Small isn't beautiful in the Champions League: the cash from qualification can permanently skew the domestic game in some countries, explains Steve Menary

Has the Champions League become the European super league that the G-14 group of top clubs is pressuring UEFA for? The popular perception is that the same clubs from each country compete every year as cash from the Champions League fuels greater domination of domestic European competitions by a handful of clubs. Yet research shows this is not the case in Switzerland, Sweden, France or even Germany, where a variety of different clubs regularly enter and are competitive in the Champions League. The study ranks nations in terms of domestic variety from the least to the most, with a rating produced by dividing a country’s total amount of Champions League appearances by the number of clubs to appear.

The tournament has changed dramatically in the past decade as the European Cup became the Champions League and the number of competing nations exploded with the break-up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. In 1994-95, UEFA changed the format and forced league winners from smaller nations such as Iceland to play in the UEFA Cup and in 1996-97 admitted teams other than league champions for the first time. The study runs from 1997-98, when UEFA re-admitted smaller nations, to the current season.

The country with the least variety in its domestic competition is Latvia, where Skonto Riga’s domination of the local Virsliga means the club have been the country’s sole Champions League representative for the past eight seasons. Yet cash from this sort of success does not always mean domestic dominance: Sweden is second bottom in the study, with only Halm­stad qualifying for the Champions League more than once in the past eight years. This despite Gothenberg making £9.9 million from four Champions League appearances between 1992-93 and 1997-98.

In neighbouring Finland, only one club have qualified for the Champions League group stages. HJK Helsinki’s success in 1998-99 produced earnings of £2m, yet the club did not did win their domestic title again until 2002-03.

Only five countries have won the European Cup and/or the Champions League more than four times. England, Holland, Italy and Spain are in the top 12 least diverse, though the other European superpower, Germany, is in mid-table.

Bayern Munich have appeared in all eight Champions League seasons over the period of the study and made more cash from the competition in its first 11 seasons than any other European club.

Yet nine other German clubs appeared in the Cham­pions League in the past eight seasons and three different sides, Bayern, Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen, have made the final. Phil Carling, head of football at sports marketing agency Octagon, explains: “The German and French leagues have always had more competition and strength in depth, but Italy and other leagues outside the big four are more dependent on cash from the Champions League.” Carling argues that, outside England, where top clubs have more domestic television and general commercial rev­enue, Champions League cash will lead to greater hege­mony: “A couple of seasons ago money from the Cham­pions League was 20 per cent of all income at Juventus and 32 per cent at Real Madrid. The Champions League is having a major impact on the revenues of all the teams that compete.”

Ukrainian giants Dynamo Kiev made £28.8m from the first group stages of the Champions League up to 2003-04 according to UEFA’s own figures. Kiev’s repeated qualification for the group stages led to Ukraine being awarded a second spot in 2000-01. That first slot was filled by Shakhtar Donetsk, who made £2.9m in their inaugural season in the competition and have been the only Ukrainian side to appear in the Champions League apart from Dynamo Kiev in the past five seasons.

In Norway, one club is also dominant and Rosenborg’s successes have earned the side £29.4m from qualification for the group stages up to 2002-03. This makes Rosenborg the Champions League’s 18th highest earner – ahead of former European Cup winners Liverpool and Feyenoord. This income has undoubtedly help the club dominate at home and also remain competitive in the Champions League.

This success in Europe also led to Norway securing an extra Champions League spot in three seasons, when the places were taken by three different clubs, Molde, Brann and Lillestrøm. Rosenborg have none­theless dominated Norway’s domestic Eliteserien league for a decade. Carling adds: “If you look at the com­mercial models of a lot of European clubs, not very many are doing that well from domestic television revenue. You can get £20 million for qualifying for the Champions League and there’s no cost of sale so that money goes straight to the bottom line as pure profit. That is a massive amount to clubs outside the big nations. If those clubs can identify, retain and capture all their top talent, then they will dominate their domestic leagues.”

Despite losing in the semi-finals of the 2003-04 Champions League, Chelsea received the biggest share of the £275m shared by UEFA between the 32 clubs in the group stages. Chelsea pocketed £20m, ahead of Arsenal on £19.7m and Manchester United on £19.3m, with the eventual winners, FC Porto, only netting £13.6m, due to the greater income from Eng­lish TV rights.

UEFA distribute between 75 per cent and 82 per cent of their Champions League income to clubs in the group stages, with the remainder allocated to clubs from other nations as solidarity payments. Many of these clubs are semi-professional and invariably elimi­nated in the first qualifying round, but cash from the Champions League can still provide a major financial fillip.

In Luxembourg, where Jeunesse d’Esch and F91 Dudelange have taken seven of the Champions League slots in the past eight seasons, top-flight clubs operate on an annual budget of between £335,000 and £400,000. No Luxembourg side has won a two-legged Champions League preliminary tie, yet the Grand Duchy’s representatives will still get £100,000 from UEFA, with the country’s representative in the UEFA Cup pocketing £37,000. These may be tiny sums com­pared to the riches earned by the elite, but clubs in Luxembourg can earn more as a percentage of their total income from the Champions League than those who go on to win the competition.

In Wales, where there was no national league until the formation of the Champions League in 1992-93, Barry Town have won seven out of the past eight league titles. Until last season, cash from the tournament enabled them to run a full-time squad in a semi-professional league. Like the Welsh, no Icelandic club has qualified for the money-spinning Champions League group stages. Ómar Smárason, head of public re­lations at the Iceland Football Association, is in no doubt about what would happen if the winners of his country’s league ever did. He explains: “Should a team from Iceland qualify for the Champions League group stages, we would without a shred of doubt see total monopolisation of the domestic league by that team... [like] Rosenborg in Norway.”

There may still be some variation in the Champions League but as UEFA carries on increasing the re­wards at every level, the number of clubs competing looks likely to continue diminishing.

From WSC 212 October 2004. What was happening this month

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