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 New FIFA Intermediaries Regulations under EU Law Fire in Germany. By Tine Misic

I'm sure that in 1985, plutonium is available in every corner drugstore, but in 1955, it's a little hard to come by.” (Dr. Emmett L. Brown)[1]


Back to the future?

Availing oneself of EU law in the ambit of sports in 1995 must have felt a bit like digging for plutonium, but following the landmark ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in the Bosman case[2], 20 years later, with all the buzz surrounding several cases where EU law is being used as an efficient ammunition for shelling various sports governing or organising bodies, one may wonder if in 2015 EU law is to be “found in every drug store” and the recent cases (see inter alia Heinz Müller v 1. FSV Mainz 05, Daniel Striani ao v UEFA, Doyen Sports ao v URBSFA, FIFA, UEFA) [3] cannot but invitingly evoke the spirit of 1995.

One of the aforementioned cases that also stands out pertains to the injunction decision[4] issued on 29 April 2015 by the Regional Court (Landesgericht) in Frankfurt am Main (hereinafter: the Court) in the dispute between the intermediary company Firma Rogon Sportmanagement (hereinafter: the claimant) and the German Football Federation (Deutschen Fußball-Bund, DFB), where the claimant challenged the provisions of the newly adopted DFB Regulations on Intermediaries (hereinafter: DFB Regulations)[5] for being incompatible with Articles 101 and 102 TFEU.[6] The Court, by acknowledging the urgency of the matter stemming from the upcoming transfer window and the potential loss of clients, deemed a couple of shells directed at the DFB Regulations to be well-aimed, and granted an injunction due to breach of Article 101 TFEU. More...




Compatibility of fixed-term contracts in football with Directive 1999/70/EC. Part 2: The Heinz Müller case. By Piotr Drabik

Introduction
The first part of the present blog article provided a general introduction to the compatibility of fixed-term contracts in football with Directive 1999/70/EC[1] (Directive). However, as the Member States of the European Union enjoy a considerable discretion in the implementation of a directive, grasping the impact of the Directive on the world of football would not be possible without considering the national context. The recent ruling of the Arbeitsgericht Mainz (the lowest German labour court; hereinafter the Court) in proceedings brought by a German footballer Heinz Müller provides an important example in this regard. This second part of the blog on the legality of fixed-term contract in football is devoted to presenting and assessing the Court’s decision.


I. Facts and Procedure
Heinz Müller, the main protagonist of this case, was a goalkeeper playing for 1.FSV Mainz 05 a club partaking to the German Bundesliga. More...


Compatibility of Fixed-Term Contracts in Football with Directive 1999/70/EC. Part.1: The General Framework. By Piotr Drabik

Introduction
On 25 March 2015, the Labour Court of Mainz issued its decision in proceedings brought by a German footballer, Heinz Müller, against his (now former) club 1. FSV Mainz 05 (Mainz 05). The Court sided with the player and ruled that Müller should have been employed by Mainz 05 for an indefinite period following his 2009 three year contract with the club which was subsequently extended in 2011 to run until mid-2014. The judgment was based on national law implementing Directive 1999/70 on fixed-term work[1] (Directive) with the latter being introduced pursuant to art. 155(2) TFEU (ex art. 139(2) TEC). On the basis of this article, European social partners’ may request a framework agreement which they conclude to be implemented on the European Union (EU, Union) level by a Council decision on a proposal from the Commission. One of the objectives of the framework agreement,[2] and therefore of the Directive, was to establish a system to prevent abuse arising from the use of successive fixed-term employment contracts or relationships[3] which lies at the heart of the discussed problem.[4] More...

UEFA’s FFP out in the open: The Dynamo Moscow Case

Ever since UEFA started imposing disciplinary measures to football clubs for not complying with Financial Fair Play’s break-even requirement in 2014, it remained a mystery how UEFA’s disciplinary bodies were enforcing the Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play (“FFP”) regulations, what measures it was imposing, and what the justifications were for the imposition of these measures. For over a year, the general public could only take note of the 23 settlement agreements between Europe’s footballing body and the clubs. The evidential obstacle for a proper analysis was that the actual settlements remained confidential, as was stressed in several of our previous Blogs.[1] The information provided by the press releases lacked the necessary information to answer the abovementioned questions.

