under this blog), but aims at covering a relatively vast sample of the 2015 academic publications in the field (we have used the comprehensive catalogue of the Peace Palace Library as a baseline for this compilation). When possible we have added hyperlinks to the source.[1]

Have a good read. More...

Goodbye 2015! The Highlights of our International Sports Law Year

2015 was a good year for international sports law. It started early in January with the Pechstein ruling, THE defining sports law case of the year (and probably in years to come) and ended in an apotheosis with the decisions rendered by the FIFA Ethics Committee against Blatter and Platini. This blog will walk you through the important sports law developments of the year and make sure that you did not miss any. More...

Unpacking Doyen’s TPO Deals: In defence of the compatibility of FIFA’s TPO ban with EU law

FIFA’s Third-Party Ownership (TPO) ban entered into force on the 1 May 2015[1]. Since then, an academic and practitioner’s debate is raging over its compatibility with EU law, and in particular the EU Free Movement rights and competition rules. 

The European Commission, national courts (and probably in the end the Court of Justice of the EU) and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) will soon have to propose their interpretations of the impact of EU law on FIFA’s TPO ban. Advised by the world-famous Bosman lawyer, Jean-Louis Dupont, Doyen has decided to wage through a proxy (the Belgian club FC Seraing) a legal war against the ban. The first skirmishes have already taken place in front of the Brussels Court of first instance, which denied in July Seraing’s request for provisional measures. For its part, FIFA has already sanctioned the club for closing a TPO deal with Doyen, thus opening the way to an ultimate appeal to the CAS. In parallel, the Spanish and Portuguese leagues have lodged a complaint with the European Commission arguing that the FIFA ban is contrary to EU competition law. One academic has already published an assessment of the compatibility of the ban with EU law, and many practitioners have offered their take (see here and here for example). It is undeniable that the FIFA ban is per se restrictive of the economic freedoms of investors and can easily be constructed as a restriction on free competition. Yet, the key and core question under an EU law analysis, is not whether the ban is restrictive (any regulation inherently is), but whether it is proportionate, in other words justified. More...

Unpacking Doyen’s TPO Deals – Sporting Lisbon’s rebellion in the Rojo case. By Antoine Duval and Oskar van Maren

In this blog we continue unpacking Doyen’s TPO deals based on the documents obtained via footballleaks. This time we focus on the battle between Doyen and Sporting over the Rojo case, which raises different legal issues as the FC Twente deals dealt with in our first blog.

 

I.              The context: The free-fall of Sporting

Sporting Lisbon, or Sporting Club de Portugal as the club is officially known, is a Portuguese club active in 44 different sports. Although the club has the legal status of Sociedade Anónima Desportiva, a specific form of public limited company, it also has over 130.000 club members, making it one of the biggest sports clubs in the world.

The professional football branch of Sporting is by far the most important and famous part of the club, and with its 19 league titles in total, it is a proud member of the big three cartel, with FC Porto and Benfica, dominating Portuguese football. Yet, it has not won a league title since 2002. More...

Unpacking Doyen’s TPO Deals: FC Twente's Game of Maltese Roulette. By Antoine Duval and Oskar van Maren

The first part of our “Unpacking Doyen’s TPO deals” blog series concerns the agreements signed between Doyen Sports and the Dutch football club FC Twente. In particular we focus on the so-called Economic Rights Participation Agreement (ERPA) of 25 February 2014. Based on the ERPA we will be able to better assess how TPO works in practice. To do so, however, it is necessary to explore FC Twente’s rationale behind recourse to third-party funding. Thus, we will first provide a short introduction to the recent history of the club and its precarious financial situation. More...

