Continental fans group warns of giving clubs a greater say in commercial deals

Jamie Gardner, PA Chief Sports Reporter
·5-min read

Allowing clubs a greater say over European football’s commercial rights is another step towards the formation of a Super League over the next decade, a continental fans group has warned.

European football’s governing body UEFA is in talks with the European Club Association (ECA) over giving clubs an equal say on the terms for sponsorship and broadcast agreements as part of the ‘Horizon 2024′ project to revamp continental club competitions in three years’ time.

The ECA has backed UEFA’s plans for a new Champions League format but its membership – which includes the continent’s most powerful clubs – want a greater influence over commercial matters in return. It is understood the discussions are only currently around giving the ECA more input over how revenue is generated, rather than how it is distributed.

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Nevertheless, Ronan Evain, the executive director of Football Supporters Europe (FSE), fears it is another sign of a slow creep towards a Super League, and called on UEFA and national associations to say “enough is enough”.

“If UEFA’s strategy is to give a little every three years to the big clubs so that they don’t break away, instead of giving away control of the competitions overnight it will happen within 10 years, but the result will be the same,” he told the PA news agency.

“Yes, UEFA is opposed to the Super League and it was good to see them stepping up a few months ago – it’s their job to protect the football pyramid.

“But the model that we have seen will lead within a few years to a ‘de facto’ closed league. Maybe not 100 per cent closed, but it will only reinforce the wealth and influence of the big clubs.

“We need a strong UEFA and strong associations that are able to step up against the big clubs because it’s tiring for everyone who loves football to live with this threat above our head of a breakaway Super League.

“It’s been there for 20 years and at some point I would like to see the governing bodies at domestic level say ‘enough is enough’.

“But for some reason governing bodies have not gone that far.”

Should a new company be formed to manage the sale of broadcast rights and sponsorship, it leaves open the possibility of private equity investment.

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ECA chairman Andrea Agnelli said earlier this month that such investment should not be precluded, but Evain feels deeply uneasy about it.

“A lot of football clubs are very exposed and sensitive to any new investment coming in,” he said.

“When that’s the case, the profile of the investors maybe doesn’t matter so much, so there’s a bit of a ‘crisis profiteer’s vibe in the background. It’s worrying.”

Evain says the ECA is “not democratic”, adding: “It is in some ways representative, but it’s only representative of an elite.”

UEFA said: “Ahead of every cycle of club competitions, UEFA engages with its stakeholders to determine how to maximise their success.”

A source at one of Europe’s top clubs said those clubs with the longest, richest tradition in continental competitions were also those who would be best placed to act in those tournaments’ long-term interests.

While they would lobby for their own interests, the source said, they recognised that it would have to be based on a sustainable European game.

UEFA is hoping to come to an agreement with stakeholders over the new format for its competitions, before going on to discuss financial matters.

  • 36 teams in group phase, up from 32.

  • One 36-team league instead of eight groups of four.

  • Each team plays 10 matches on a seeded basis - the so-called 'Swiss system'.

  • Top eight teams qualify for the last 16, teams placed ninth to 24th play off for the remaining eight spots.

  • Competition increases from 125 matches to 225.

  • Two teams who miss out on Champions League qualification with the best historic co-efficient given a 'wild card' place - if they do enough to qualify for one of the lesser competitions.

The European Leagues group, which represents 37 professional leagues across the continent, and FSE are opposed to this approach, and believe those negotiations should happen simultaneously.

European Leagues supports the new ‘Swiss system’ model where the existing Champions League group stage is ditched in favour of one 36-team league, but disagrees with UEFA and the ECA on the number of matches.

UEFA and the ECA propose each team should play 10 matches under the ‘Swiss system’, European Leagues say eight should be the maximum, citing concerns over the expansion of the calendar.

European Leagues also opposes UEFA’s proposal for how the extra four qualification places should be awarded. It agrees with awarding an extra place to the fifth-ranked association – currently France – but then wants the remaining positions to go to other domestic champions.

UEFA’s proposal awards two places to clubs with the best historical co-efficient who have missed out on Champions League qualification via the conventional route but have done enough to qualify for either the Europa League or Europa Conference League.

This would act as a ‘safety net’ for traditional European powerhouses who have a bad domestic campaign.

European Leagues also say the maximum number of clubs from one country who can enter the Champions League should remain capped at five.