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

Book Review: Reforming FIFA, or Not

Editor’s note: This short book review will be published in a different format in the International Sports Law Journal, due to its timeliness we decided to reproduce it here. 

Reforming FIFA, or Not

 Antoine Duval

Book Review: Mark Pieth (ed.), Reforming FIFA, Dike Verlag, St. Gallen, 2014, 28.00 CHF, p.178

 


This book looks back at the work of the Independence Governance Committee (IGC). This Committee, constituted in 2011, had as primary objective to drive a reform process of FIFA initiated by its President Sepp Blatter. After ordering from the Swiss anti-corruption expert Mark Pieth, a report on the state of FIFA’s governance, FIFA decided to mandate him with the leadership of a consulting body composed of a mix of independent experts and football insiders, which would be accompanying and supervising the internal reform process of FIFA. The IGC was officially dissolved at the end of 2013, after completing its mandate. The book is composed of eight chapters, written by former members of the IGC, including former chairman Mark Pieth. In addition to the chapters, it includes the different reports (available here, here and here) submitted by the IGC to FIFA across the years. In the words of Pieth, this account is “fascinating because it gives a hands-on, realistic perspective of the concrete efforts, the achievements and the remaining challenges in the struggle for the reform of this organization [FIFA], avoiding the usual glorification or vilification.”[1] This review will first summarize the core of the account of the FIFA reform process provided by the book, before critically engaging with the outcome of the process and outlining the deficiencies that culminated on 29 May 2015 with the re-election of Sepp Blatter as FIFA president.More...



The Spanish TV Rights Distribution System after the Royal Decree: An Introduction. By Luis Torres

On the first of May 2015, the Spanish Government finally signed the Royal Decree allowing the joint selling of the media rights of the Spanish top two football leagues. The Minister for Sport stated that the Decree will allow clubs to “pay their debts with the social security and the tax authorities and will enable the Spanish teams to compete with the biggest European Leagues in terms of revenues from the sale of media rights”.[1]Although the signing of the Royal Decree was supposed to close a very long debate and discussion between the relevant stakeholders, its aftermath shows that the Telenovela is not entirely over. 

This blog post will first provide the background story to the selling of media rights in Spain. It will, thereafter, analyse the main points of the Royal Decree and outline how the system will work in practice. Finally, the blog will shortly address the current frictions between the Spanish League (LFP) and the Spanish football federation (RFEF).More...

Sport and EU Competition Law: New developments and unfinished business. By Ben Van Rompuy

Editor's note: Ben Van Rompuy, Head of the ASSER International Sports Law Centre, was recently interviewed by LexisNexis UK for their in-house adviser service. With kind permission from LexisNexis we reproduce the interview on our blog in its entirety. 

How does competition law affect the sports sector?  

The application of EU competition law to the sports sector is a fairly recent and still unfolding development. It was only in the mid-1990s, due to the growing commercialization of professional sport, that there emerged a need to address competition issues in relation to, for instance, ticketing arrangements or the sale of media rights.  More...



Is FIFA fixing the prices of intermediaries? An EU competition law analysis - By Georgi Antonov (ASSER Institute)

Introduction

On 1 April 2015, the new FIFA Regulations on Working with Intermediaries (hereinafter referred as the Regulations) came into force. These Regulations introduced a number of changes as regards the division of competences between FIFA and its members, the national associations. A particularly interesting issue from an EU competition law perspective is the amended Article 7 of the Regulations. Under paragraph 3, which regulates the rules on payments to intermediaries (also previously referred to as ‘agents’), it is recommended that the total amount of remuneration per transaction due to intermediaries either being engaged to act on a player’s or club’s behalf should not exceed 3% of the player’s basic gross income for the entire duration of the relevant employment contract. In the case of transactions due to intermediaries who have been engaged to act on a club’s behalf in order to conclude a transfer agreement, the total amount of remuneration is recommended to not exceed 3% of the eventual transfer fee paid in relation to the relevant transfer of the player.More...

The Impact of the new FIFA Regulations for Intermediaries: A comparative analysis of Brazil, Spain and England. By Luis Torres

INTRODUCTION

Almost a year after their announcement, the new FIFA Regulations on working with Intermediaries (“FIFA Regulations”) came into force on 1 April 2015. Their purpose is to create a more simple and transparent system of regulation of football agents. It should be noted, however, that the new FIFA rules enable every national football association to regulate their own system on players’ intermediaries, provided they respect the compulsory minimum requirements adopted. In an industry that is already cutthroat, it thus remains to be seen whether FIFA’s “deregulation” indeed creates transparency, or whether it is a Pandora’s Box to future regulatory confusion.