Unpacking Doyen’s TPO deals - Introduction

The football world has been buzzing with Doyen’s name for a few years now. Yet, in practice very little is known about the way Doyen Sports (the Doyen entity involved in the football business) operates. The content of the contracts it signs with clubs was speculative, as they are subjected to strict confidentiality policies. Nonetheless, Doyen became a political (and public) scapegoat and is widely perceived as exemplifying the ‘TPOisation’ of football. This mythical status of Doyen is also entertained by the firm itself, which has multiplied the (until now failed) legal actions against FIFA’s TPO ban (on the ban see our blog symposium here) in a bid to attract attention and to publicly defend its business model. In short, it has become the mysterious flag bearer of TPO around the world. Thanks to a new anonymous group, inspired by the WikiLeaks model, we can now better assess how Doyen Sports truly functions. Since 5 November someone has been publishing different types of documents involving more or less directly the work of Doyen in football. These documents are all freely available at http://footballleaks.livejournal.com/. By doing so, the group has given us (legal scholars not involved directly in the trade) the opportunity to finally peruse the contractual structure of a TPO deal offered by Doyen and, as we purport to show in the coming weeks, to embark upon a journey into Doyen’s TPO-world. More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | The EU State aid and sport saga: The Real Madrid Decision (part 2)

Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

The EU State aid and sport saga: The Real Madrid Decision (part 2)

This is the second and final part of the ‘Real Madrid Saga’. Where the first part outlined the background of the case and the role played by the Spanish national courts, the second part focuses on the EU Commission’s recovery decision of 4 July 2016 and dissects the arguments advanced by the Commission to reach it. As will be shown, the most important question the Commission had to answer was whether the settlement agreement of 29 July 2011 between the Council of Madrid and Real Madrid constituted a selective economic advantage for Real Madrid in the sense of Article 107(1) TFEU.[1] Before delving into that analysis, the blog will commence with the other pending question, namely whether the Commission also scrutinized the legality of the operation Bernabeú-Opañel under EU State aid law. By way of reminder, this operation consisted of Real Madrid receiving from the municipality the land adjacent to the Bernabéu stadium, while transferring in return €6.6 million, as well as plots of land in other areas of the city. 


The Commission’s ‘pragmatic’ solution regarding the Operation Bernabéu-Opañel

As was explained in part 1 of this blog, during the formal investigation period (i.e. from 18 December 2013 until 4 July 2016), the operation Bernabéu-Opañel (referred to by the Commission as the ‘2011 urban development agreement’) was firstly suspended by the Madrid High Court (31 July 2014) and later completely annulled (2 February 2015) by that same Court. It is worth reiterating that the Court believed there to be a sufficient link between the 2011 settlement agreement and the operation Bernabéu-Opañel in order to examine the agreements together.[2]

The Commission, however, was actually surprisingly brief on this matter. As can be read from paragraphs 79 and 80 from the decision, “(a)s a result of (the judgment of 2 February 2015), the 2011 urban development agreement has been cancelled between the parties. Consequently, that agreement will no longer be implemented so that the Commission assessment of the 2011 urban development agreement has become without object. The present Decision therefore only examines the 2011 settlement agreement under State aid rules”.[3]

From an EU State aid law perspective, declaring the operation Bernabéu-Opañel “without object” makes sense. With the agreement annulled, there has been no transfer of resources from the State to Real Madrid of any sorts, nor could Real Madrid have obtained an economic advantage from an annulled agreement. Therefore, removing all the problematic aspects of the agreement from a State aid perspective. Yet, it does remain slightly ironic that that the ‘standstill obligation’ was applied to an agreement that was later on never analysed by the Commission. True, the subsequent annulment (based solely on Spanish administrative law) made Commission scrutiny redundant, but one does wonder what the Commission would have decided had the Madrid Court not annulled the operation. 


The 2011 settlement agreement under Article 107(1) TFEU

By way of reminder, in the opening decision, the Commission primarily doubted whether:

1) It was impossible for the Council of Madrid to transfer the Las Tablas property to Real Madrid;

2) This legal impossibility automatically led to an obligation for the Council of Madrid to compensate Real Madrid;

3) A market value of the Las Tablas plot of land has been sought;

4) And whether the value of the properties which were transferred to Real Madrid by the 2011 settlement agreement were market conform.[4]

In reaction to the opening decision Spain argued that transferring the plot in Las Tablas was illegal based on the local urban law 9/2001 of 2001, this interpretation was later confirmed by the Spanish High Court in 2004. Yet, this was already the case in 1998 when the Madrid Council agreed to transfer the land to Real Madrid.[5] Given that Real Madrid had legitimate expectations that it was the owner of the land, it has suffered damages as a consequence of the transfer’s invalidity. As a consequence, Real Madrid needed to be compensated by an amount equal to the market value of Las Tablas in 2011, namely €22.693.054,44. Since this sum was calculated on the basis of an objective model set by the Ministry of Economy and Industry[6], Spain considered that it matched the market value and could not constitute State aid.

