7 March ~ Soccerex, the annual conference on the commercial side of the game, is usually a chance for everyone there to slap themselves on the back over the money that football generates. This year's event, held in Manchester on March 2 to 3, was different. Accountants Deloitte & Touche used the conference to launch their latest Football Money League report, which celebrates the amount of money flooding into clubs – Real Madrid are top with annual revenue of £342 million – but the accountant has little to say on regulation.
The day before Deloitte were due to unveil their latest report, two of the firm’s employees were overheard saying that their presentation would focus on that great spring of wealth, the Champions League. What the Deloitte accountants most certainly did not want to talk about was UEFA’s new rules on financial fair play. To talk about that, they said, was “not in our interests”. Of course not, because at last Michel Platini and UEFA are trying hard to get to grips with the prune juice economics of football and those draining money out of the game.
Agents, for one, are in the sights of the likes of Manchester United chief executive David Gill, who, when he was not being pestered for a quote that the hundreds watching knew he would never give on his club, admitted: “Players’ agents contribute a lot to inflation in football.” Gill and his cohorts at the European Club Association (ECA) held their annual assembly at the same time as Soccerex, involving 93 clubs from all 53 UEFA members. Quite how an amateur side from Andorra found common ground with the likes of Man Utd is unclear but they all managed to agree that UEFA’s financial fair play rules were a good thing; good, that is, after a few concessions were secured.
Instead of starting in 2012, a phased three-year transition period will begin that same year with the mandatory scheme, which includes a requirement that clubs break even, becoming operational by 2015. A financial threshold over which some clubs could gain exemption would also be scrapped and the ECA wants an exception made so some clubs can receive limited financial injections from their owners.
The ECA, which two years ago replaced the exclusive G-14 lobby group comprised of a handful of Europe’s biggest clubs, gained headway with UEFA elsewhere too. The European body’s new commercial operation, UEFA Events, will control all the organisation’s commercial operations. In an average year, turnover will be €1.4 billion (£1.26bn) but this figure will rise to €2.5bn in a year featuring a European Championship. A big beast then – and the clubs will now get a seat on the board, which currently features just Platini and five other UEFA executives.
Platini and UEFA are trying to find even more common ground with the big clubs, who not so long ago agitated for a breakaway league. “We will continue to have domestic and European league for the moment,” admitted Inter’s chief executive officer Ernesto Paolillo shortly after blasting the smaller clubs in Serie A and their brethren in Serie B for “always asking for money”. And there’s the rub. Money is still flooding into football but quite how it is shared and regulated is long for change. Everyone at Soccerex knew that but until UEFA’s small print is unveiled, no one will be able to gauge exactly what impact Platini’s attempt to turn football into a more equitable business will really have. Steve Menary