This blog post will provide an overview of the new FIFA Regulations on working with intermediaries and especially its minimum requirements. Provided that national associations are encouraged to “draw up regulations that shall incorporate the principles established in these provisions”[1], three different national regulations have been taken as case-studies: the English FA Regulations, the Spanish RFEF Regulations and the Brazilian CBF Regulations. After mapping their main points of convergence and principal differences, the issues that could arise from these regulatory differences shall be analyzed.  More...

Blog Symposium: Why FIFA's TPO ban is justified. By Prof. Dr. Christian Duve

Introduction: FIFA’s TPO ban and its compatibility with EU competition law.
Day 1: FIFA must regulate TPO, not ban it.
Day 2: Third-party entitlement to shares of transfer fees: problems and solutions
Day 3: The Impact of the TPO Ban on South American Football.
Day 4: Third Party Investment from a UK Perspective. 

Editor’s note: Finally, the last blog of our TPO ban Symposium has arrived! Due to unforeseen circumstances, FIFA had to reconsider presenting its own views on the matter. However, FIFA advised us to contact Prof. Dr. Christian Duve to author the eagerly awaited blog on their behalf. Prof. Dr. Christian Duve is a lawyer and partner with Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP and an honorary professor at the University of Heidelberg. He has been a CAS arbitrator until 2014. Thus, as planned, we will conclude this symposium with a post defending the compatibility of the TPO ban with EU law. Many thanks to Prof. Dr. Duve for having accepted this last-minute challenge! More...






Blog Symposium: Third Party Investment from a UK Perspective. By Daniel Geey

Introduction: FIFA’s TPO ban and its compatibility with EU competition law.
Day 1: FIFA must regulate TPO, not ban it.
Day 2: Third-party entitlement to shares of transfer fees: problems and solutions
Day 3: The Impact of the TPO Ban on South American Football.
Day 5: Why FIFA's TPO ban is justified.

Editor's note: In this fourth part of our blog symposium on FIFA's TPO ban Daniel Geey shares his 'UK perspective' on the ban. The English Premier League being one of the first leagues to have outlawed TPO in 2010, Daniel will outline the regulatory steps taken to do so and critically assess them. Daniel is an associate in Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP's Competition and EU Regulatory Law Group. As well as being a famous 'football law' twitterer, he has also published numerous articles and blogs on the subject.

 

What is Third Party Investment?
In brief Third Party Investment (TPI) in the football industry, is where a football club does not own, or is not entitled to, 100% of the future transfer value of a player that is registered to play for that team. There are numerous models for third party player agreements but the basic premise is that companies, businesses and/or individuals provide football clubs or players with money in return for owning a percentage of a player’s future transfer value. This transfer value is also commonly referred to as a player’s economic rights. There are instances where entities will act as speculators by purchasing a percentage share in a player directly from a club in return for a lump sum that the club can then use as it wishes. More...





Blog Symposium: The Impact of the TPO Ban on South American Football. By Ariel N. Reck

Introduction: FIFA’s TPO ban and its compatibility with EU competition law.
Day 1: FIFA must regulate TPO, not ban it.
Day 2: Third-party entitlement to shares of transfer fees: problems and solutions
Day 4: Third Party Investment from a UK Perspective.
Day 5: Why FIFA's TPO ban is justified.

Editor’s note: Ariel N. Reck is an Argentine lawyer specialized in the football industry. He is a guest professor at ISDE’s Global Executive Master in International Sports Law, at the FIFA CIES Sports law & Management course (Universidad Católica Argentina) and the Universidad Austral Sports Law diploma (Argentina) among other prestigious courses. He is a regular conference speaker and author in the field of sports law.

Being an Argentine lawyer, Ariel will focus on the impact FIFA’s TPO ban will have (and is already having) on South American football.More...





Blog Symposium: Third-party entitlement to shares of transfer fees: problems and solutions - By Dr. Raffaele Poli (Head of CIES Football Observatory)

Introduction: FIFA’s TPO ban and its compatibility with EU competition law.
Day 1: FIFA must regulate TPO, not ban it.
Day 3: The Impact of the TPO Ban on South American Football.
Day 4: Third Party Investment from a UK Perspective.
Day 5: Why FIFA's TPO ban is justified.