The economic advantage criterion according to the market economy operator principle

The Commission’s State aid assessment essentially revolved around the question whether the 2011 settlement agreement between the Council of Madrid and Real Madrid resulted in an economic advantage to the benefit of Real Madrid.[7] As is standard Commission practice[8], “to determine whether a particular transaction carried out by a public authority has been carried out in line with normal market conditions, it is necessary to compare the behaviour of that public authority with that of a similarly situated hypothetical “market economic operator” operating under normal market conditions. If the “market economy operator” would have entered into that transaction under similar terms, then the presence of an advantage may be excluded as regards that transaction”.[9] Referring to EU case law[10], the Commission argued that a prudent market operator would carry out his own ex ante assessment on the basis of sound economic and legal evaluations, when entering such transactions. Public authorities cannot claim that evaluations made after the transaction, based on a retrospective finding that it was actually economically rational, like the Madrid Council did in this case, is the course of action that a prudent market operator would take under similar circumstances.[11]

In continuation, the Commission indicated the two criteria it used in order to determine whether the amount of compensation offered to Real Madrid was in line market conditions:

1) The probability that the Madrid Council would be held liable for its inability to perform its contractual obligations;

2) And the maximum extent of its financial exposure resulting from finding such a liability.[12]

Though these criteria are clearly cumulative, it should be noted that the Commission did not support the criteria with a reference to case law, its own decisional practice or documents of (soft) law. Be that as it may, based primarily on these criteria the Commission concluded that a market economy operator in a similar situation to the Madrid Council would not have entered into the 2011 settlement agreement.

As regards the first criteria, the Commission argued that the Madrid Council should have sought legal advice so as to establish the likelihood that it was indeed liable for not performing its contractual obligations. Without legal advice, the Commission found it hard to believe that a prudent market operator would have assumed full legal liability, especially considering “the legal uncertainties surrounding the potential impossibility to perform (the land transaction), the legal consequences of that potential impossibility, and the Madrid Council’s ability to remedy that legal impossibility through other means”.[13] The Commission seems definitely correct in questioning the chain of events that eventually led to the compensation of more than €20 million. Even though, as Spain now claims[14], it was already legally impossible to transfer the land in 1998, why did the Madrid Council sign this agreement in the first place? After the introduction of local urban law 9/2001, shouldn’t the parties have been aware of the legal impossibility at that moment, or in any case after the 2004 judgment of the Madrid High Court? Consequently, why did the Council wait until 2011 before compensating Real Madrid? In paragraphs 103 and 104, the Commission also drew an interesting comparison with the operation Bernabéu-Opañel. Although this latter operation was declared void by a Spanish Court for not being in line with the general interest, it simultaneously shows that reclassifying a terrain from public to private (sport) use is not entirely legally impossible. In other words, by analogy, the plot in Las Tablas could have been reclassified for private use (provided the reclassification served the general interest) and be legally transferred to Real Madrid.

With regard to the second criteria, i.e. the maximum extent of the Madrid Council’s financial exposure resulting from finding such a liability, the Commission firstly argued that the different valuations of 1998 and 2011 of the land in Las Tablas were based on the mistaken assumption that this land could have been transferred in 2011, which, in hindsight appeared to be legally impossible. “Assuming the Madrid Council could not be held liable for that legal impossibility, for which it never solicited legal advice, it is at least arguable that the market value of the plot in its relationship with Real Madrid would be zero, since the land in question cannot be transferred”.[15] On the other hand, and assuming the Madrid Council is liable and Real Madrid had a right to a compensation, this amount should have been way less than €22 million as a Commission-assigned study concluded. Taking into account the Commission’s consideration that the correct parameter for the valuation of the concerned plot is the long-term exploitation of the land for sport use, the study arrived at a valuation in 2011 of €4.275 million.[16]