On 24 April 2015, the UEFA Club Financial Control Body lifted part of the veil by referring FC Dynamo Moscow to the Adjudicatory Body. Finally, the Adjudicatory Body had the opportunity to decide on a “FFP case. The anxiously-awaited Decision was reached by the Adjudicatory Chamber on 19 June and published not long after. Now that the Decision has been made public, a new stage of the debate regarding UEFA’s FFP policy can start.More...

Policing the (in)dependence of National Federations through the prism of the FIFA Statutes. By Tine Misic

…and everything under the sun is in tune,

but the sun is eclipsed by the moon…[1] 


The issue

Ruffling a few feathers, on 30 May 2015 the FIFA Executive Committee rather unsurprisingly, considering the previous warnings,[2] adopted a decision to suspend with immediate effect the Indonesian Football Federation (PSSI) until such time as PSSI is able to comply with its obligations under Articles 13 and 17 of the FIFA Statutes.[3] Stripping PSSI of its membership rights, the decision results in a prohibition of all Indonesian teams (national or club) from having any international sporting contact. In other words, the decision precludes all Indonesian teams from participating in any competition organised by either FIFA or the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). In addition, the suspension of rights also precludes all PSSI members and officials from benefits of any FIFA or AFC development programme, course or training during the term of suspension. This decision coincides with a very recent award by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in this ambit, which shall be discussed further below.[4]More...


The Brussels Court judgment on Financial Fair Play: a futile attempt to pull off a Bosman. By Ben Van Rompuy

On 29 May 2015, the Brussels Court of First Instance delivered its highly anticipated judgment on the challenge brought by football players’ agent Daniel Striani (and others) against UEFA’s Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations (FFP). In media reports,[1] the judgment was generally portrayed as a significant initial victory for the opponents of FFP. The Brussels Court not only made a reference for a preliminary ruling to the European Court of Justice (CJEU) but also imposed an interim order blocking UEFA from implementing the second phase of the FFP that involves reducing the permitted deficit for clubs.

A careful reading of the judgment, however, challenges the widespread expectation that the CJEU will now pronounce itself on the compatibility of the FFP with EU law. More...

A Bridge Too Far? Bridge Transfers at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. By Antoine Duval and Luis Torres.

FIFA’s freshly adopted TPO ban entered into force on 1 May (see our Blog symposium). Though it is difficult to anticipate to what extent FIFA will be able to enforce the ban, it is likely that many of the third-party investors will try to have recourse to alternative solutions to pursue their commercial involvement in the football transfer market. One potential way to circumvent the FIFA ban is to use the proxy of what has been coined “bridge transfers”. A bridge transfer occurs when a club is used as an intermediary bridge in the transfer of a player from one club to another. The fictitious passage through this club is used to circumscribe, for example, the payment of training compensation or to whitewash a third-party ownership by transforming it into a classical employment relationship. This is a legal construction that has gained currency especially in South American football, but not only. On 5 May 2015, in the Racing Club v. FIFA case, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rendered its first award involving directly a bridge transfer. As this practice could become prevalent in the coming years we think that this case deserves a close look. More...

20 Years After Bosman - The New Frontiers of EU Law and Sport - Special Issue of the Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law

Editor's note: This is a short introduction written for the special Issue of the Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law celebrating the 20 years of the Bosman ruling and dedicated to the new frontiers of EU law and Sport (the articles are available here). For those willing to gain a deeper insight into the content of the Issue we organize (in collaboration with Maastricht University and the Maastricht Journal) a launching event with many of the authors in Brussels tomorrow (More info here).More...

ASSER Exclusive! Interview with Charles “Chuck” Blazer by Piotr Drabik

Editor’s note: Chuck Blazer declined our official interview request but thanks to some trusted sources (the FIFA indictment and Chuck’s testimony) we have reconstructed his likely answers. This is a fictional interview. Any resemblance with real facts is purely coincidental.



Mr Blazer, thank you for agreeing to this interview, especially considering the circumstances. How are you doing?

I am facing ten charges concerning, among others, conspiracy to corrupt and money laundering. But apart from that, I am doing great (laughs)!

 

It is good to know that you have not lost your spirit. And since you’ve been involved in football, or as you call it soccer, for years could you please first tell us what was your career at FIFA and its affiliates like?