Editor’s note: Raffaele Poli is a human geographer. Since 2002, he has studied the labour and transfer markets of football players. Within the context of his PhD thesis on the transfer networks of African footballers, he set up the CIES Football Observatory based at the International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES) located in Neuchâtel, Switzerland. Since 2005, this research group develops original research in the area of football from a multidisciplinary perspective combining quantitative and qualitative methods. Raffaele was also involved in a recent study on TPO providing FIFA with more background information on its functioning and regulation (the executive summary is available here).

This is the third blog of our Symposium on FIFA’s TPO ban, it is meant to provide an interdisciplinary view on the question. Therefore, it will venture beyond the purely legal aspects of the ban to introduce its social, political and economical context and the related challenges it faces. More...






Blog Symposium: FIFA must regulate TPO, not ban it. The point of view of La Liga.

Introduction: FIFA’s TPO ban and its compatibility with EU competition law.
Day 2: Third-party entitlement to shares of transfer fees: problems and solutions
Day 3: The Impact of the TPO Ban on South American Football.
Day 4: Third Party Investment from a UK Perspective.
Day 5: Why FIFA's TPO ban is justified.

Editor's note: This is the first blog of our symposium on FIFA's TPO ban, it features the position of La Liga regarding the ban and especially highlights some alternative regulatory measures it would favour. La Liga has launched a complaint in front of the European Commission challenging the compatibility of the ban with EU law, its ability to show that realistic less restrictive alternatives were available is key to winning this challenge. We wish to thank La Liga for sharing its legal (and political) analysis of FIFA's TPO ban with us.

INTRODUCTION

The Spanish Football League (La Liga) has argued for months that the funding of clubs through the conveyance of part of players' economic rights (TPO) is a useful practice for clubs. However, it also recognized that the practice must be strictly regulated. In July 2014, it approved a provisional regulation that was sent to many of the relevant stakeholders, including FIFA’s Legal Affairs Department. More...






Asser International Sports Law Blog | UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations and the Rise of Football’s 1%

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

UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations and the Rise of Football’s 1%

On 12 January 2017 UEFA published its eighth club licensing benchmarking report on European football, concerning the financial year of 2015. In the press release that accompanied the report, UEFA proudly announced that Financial Fair Play (FFP) has had a huge positive impact on European football, creating a more stable financial environment. Important findings included a rise of aggregate operating profits of €1.5bn in the last two years, compared to losses of €700m in the two years immediately prior to the introduction of Financial Fair Play.



Source: UEFA’s eighth club licensing benchmarking report on European football, slide 107.


 Meanwhile the aggregate losses dropped by 81% from €1.7bn in 2011 to just over €300m in 2015.



Source: UEFA’s eighth club licensing benchmarking report on European football, slide 108.


 Furthermore, net debt as a percentage of revenue has fallen from 65% in 2009 to 40% in 2015.[1]



Source: UEFA’s eighth club licensing benchmarking report on European football, slide 125.


UEFA’s Financial Fair Play vindicated?

As was clear from the UEFA Club Licensing Benchmarking Report Financial Year ending 2011, the deficit of clubs with a UEFA License increased from €0.6 billion in 2007 to a peak of €1.7 billion in 2011, with some historic European football clubs, like FC Parma, going bankrupt. Though the increasing indebtedness might have been to a large extent related to the global economic crisis[2], UEFA considered that it was mainly the result of irresponsible spending by the clubs.[3] Consequently, UEFA introduced the FFP Regulations, whose objectives are, inter alia, improving the economic and financial capabilities of clubs; introducing more discipline and rationality in club football finances; encouraging clubs to operate on the basis of their own revenues; and protecting the long-term viability and sustainability of European club football. UEFA’s primary tool to achieve those is the break-even requirement imposed on clubs having qualified for a UEFA club competition.[4] Accordingly, clubs must demonstrate that their expenditure does not exceed their revenue  should they wish to avoid sanctions by the UEFA Club Financial Control Body.[5] With these objectives in mind, it does not come as a surprise that UEFA is celebrating in this report the success of the FFP regulations.