For all the above reasons, the Commission established that the Madrid Council had not acted as a prudent market operator. It had not sought legal advice before entering the 2011 settlement agreement, and the subsequent compensation granted to Real Madrid too high. In conclusion, by means of the 2011 settlement agreement, a selective economic advantage was granted to Real Madrid and the State aid criteria of Article 107(1) TFEU were fulfilled. As a result, the amount of aid that Spain was required to recover from the football club amounted to €18.418.054,44 (€22.693.054,44 - €4.275.000) plus interests.[17]


The aftermath

On 2 September 2016, the municipality of Madrid officially ordered Real Madrid to repay €20.3 million, an obligation complied with by the club in early November. Nonetheless, the Real Madrid ‘saga’ has not come to an end. In fact, now that Real Madrid’s appeal is registered by the CJEU, it has become clear that it could take several more years until the case is finally closed. The pending questions are; what are the grounds of Real Madrid’s appeal and could the appeal be successful?

As a preliminary remark, neither Spain nor Real Madrid have claimed that the 2011 settlement agreement falls, or could fall, under one of the exceptions of Article 107(3) TFEU. In principle, this does not prevent Real Madrid from advancing a compatibility plea in front of the General Court, even though it did not raise the argument during the formal investigation.[18] Nonetheless, given the Commission’s wide discretion in applying the exceptions of Article 107(3)[19], the review of the legality of its decision is restricted to determining whether the Commission committed a manifest error in its assessment of the facts or misused its powers.[20] Moreover, as the Commission indicates in paragraph 135 of the decision, the aid granted to Real Madrid is considered as operating aid.[21] In other words, the aid releases an undertaking from costs which it would normally have to bear in its day to day activities.[22] Both the Commission and the CJEU have been very reluctant in permitting operating aid since it rarely facilitates the development of certain economic activities without adversely affecting trading conditions.[23]

In a press-release following the Commission’s announcement of its recovery decision, Real Madrid inter alia argued that the valuation method used in the 2011 settlement agreement is the “only objective method, as it is based in the cadastral value, legally obliging for all Spanish City Councils, and therefore is applied in all transaction between City Councils and third parties whether they are public or private”.[24] The Commission’s final decision takes note of the criticism expressed by Real Madrid regarding the Commission-assigned valuation study, especially concerning the (in its eyes erroneous) valuation method used for the study.[25] Though the Commission rebutted Real Madrid’s criticism[26], it will be up to the General Court of the EU (and potentially later the Court of Justice) to decide whether the Madrid Council used the correct valuation method when determining the 2011 value of las Tablas. This will not be completely new territory for the General Court, given the rich jurisprudence available on valuation methods.[27] As regards the standard of review applied by the General Court, Conor Quigley argues that “where the Commission is found by the Court to have committed a sufficient error of assessment, the decision will be annulled”.[28] It is settled EU case law, that the valuation method must be based on the available objective, verifiable and reliable data, which should be sufficiently detailed and should reflect the economic situation at the time at which the transaction was decided, taking into account the level of risk and future expectations.[29] The General Court remains, however, entitled to fully review and assess the valuation methods presented by the Commission and the interested parties.[30]

The Real Madrid case is too complex and intertwined to draw definitive conclusions on the possible outcome of the appeal. Nonetheless, the thorough State aid assessment conducted by the Commission in its decision should not be underestimated. This will be a tough “legal match” on an entirely new turf for Real Madrid.



[1] By way of reminder, Article 107(1) TFEU reads: “Save as otherwise provided in the Treaties, any aid granted by a Member State or through State resources in any form whatsoever which distorts or threatens to distort competition by favouring certain undertakings or the production of certain goods shall, in so far as it affects trade between Member States, be incompatible with the internal market”.

[2] See Oskar van Maren, “The EU State aid and sport saga: The Real Madrid Decision (part 1)”, Asser International Sports Law Blog, 15 November 2016.