Let me see… Starting from the 1990s I was employed by and associated with FIFA and one of its constituent confederations, namely the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF). At various times, I also served as a member of several FIFA standing committees, including the marketing and television committee. As CONCACAF’s general secretary, a position I proudly held for 21 years, I was responsible, among many other things, for negotiations concerning media and sponsorship rights. From 1997 to 2013 I also served at FIFA’s executive committee where I participated in the selection process of the host countries for the World Cup tournaments. Those years at the helm of world soccer were truly amazing years of travel and hard work mainly for the good of the beautiful game. I might add that I even managed to document some of my voyages on my blog. I initially called it “Travels with Chuck Blazer” but Vladimir (Putin) convinced me to change the name to “Travels with Chuck Blazer and his Friends”. You should check it out.

 More...



Financial Fair Play: Lessons from the 2014 and 2015 settlement practice of UEFA. By Luis Torres

UEFA announced on 8 May that it had entered into Financial Fair Play settlement agreements with 10 European football clubs. Together with the four other agreements made in February 2015, this brings the total to 14 FFP settlements for 2015 and 23 since UEFA adopted modifications in its Procedural rules and allowed settlements agreements to be made between the Clubs and the Chief Investigator of the UEFA Club Financial Control Body (CFCB).[1] 

In the two years during which UEFA’s FFP regulations have been truly up and running we have witnessed the centrality taken by the settlement procedure in their enforcement. It is extremely rare for a club to be referred to the FFP adjudication chamber. In fact, only the case regarding Dynamo Moscow has been referred to the adjudication chamber. Thus, having a close look at the settlement practice of UEFA is crucial to gaining a good understanding of the functioning of FFP. Hence, this blog offers a detailed analysis of this year’s settlement agreements and compares them with last year’s settlements. More...

Asser International Sports Law Blog | Why the European Commission will not star in the Spanish TV rights Telenovela. By Ben Van Rompuy and Oskar van Maren

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

Why the European Commission will not star in the Spanish TV rights Telenovela. By Ben Van Rompuy and Oskar van Maren

The selling of media rights is currently a hot topic in European football. Last week, the English Premier League cashed in around 7 billion Euros for the sale of its live domestic media rights (2016 to 2019) – once again a 70 percent increase in comparison to the previous tender. This means that even the bottom club in the Premier League will receive approximately €130 million while the champions can expect well over €200 million per season.

The Premier League’s new deal has already led the President of the Spanish National Professional Football League (LNFP), Javier Tebas, to express his concerns that this could see La Liga lose its position as one of Europe’s leading leagues. He reiterated that establishing a centralised sales model in Spain is of utmost importance, if not long overdue.

Concrete plans to reintroduce a system of joint selling for the media rights of the Primera División, Segunda División A, and la Copa del Rey by means of a Royal Decree were already announced two years ago. The road has surely been long and bumpy. The draft Decree is finally on the table, but now it misses political approval. All the parties involved are blaming each other for the current failure: the LNFP blames the Sport Governmental Council for Sport (CSD) for not taking the lead; the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) is arguing that the Federation and non-professional football entities should receive more money and that it should have a stronger say in the matter in accordance with the FIFA Statutes;  and there are widespread rumours that the two big earners, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, are actively lobbying to prevent the Royal Decree of actually being adopted.

To keep the soap opera drama flowing,  on 30 December 2014, FASFE (an organisation consisting of groups of fans, club members, and minority shareholders of several Spanish professional football clubs) and the International Soccer Centre (a movement that aims to obtain more balanced and transparent football and basketball competitions in Spain) filed an antitrust complaint with the European Commission against the LNFP. They argue that the current system of individual selling of LNFP media rights, with unequal shares of revenue widening the gap between clubs, violates EU competition law.


Source:http://www.gopixpic.com/600/buscar%C3%A1n-el-amor-verdadero-nueva-novela-de-televisa/http:%7C%7Cassets*zocalo*com*mx%7Cuploads%7Carticles%7C5%7C134666912427*jpg/


The complaint will surely be frowned upon in Brussels. First, Spain is on the verge of introducing a joint selling arrangement. So what is the point of using competition law as an instrument to obtain … a joint selling arrangement? Second, the argument that a horizontal agreement, preventing LNFP clubs from individually competing in the sale of their media rights, is needed to ensure fair and effective competition seems, to put it mildly, counterintuitive. Third, who files an antitrust complaint on 30 December?

The complainants essentially target the polarization of revenues between the two top clubs (Real Madrid and FC Barcelona) and the other clubs. This is a well-known and long-standing feature of the LNFP, which is only in part attributable to disparities in the clubs’ media rights income. The complainants point out, however, that media coverage is also an important driver of other main revenue streams (e.g. value of sponsorship deals, ticket sales, and merchandising). 

