UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations
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This article may be too long to read and navigate comfortably. (October 2015)
The UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations (FFP) were established to prevent professional football clubs spending more than they earn in the pursuit of success and in doing so getting into financial problems which might threaten their long-term survival. They were agreed to in principle in September 2009 by the Financial Control Panel of football's governing body in Europe (Union of European Football Associations – UEFA).
The regulations provide for sanctions to be taken against clubs who exceed spending, over several seasons, within a set budgetary framework. Implementation of the regulations took place at the outset of the 2011–12 football season. The severest penalty is disqualification from the European competitions. Other penalties included fines, the withholding of prize money, and player transfer bans.
On announcing the new legislation, former UEFA President Michel Platini said,
Fifty per cent of clubs are losing money and this is an increasing trend. We needed to stop this downward spiral. They have spent more than they have earned in the past and haven't paid their debts. We don't want to kill or hurt the clubs; on the contrary, we want to help them in the market. The teams who play in our tournaments have unanimously agreed to our principles…living within your means is the basis of accounting but it hasn't been the basis of football for years now. The owners are asking for rules because they can't implement them themselves - many of them have had it with shovelling money into clubs and the more money you put into clubs, the harder it is to sell at a profit.
Platini went on to say that the measures were supported by the majority of football club owners, and that an independent panel would be set up to judge whether clubs had broken the rules. Although the intentions of encouraging greater financial caution in football have been well-received, FFP has been criticised as illegal by limiting the internal market, failing to reduce football club debt and protecting the status quo. In 2015, UEFA announced FFP would be "eased" in response to a number of lawsuits which are currently ongoing in courts.
- 1 Background
- 2 Delay in implementing FFP Rules
- 3 Summary of current FFP Regulations
- 4 Criticism of FFP
- 5 2010–11 season
- 6 2011–12 season
- 7 2012–13 season
- 8 2013–14 season
- 9 2014–15 season
- 10 2015–16 season
- 11 References
A 2009 UEFA review showed that more than half of 655 European clubs incurred a loss over the previous year, and although a small proportion were able to sustain heavy losses year-on-year as a result of the wealth of their owners, at least 20% of clubs surveyed were believed to be in actual financial peril. The reasons for this are well summarised in the 2010–12 House of Commons report on Football Governance:
Club owners are generally over optimistic about their management abilities and vision for a club. With ample academic evidence that there is a clear correlation between squad wages and points won - something which is obvious to owners - there is a natural tendency to borrow in the pursuit of success, although not all teams can be successful. There are many examples of clubs where the directors (true fans) have "chased the dream" - gambling short-term investment (or borrowing) in the hope of long-term success. The pressure on the directors of a club to invest, to sign a star player…is often immense from ordinary supporters.
Even among Europe's elite sides, continued excessive spending has often been justified by club executives as being "necessary to keep the club competitive". As Christian Müller, CFO of the German Bundesliga told the European Commission: "... we learn by experience all over the world [that] most club executives tend to operate riskily, tend to overestimate their chances in the Championship. This may result in disproportionate spending relative to the income some clubs generate... club executives have somehow to be protected from themselves."
The vast majority of the overall European football debt is owed by only three of the biggest leagues: the English Premier League, the Italian Serie A and the Spanish Primera División, commonly known as La Liga.
The English, Italian and Spanish leagues
At the time of the introduction FFP, several Premier League clubs were known to be spending considerably above their income. For example, between 2005 and 2010, West Ham United recorded an aggregate net loss of £90.2 million, with equity of £13.063 million on 31 May 2010 following a re-capitalization. Meanwhile, Everton, whose former manager David Moyes had long received praise for his continued ability to keep the club among the top Premier League sides despite an extremely tight transfer budget, had a negative equity (in group accounts) of £29.774 million on 31 May 2010, making a net loss of £3.093 million in consolidated accounts.
Worst of all though were the finances of Portsmouth, which had a shortfall of £59,458,603 to the creditor in February 2010 (after deducting the book value of the asset) Having invested heavily on players over previous seasons, (the previous year's net loss was covered by French-Israeli businessman Alexandre Gaydamak), Portsmouth were runners-up of the 2009–10 FA Cup in 2010, but as the season wore on the financial situation deteriorated, leaving players unpaid and the club with an outstanding bill for income tax which in turn led to a winding-up petition from HM Revenue & Customs. There then followed administration to avoid the club being liquidated, a nine-point deduction from the Premier League, and finally relegation into the lower division. A similar train of events had affected another English club, Leeds United, some years previously.
The problem of debt was not confined to the top division, with a number of clubs in the second tier of English football, the Championship seemingly gambling their futures in an effort to gain promotion into the Premier League. The 2010–2012 parliamentary report into English football noted that, "Much of the overspending [by non Premier league clubs] is as a result of the desire to get into the 'promised land' of the Premier League or indeed to simply stay there... the prevailing reasoning amongst Football League sides seems to be that excessive levels of spending can be sustained for a few years within which time promotion must be achieved. After that, Premier League revenues can be used to pay off all the debts accrued."
In the Italian Serie A, most clubs also reported a net loss over the previous season: Milan (group) €69.751 million on 31 December 2010; Genoa €16,964,706 on 31 December 2010; Fiorentina €9,604,353 on 31 December 2010; Bologna €4,166,419 on 30 June 2011; and Chievo €527,661 on 30 June 2011, among others. Only a few Italian clubs made a net profit, which included Udinese, Catania, Napoli (€4,197,829 on 30 June 2011) and Lazio (€9,982,408 on the group account on 30 June 2011).