[3] Commission decision SA.33753 of 4 July 2016 on the State aid implemented by Spain for Real Madrid CF, paras. 79 and 80.

[4] Commission decision SA.33753 of 18 December 2013, State aid– Spain Real Madrid CF, paras. 41-43.

[5] Interestingly enough, Spain’s comments contradict Real Madrid’s comments, according to which, as can be read in paragraph 46 of the decision, Spanish law did allow Las Tablas to be reclassified for private use in 1998 and beyond until a specific law that prohibits that was introduced in 2001.

[6] Commission decision SA.33753 of 4 July 2016 on the State aid implemented by Spain for Real Madrid CF, paras. 29-36.

[7] Since it was clear State resources were transferred, that the measure was selective and that it at least had the potential of affecting intra-Union trade, the other criteria of Article 107(1) TFEU were only briefly discussed.

[8] See also e.g. Commission decision SA.41613 of 4 July 2016, on the measure implemented by the Netherlands with regard to the professional football club PSV in Eindhoven.

[9] Commission decision SA.33753 of 18 December 2013, State aid– Spain Real Madrid CF, para. 88.

[10] Case C-124/10 P Commission v. EDF ECLI:EU:C:2012:318, paras. 84, 85 and 105.

[11] Commission decision SA.33753 of 18 December 2013, State aid– Spain Real Madrid CF, para. 89.

[12] Ibid, para. 92.

[13] Ibid, para. 94.

[14] Ibid, para. 29.

[15] Ibid, para. 108.

[16] Ibid, paras. 111-112.

[17] Ibid, paras. 139-142.

[18] See for example T-110/97 Kneissl Dachstein v Commission ECLI:EU:T:1999:244, para. 102.

[19]Case T-304/08 Smurfit Kappa Group v Commission ECLI:EU:T:2012:351, para. 90.

[20] Conor Quigley, “European State Aid Law and Policy”, Hart Publishing, 3rd edition (2015), pages 738-739. See also for example T-20/03 Kahla/Thüringen Porzellan v Commission, ECLI:EU:T:2008:395, para. 115.

[21] Commission decision SA.33753 of 18 December 2013, State aid– Spain Real Madrid CF, para. 135.

[22] See for example Case C-172/03 Heiser ECLI:EU:C:2005:130, para. 55.

[23] Quigley, page 276.

[24] Real Madrid further found it surprising that the Commission used a valuation made by an architect’s office in Barcelona to dictate their decision. Though many will find this comment by Real Madrid rather amusing, it once again shows that the rivalry between the two clubs (and cities) far exceeds the performances on a football field.

[25] Commission decision SA.33753 of 18 December 2013, State aid– Spain Real Madrid CF, para. 89.

[26] Ibid, paras. 119-128.

[27] See for example T-366/00 Scott v Commission ECLI:EU:T:2007:99; and C-239/09 Seydaland Vereinigte Agrarbetriebe ECLI:EU:C:2010:778.

[28] Quigley, page 737. Based on the case law of the Court, it is not entirely clear whether a “sufficient error of assessment” by the Commission is enough for the Court to annul the decision.

[29] T-366/00 Scott v Commission ECLI:EU:T:2007:99, para. 158. See also Commission Notice C 262/1 of 19 July 2016 on the notion of State aid as referred to in Article 107(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, para. 101.

[30] Case T-274/01 Valmont v Commission ECLI:EU:T:2004:266.

Comments (1) -

  • Florentino Perez

    2/11/2017 9:19:30 AM |

    According to the ecological movement (EeA), the advantage for Real in the transfer of the plots in the Opanel district in exchange for the super prime area in front of the Bernabeu Stadium was approx. €60 million which is not unreasonable considering the actual market prices in both areas. That was the lion's share of the aid. Add this to the three years of delay in the stadium redevelopment (no IPIC naming rights at €20-25 million a year and no increase in the match day revenue) and you will see the that the Saga has been ruinous for Real that has been overtaken in the meantime by United and Barca in the revenue league.

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