Since the end of the 1990s, clubs have been selling the LNFP media rights individually. In a system of individual selling, a club’s bargaining power is evidently determined by the market potential of the matches of a specific club and not by the collective attractiveness of the competition as a whole. This has resulted in a pronounced imbalance between the two top clubs Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, who are able to extract supra-normal profits, and the other clubs.

For the 2010-2011 season, for example, the two Spanish giants both received around €125 million for their live media rights, leaving their domestic peers fighting over the scraps (i.e. the next biggest clubs earned around €40 million and the majority of the clubs sold their rights for about €15 million). In other words, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona generate ten times more revenue from their media rights as compared to the smaller clubs.

While it is easy to see why this situation may be considered unfair from the perspective of the majority of the clubs, it is less evident to find a competition law problem. 


A competition law perspective 

As stated above, the complaint is launched against the LNFP who, according to FASFE, by means of authorising the individual selling of TV rights system, is violating EU competition law.

First, the complainants argue that the system of individual selling strengthens the dominant positions of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona and, subsequently, undermines the competitive position of the other clubs. So far so good. But then they jump to the conclusion that Article 102 TFEU is being violated, not by the LNFP, but by Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. 

There they lost us – and presumably anyone remotely familiar with EU competition law. But let’s be a good sport and contemplate this line of reasoning a bit further.  

It might be argued that Real Madrid and FC Barcelona hold a (collective) dominant position on certain product markets in Spain and, by extension, in a substantial part of the internal market – even though the complaint fails to properly define those relevant markets. On the upstream market for the acquisition of media rights of La Liga, both clubs behave to a certain extent independently of their competitors. Spanish broadcasters first seek to acquire the media rights to their matches, which undercuts the bargaining position of the other clubs in the subsequent negotiations for the purchase of their rights. A more fundamental flaw is that the complainants contend that the possession or even strengthening of a dominant position by way of competition falls within the prohibition of Article 102 TFEU. The complaint does not put forward a single argument substantiating how both clubs engage in abusive conduct. 

Second, the complainants argue that the LNFP, according to Article 49 of its statutes, must look after the common interests of the competitions that it organises and of its members. In their view, the 1996 decision of the LFNP General Assembly to re-introduce a system of joint selling, which has negatively affected the majority of clubs and a large majority of fans, does not comply with this objective. 

While it can be argued that the LNFP’s decision constitutes a decision of an association of undertakings within the meaning of Article 101(1) TFEU, it is difficult to see how it has an anti-competitive object or effect. Quite on the contrary, the decision lifted the competitive constraints on the clubs’ independent decision-making that were in place up until the season 1997-1998. 

It should be noted that a system of joint selling of media rights does not necessarily bring about an equitable distribution of the revenues among the clubs. Albeit connected, the distribution mechanism is a separate measure, which is typically for the most part performance-based. Moreover, financial solidarity can also be implemented through other mechanisms, such as a taxation system or the redistribution of voluntary contributions. That said, it must be acknowledged that a system of joint selling does facilitate the sharing of revenues among clubs. The ability of sports organisers to impose alternative financial solidarity mechanisms might be constrained by the pressure of the larger clubs (which evidently wish to see a larger share of the revenues flow back to them because they are primarily responsible for generating these revenues). The clubs’ media rights income ratio in the other top European football leagues, where media rights are sold collectively, illustrates this point. In the season 2011-2012 the earnings ratio of the top to the bottom club was as follows: Premier League (1,55 to 1); Serie A (4,35 to 1); Bundesliga (2,3 to 1); and Ligue 1 (3,2 to 1).[1] 

Considering that joint selling only creates incentives for horizontal solidarity, the financial solidarity justification in itself could not outweigh the anti-competitive effects of a joint selling arrangement. The restrictions of competition are considerable. First, joint selling agreements prevent clubs from individually competing in the sale of their media rights. Access to the market can therefore be foreclosed to competing buyers. Second, joint selling leads to uniform prices and other trading conditions. Price-fixing is a hard-core restriction that is normally prohibited. Third, joint selling could lead to output restrictions when certain rights are withheld from the market. 

As the discussion of the competition law decisional practice below will demonstrate, it is even unclear whether the financial solidarity argument can be invoked as a partial legal defence against the prohibition of restrictive agreements. 