The negative side effect of FFP: The rise of the 1%

The FFP regulations are still facing controversy and legal challenges in spite of (or, maybe, because of) the results highlighted in this report. As early as 2012, critics pointed out that FFP could nurture the competitive imbalance between European football clubs. Basically, a successful club will yield more revenue, leading to the club being able to afford better players, in turn leading to the club being more successful, and so on and so forth. Since small clubs are no longer allowed to overinvest their way to a greater market size in the future, people predicted that FFP would trigger an era of competitive imbalance.[6] Indeed, this competitive imbalance was one of the primary arguments used by player agent Striani and his lawyer Dupont in their complaint to the European Commission.[7]

UEFA has so far successfully managed to withstand the legal challenges launched against the FFP rules, such as a Commission complaint, a preliminary reference to the Court of Justice of the EU, challenges in front of Belgian courts, a challenge in front of a French court, and a challenge in front of the Court of Arbitration for Sport. However, it is now forced to acknowledge that “the top 15 European clubs have added €1.51bn in sponsorship and commercial revenues in the last six years (148% increase), compared to the €453m added by the rest of the approximately 700 top-division clubs in Europe (17% increase)”.[8] UEFA is clearly concerned about the increasing gap between the “global super clubs” and the rest, though it is adamant that “overspending and unsustainable business models cannot be the answer to financial inequality”.[9]

Nonetheless, it is not completely fair to argue that by attempting to solve one problem (i.e. reducing the increasing debts of football clubs) UEFA single-handedly created another problem (i.e. the growing inequality between the global super clubs and the rest).[10] There are of course other factors that contributed to this increasing financial gap, most notably the discrepancies in incomes derived from the selling of media rights at national level. As can be seen in UEFA’s latest Benchmarking report, English Premier League clubs received an average of €108m for their media rights in 2015. This figure is considerably higher than other clubs from the “top five leagues”, namely the Italian (€47.7m), Spanish (€36.7m), German (€36.1m) and French clubs (€24.9m).[11] In fact, 17 out of the top 20 clubs by broadcast revenues in 2015 are English, the other three being Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Juventus.[12] Nonetheless, even though UEFA is not responsible for the differences in media rights revenue, the FFP Regulations remain a clear obstacle for clubs from other leagues to get investment from alternative sources.  


What has UEFA done to counter this growing inequality?

The pressing question on many people’s mind is whether UEFA will, or even can, do something about the ever-growing financial inequality between football clubs. The FFP Regulations can be changed, as was demonstrated in 2015. An important innovation in this regard was the introduction of Annex XII on voluntary agreements with UEFA for the break-even requirement. Under this Annex, UEFA allows, inter alia, a club to apply for such an agreement if the club has been subject to a significant change in ownership and/or control within the 12 months preceding the application deadline.[13] When applying for a voluntary agreement the club will (among other obligations) need to:

- submit a long-term business plan, including future break-even information;
- demonstrate its ability to continue as a going concern until at least the end of the period covered by the voluntary agreement;
- and submit an irrevocable commitment by an equity participant (i.e. shareholder) to make contributions for an amount at least equal to the aggregate future break-even deficits for all the reporting periods covered by the voluntary agreement.[14]

The relaxation of the FFP Regulations to leave more room for investment has probably led to an increase of foreign acquisitions of European football clubs. As the graph below shows, only four clubs were bought by non-Europeans in the years 2012 and 2013, a period in which a stricter version of the FFP Regulations was in force, whole nine clubs were bought in 2016 alone, seven of which were bought by Chinese investors.



Source: UEFA’s eighth club licensing benchmarking report on European football, slide 56.


Nonetheless, upcoming media rights deals will ensure financial inequality for years to come, regardless of any particular FFP relaxation. It is estimated that Premier League clubs will receive an average of €141m per season for the 2016/17 – 2018/19, while e.g. Spanish clubs are predicted to make an average of ‘only’ €64m for the 2016/17 season.[15] Meanwhile, the highest earning Dutch club (Ajax) is expected to make a meagre €9.3m from the selling of its media rights for the 2016/17 season.  


Conclusion: Can UEFA equalize?

With the financial gap between clubs increasing instead of decreasing, should UEFA’s regulatory focus shift from good corporate governance (limited debt, small deficit) to redistribution and the fight against inequalities in football? The recently installed UEFA President Aleksander Čeverin held that “UEFA, together with its stakeholders, will need to continuously review and adapt its regulations”[16], but it is unclear what concrete adaptations he has in mind.