The financial solidarity conundrum

One of the key assumptions underlying the complaint is that the EU institutions advocate the joint selling of media rights. This is presumably one of the main reasons why they are turning to Brussels for help. While it is true that the European Council (e.g. in the 2001 Nice Declaration) and the European Parliament have always been supportive of the link between joint selling and the principle of financial solidarity, the same cannot be said about the European Commission. In policy documents, the Commission has refrained from making (strong) pronouncements on the solidarity benefits of joint selling vis-à-vis individual selling. In the Helsinki Report on Sport (1999) the Commission underscored the need to examine the precise link between the joint selling of media rights and financial solidarity between professional and amateur sport. In its White Paper on Sport (2007) the Commission acknowledged that joint selling “can be a tool for achieving greater solidarity within sports”, but immediately added that also a system of individual selling by clubs can be linked to a robust solidarity mechanism. Only in the Communication on Developing the European Dimension of Sport (2011) the Commission expressed some general support for a system of joint selling. Surely some of the Commission’s press releases coinciding its decisions in this area mention benefits for financial solidarity (see e.g. here). If the complainants had looked at the actual decisions, however, they would have realised that that rhetoric is inconsistent with the legal argumentation.

After the need to address competition issues in relation to joint selling arrangements for football media rights emerged in the 1990s, several National Competition Authorities (NCAs) found that the system was incompatible with the national competition rules. The NCAs were sceptical about the necessary link between joint selling and revenue distribution and, subsequently, did not consider it to be a pro-competitive benefit capable of offsetting the identified restrictive effects. Even though the NCAs spoke out uniformly against the joint selling of football media rights, in three Member States their decisions were either overruled by a national court (United Kingdom) or circumvented through legislative action (Germany) or executive orders (the Netherlands).[2] This created uncertainties regarding the circumstances under which joint selling could be considered compatible with EU and national competition law. 

In the UEFA Champions League decision (2003) the European Commission for the first time assessed the compatibility of the joint selling of football media rights with Article 101 TFEU. In two subsequent decisions, German Bundesliga (2005) and FA Premier League (2006), the Commission raised similar competition concerns and imposed similar remedies to address these concerns. 

In all three decisions, the Commission found that joint selling arrangements are caught by the prohibition of Article 101(1) TFEU, but may create substantial efficiency gains so that Article 101(3) TFEU could be invoked as a legal defence. It identified three main benefits: (1) the creation of a single point of sale (which creates efficiencies by reducing the transaction costs for sports organisers and media content operators); (2) branding of the output by one entity (which creates efficiencies as it helps the media products receive wider recognition and distribution); and (3) the creation of a league product focused on the competition as a whole rather than individual clubs. 

To ensure that the efficiency benefits outweigh the toxic cocktail of anti-competitive effects (i.e. price-fixing and considerable risks of market foreclosure and output restrictions), the Commission carefully prescribed the way in which the rights must be marketed by imposing a list of behavioural remedies. 

Competition concern

Remedy

UEFA

DFB

FAPL

Risk of foreclosure effects in downstream markets

Non-discriminatory and transparent tendering procedure

X

X

X

Independent monitoring trustee overseeing tender process

 

 

X

No conditional bidding

 

 

X

Risk of market foreclosure effects in downstream markets as a result of exclusivity and bundling of media rights.

Limitation of scope of exclusive contracts:

-       a reasonable amount of different rights packages

-       no combination of large and small packages

-       earmarked packages for special markets/platforms (new media rights)

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

X

X

Limitation of duration of exclusive contracts: max. three football seasons

X

X

X

Risk of output restrictions

Fall-back option to clubs for unsold or unused rights

X

X

X

Parallel exploitation of less valuable rights by clubs

X

 

 

Risk of monopolisation

“No single buyer” obligation

 

 

X

In all three of the Commission’s investigations, the parties put forward the financial solidarity argument as the main justification for an exemption of their joint selling arrangements under Article 101(3) TFEU.[3] Yet the Commission never substantially addressed that argument. Only in the UEFA Champions League decision, the point was briefly considered. The Commission simply noted that UEFA had failed to substantiate the indispensability of a joint selling agreement for the redistribution of revenue and, subsequently, for the organisation of the Champions League.[4] Since it could exempt the joint selling agreement on economic efficiency grounds, however, the Commission concluded that “it is not necessary for the purpose of this procedure to consider the solidarity argument any further”.[5] As such, the Commission conveniently got round the issue.