Possible options to tackle inequality would include: limiting media rights income; sharing media rights income at a European level; introducing salary caps; or even introducing a solidarity mechanism that would oblige clubs to redistribute some of their income to poorer clubs.[17] However, such proposals will always be strongly resisted by rich clubs, which are in a position to threaten to put in place a breakaway league at any time.[18] UEFA is hardly equipped to resist them. Unless UEFA’s regulatory monopoly is fully recognized and endorsed by the European Commission, it will not be able to face down a breakaway rebellion. Instead, it risks facing a FIBA-like bitter and costly secession. Hence, for UEFA the status quo remains the safest option, and facing criticisms from small clubs way less harmful economically and politically.

A final option, favoured by the many opponents of FFP, would be to abandon FFP all together. This way, there would be no more restrictions to (private) investors willing to pour their (often borrowed) money in (European) football clubs. However, it would also imply renouncing the key achievement of FFP, European football clubs are financially way healthier than in 2009 and their governance better scrutinized. Furthermore, taking into account the Premier League’s latest media rights deal, it is questionable whether abandoning FFP could in any way lead to a narrower gap between the rich clubs and the rest. 




[1] The definition of net debt according to UEFA includes net borrowings (i.e. bank overdrafts and loans, other loans and accounts payable to related parties less cash and cash equivalents) and the net player transfer balance (i.e. the net of accounts receivable and payable from player transfers) – see UEFA’s eighth club licensing benchmarking report on European football, slide 125

[2] Oskar van Maren, “The Real Madrid case: A State aid case (un)like any other?” (2015) Competition Law Review, Volume 11 Issue 1, pages 86-87.

[3] See for example, UEFA Club Licensing Benchmarking Report Financial Year ending 2008, slide 4.

[4] Article 2 (2) of both the 2012 and 2015 FFP Regulations.

[5] 58-63 of the FFP Regulations. Article 61 allows for an acceptable deviation of €5 million, i.e. the maximum aggregate break-even deficit possible for a club to be deemed in compliance with the break-even requirement.

[6] Markus Sass, “Long-term Competitive Balance under UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations” (2012), Working Paper No. 5/2012.

[7] For an analysis of FFP under EU competition law, see for example Stefan Szymanski, “Financial Fair Play and the law Part III: Guest post by Professor Stephen Weatherill”, 14 May 2013, Soccernomics.

[8] UEFA Press release of 12 January 2017, “European club football’s financial turnaround”.

[9] Ibid.

[10] In fact, the discussion on financial balance between football clubs has been a constant theme for decades. Particularly the elaborated opinion of A.G. Lenz in the Bosman case is worth reading in that regard (paras. 218-234).

[11] UEFA’s eighth club licensing benchmarking report on European football, slide 74.

[12] Ibid, slide 75.

[13] Annex XII under A (2)iii) of the 2015 FFP Regulations. The application deadline is the 31 December preceding the licence season in which the voluntary agreement would come into force.

[14] Annex XII under B of the 2015 FFP Regulations.

[15] FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are expected to make €150m and €143m respectively, meaning that the other clubs would receive an average of €55m.

[16] UEFA Press release of 12 January 2017, “European club football’s financial turnaround”.

[17] Once again, see the opinion of A.G. Lenz in the Bosman case (paras. 218-234).

[18] Threatening to put in place a breakaway (European) league is a favoured method by some of the top clubs. For example, during last week’s row it had with La Liga following the postponement of the Celta – Real Madrid game, Real Madrid held that the Spanish league is not very well organised and that they are better off playing in a European Super League.

Comments (2) -

  • Stephan

    2/21/2017 3:16:36 PM |

    Interesting article.
    I've one remark on your claim that UEFA is not responsible for the differences in media rights revenue.
    I believe they do since UEFA prize money, specifically the market pool component,  is a protectionist measure to grow big leagues, disrupting uefa's own principals (even their mission) on fair competition.

    Why?
    Because uefa market pool is based on national TV deals, which is a false assumption causing to grow big leagues instead of big clubs. "Big club" already reflect domestic market pool only more direct to it's fanbase actually in stadiums instead of those watching tv around the world. Since CL needs to be the biggest platform, current reasoning is flawed: TV market should and could never be a driver for performance based incentives. Currently, this prize money is given directly to big countries.

    And yes, UEFA prize money is a big part is in club finances.

  • Stephan

    2/21/2017 3:24:02 PM |

    Also, in conclusion prize money is the easiest way to equalize between big leagues and smaller leagues. Leaving out this marketpool component, thus only reward prestation based prize money would potentially shift lot's of money from subtop clubs in big leagues to top clubs in smaller leagues.

Comments are closed