The national decisional practice subsequent to the Commission’s precedents equally refrained from addressing the issue. The NCAs started focusing their assessments exclusively on efficiency benefits, as instructed by the Commission.  

In short, in competition law proceedings related to joint selling arrangements, the financial solidarity defence has never been very compelling – it was either considered unsound (early national enforcement practice) or remained unaddressed. Of course, one may still argue that the elephant in the room was surreptitiously taken into account (bearing in mind that the acceptance of a similar price-fixing cartel in other sectors would be difficult to imagine).[6] 


Redistribution formulas for media rights income  

After the European Commission de facto legitimized the joint selling of football media rights, the system became the common practice for marketing such rights in Europe. Since Italy reintroduced the system of joint selling in 2010, Cyprus, Portugal, and Spain are now the last EU markets in which first division football clubs sell their rights individually. 

To put the distribution key foreseen in the pending Spanish Royal Decree into perspective, we will first summarize how the other four big European leagues redistribute the media rights income. 

England: Since 1992, the year in which the Premier League was formed, it was decided that 50% of the revenue is split equally between the 20 clubs, 25% is paid in Merit Payments (depending on where a club finishes in the final League table), and the final 25% is paid in Facility Fees (based on each time a club’s matches are broadcast in the UK). All international broadcast revenue, and central commercial revenue, is split equally amongst the 20 clubs. For the season 2013/2014, the ratio between the top (Liverpool at €132 million Euros) and the bottom earning club (Cardiff City at €84 million) was 1.57:1.

Germany: Within the German Bundesliga clubs, the criteria for the distribution of revenues will be determined by a 2:1 ratio between the top-ranked and the bottom-ranked teams in an ad hoc distribution ranking for the years 2013 – 2017. This means that the revenue sharing distribution will range from a maximum of 5.8% of the total amount for the first place team to at least 2.9% for the 18th place team. The Bundesliga’s international media rights income distribution, however, remains based on both international and domestic sport performance.

Italy: Italy’s Serie A joint selling system had an earnings ratio of the top to bottom club of 5.25:1 for the season 2013/2014. Juventus, the top earning club, had an income from TV rights of €94 million, whereas the bottom earning club, Sassuolo, of €17.9 million.[7] Out of the total amount distributed, 40% is distributed to all the clubs as a fixed amount. Furthermore, 30% is distributed on the basis of past results (15% on results during last five seasons, 10% on historical results[8], and 5% on last season’s final league position); and 25% according to club supporters base.  

The planned Royal Decree in Spain will have a distribution system that guarantees Real Madrid and FC Barcelona an amount that is very close to what they earn now. The income ratio of the clubs will start at 4:1 and diminishes as the total amount of income increases. From the total income, about 3% will be deducted for the Spanish FA and for non-professional sports. Additionally, 10% will be assigned to the Second Division. The remaining amount will be distributed as follows: 50% as fixed amount for all the clubs, 25% depending on sports results while taking into account historical results. The other 25% will be distributed in relation to public awareness similar the Italian system (calculated on the basis of TV audiences, city population, and number of fans of the club).  


Conclusion

It is safe to say that the competition complaint launched by FASFE will not lead to the European Commission opening a formal investigation. The complainants fail to demonstrate how the current Spanish individual selling system breaches, or even potentially breaches, Article 101 and/or 102 TFEU. In that regard, it should be noted that they already tried their luck with the national competition authority (CNC), alleging infringements of national competition law. On 8 January 2013, the CNC decided to reject the complaint because it only prescribed the results of the current media rights sales process without demonstrating violations of the national competition rules. 

Whether FASFE is aware of the same judicial inaccuracies in its Commission complaint is unknown. On the other hand, it is quite evident that invoking competition law to argue for the introduction of a cartel with significant anti-competitive effects is paradoxical. The ex post fairness (i.e. the outcome of market competition) that FASFE is looking for is quite different from the ex ante fairness in the market place that competition policy is concerned with. One can therefore interpret the complaint as an attempt to add pressure on the involved Spanish parties (the CSD, the LNFP, and the RFEF) to introduce the new Royal Decree once and for all. Although the Spanish public is provided daily episodes full of jabbering, backstabbing and other drama, as with all Telenovelas, the soap is dragging on and on and should have ended ages ago. 

Whether the switch to a joint selling arrangement will significantly improve the competitive balance in La Liga remains to be seen. Since FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are guaranteed an amount similar to what they receive now, this will ultimately depend on how much the total income from the sale of the media rights will increase. The inexorable rise in the value of the broadcasting deals in the UK, which is the unique result of a duopoly of two powerful deep-pocket players (i.e. the incumbent dominant pay-TV operator Sky and new market entrant BT) that emerged after the introduction of the “no single buyer” obligation, cannot be realistically expected – at least not in the short term. Yet it is relatively certain that the overall income from media rights will go up – ultimately to the benefit of all the clubs. A (minimum) earnings ratio of the top to bottom club of 4:1 is not overly ambitious, but surely is a welcome step towards remedying the current imbalance between the two top clubs and their less fortunate competitors.


[1] See T.M.C. Asser Institute and Institute for Information Law, “Study on Sports Organisers' Rights in the EU”, Commissioned by the European Commission, DG Education and Culture, February 2014.

[2] Idem.

[3] See e.g. Commission, “Case No IV/37.214 - DFB - Central marketing of TV and radio broadcasting rights for certain football competitions in Germany” (Notice) (1999) OJ C/610, para. 7; Commission, “Notice published pursuant to Article 19(3) of Council Regulation No 17 concerning case COMP/C.2/38.173 and 38.453 - joint selling of the media rights of the FA Premier League on an exclusive basis” (2004) OJ C 115/3, para. 10.

[4] UEFA Champions League (Case COMP/37.398) Commission decision 2003/778/EC (2003) OJ L291/25, para. 131.

[5] Idem, para. 167.

[6] See e.g. Giorgio Monti, “Article 81 EC and Public Policy” (2002) 39 CMLR 1057 (calling it a “sector-specific exemption”).

[7] FASFE Antitrust Complaint of 30 December 2014, page 11

[8] In other words, this revenue is determined by overall league placings since 1946. In this category, Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan are the top earning clubs. For more info see: http://www.financialfairplay.co.uk/latest-news/tv-revenue-distribution-%E2%80%93-comparing-italian-and-english-models.

Comments (2) -

  • José Antonio Rodríguez Miguez

    2/17/2015 1:09:50 PM |

    Congratulations for this very interesting and solid post. A Spanish sayung days that “Barça is more than a club”; we can say that football is more than a sport, it’s basically a bussness, and a level playing field must be guaranted. It’s the best and only way to go forward as a sport and as bussness.  

  • Count of Egmont

    2/19/2015 2:13:50 PM |

    FASFE's complaint is indeed quite weak and amateurish (more posturing than anything else as they fail to raise some well known issues that could have significantly strengthened their case) but you forgot to mention that, irrespective of the merits of the complaint, their chances of succeeding against Real Madrid in a competition case would be near zero at the moment since the current EC Deputy Director-General for Antitrust, Mr. Cecilio Madero-Villarejo is a die-hard Real Madrid fan and club member who regularly attends football games at the VIP area of the Bernabeu Stadium. It is therefore highly unlikely that he will be very keen to open an investigation into this issue as it would go against his own personal interests. Could this be the reason why a series of unfortunate events has surrounded all Real Madrid related investigations?

    The British newspaper, The Independent, reported about this situation two years ago:

    "After Real Madrid’s victory in the 2000 Champions League final, a supporter of the club who identified himself then as a 43-year-old European Union official living in Brussels wrote to the newspaper El Pais to convey his joy at the club’s eighth European title.

    In the letter published in the newspaper on 14 June 2000, he described how after the match, in a state of some emotion, he placed a Real “Campeones” flag on the balcony of his Brussels flat. To some eyes, it looked uncomfortably like a reference to the Spanish phrase “poner una pica en flandes” – literally “putting a pike in Flanders” – which refers to the Spanish occupation of the territory in the 16th and 17th centuries.

    Not in the best taste, but given the individual’s euphoria and the memories he said it brought back of his childhood, perhaps it was understandable. The letter was written by Cecilio Madero Villarejo, who still lives in Brussels but has a better job than he did 13 years ago.

    These days, Madero is one of the four men who make up the directorate-general at the European Commission under the leadership of commissioner and fellow Spaniard Joaquin Almunia, whose job it is to enforce the rules on big business, from anti-trust, to mergers and, of course, state aid."

    Real Madrid is safe for as long as he is in DG-Comp, in any case safer than the reputation of the EC's competition policy that will surely face some scrutiny in the light of the UK's EU referendum .

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