Some of the Italian clubs had been losing money for a number of years; for example Inter Milan have accumulated losses of around €1.3 billion over the last 16 years, while on 20 May 2005, Lazio agreed a 23-year repayment plan to pay back a €140 million overdue tax bill. The club recovered, however, showing a net asset/equity of €10,500,666 in its consolidated accounts on 30 June 2011, while net financial debt of the group (Italian: Posizione finanziaria netta) was €9.01 million. Its city rival A.S. Roma SpA, from its ultimate holding company Italpetroli, intermediate holding company "Roma 2000" (the holding company or the head of Roma larger group of companies, holding company of "ASR Real Estate S.r.l." and "Brand Management S.r.l.") to AS Roma SpA (or AS Roma [smaller] group), owed considerable money to banks, including UniCredit. On 30 June 2010, AS Roma SpA had a negative equity (total liability greater than total asset) of €13.2 million on the consolidated balance sheet, which ultimately led to the group ("Roma 2000") being sold to group of investor led by American billionaire Thomas R. DiBenedetto (25%). Before the formal handover on 30 June 2011, the club had a net financial debt of €53.831 million, with a negative equity of €43.984 million.
Despite the most recent report showing 8% growth in La Liga revenues, the highest of any European league, the overwhelming majority of the extra money went to the two dominant clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona, primarily due to their ability to negotiate separate TV deals. During the summer of 2009, Real Madrid paid a world record transfer fee of £80 million for Cristiano Ronaldo. Despite being the world's second richest club according to the Forbes' List, heavy spending on two other players, Kaká and Karim Benzema, with their associated high wages, trebled Real's net financial debt from €130 million on 30 June 2008 to €326.7 million on 30 June 2009, as the signing Raúl Albiol, Benzema, Kaká, Ronaldo and some minor players to the 2009–10 squad were included in the 2008–09 financial year. Madrid's signing one additional big name, Xabi Alonso in August 2009, made the net financial debt only drop from €326.7 million to €244.6 million on 30 June 2010, still higher than previous eight seasons. The net asset/equity, however, increased from €195.9 million to €219.7 million.
Total debt in La Liga was estimated at £2.5 billion, leaving many of the owners, as so often in the past, having to put more of their own money into clubs. In the summer of 2010, Villarreal failed to pay its players because the ceramics industry from which their owner Fernando Roig made his money was hit hard by the European credit crisis. At the end of the year, Deportivo de La Coruña were more than €120 million in debt, Atlético Madrid owed more than €300 million, while the total for Valencia at one point in 2009 was reported to be as high as €547 million. In 2007, during a property boom, Valencia's management decided to build a new 70,000 capacity stadium, despite doubts that it could attract enough fans to regularly fill it. Construction of the "Nou Mestalla" was to be funded by the sale of the existing ground; however, two years into the project, work ground to a halt when the club could not find a buyer following the Spanish property crash. Despite an impressive display on the field, Valencia was forced to temporarily halt work on a new stadium and delay wages when its bank denied it more credit, forcing management to sell some of their top players, including David Silva and David Villa.
In the lower Spanish leagues, at least six clubs, including former second-tier sides Real Sociedad, Celta de Vigo, and Levante, were in administration with more threatened as the recession worsened. In July 2008, the Spanish government revealed that the clubs had a combined debt of £507 million to the tax authorities alone, with substantial amounts owed to a number of other state bodies.
The French and German leagues
In France, The Direction Nationale du Contrôle de Gestion (DNCG) is responsible for administering, monitoring and overseeing the accounts of all professional clubs to ensure that owners are being financially prudent. Sanctions for non-compliance include transfer embargoes, reduced playing squads, demotion or even expulsion from the league. Despite lower incomes, French clubs do not carry the enormous debt of the English, Italian and Spanish leagues. A number of French clubs have produced small profits over a number of years, concentrating on developing young players in modern academies, who then generate profits when sold. For example, in the four years up to 2009, player trading by Lille, one of the leading clubs, exceeded €164 million in profit.
At the end of each season, Bundesliga rules indicated that clubs must apply to the German Football Federation (DFB) for a licence to participate again the following year; only when the DFB, which has access to all transfer documents and accounts, are satisfied that there is no threat of insolvency does it provide approval. The DFB have a system of fines and points deductions for clubs who flout rules and those who go into the red can only buy a player after selling one for at least the same amount. In addition, no individual is allowed to own more than 49% of any Bundesliga club.
Despite the strong economic governance in the German league, there were still some instances of clubs running into difficulties. In 2004, Borussia Dortmund reported a debt of €118.8 million (£83 million). Having won the UEFA Champions League in 1997 and a number of Bundesliga titles, Dortmund had gambled to maintain their success with an expensive group of largely foreign players but failed, narrowly escaping liquidation in 2006. In subsequent years, the club went through extensive restructuring to return to financial health, largely with young home-grown players. In 2004, Hertha BSC reported debts of £24.7 million and were able to continue in the Bundesliga only after proving they had long-term credit with their bank.
Bayern Munich made a net profit of just €2.5 million in the 2008–09 season (group accounts), while Schalke 04 incurred a net loss of €30.4 million in the 2009 financial year. Borussia Dortmund GmbH & Co. KGaA made a net loss of just €2.9 million in 2008–09.
Other European leagues include the Portuguese Primeira Liga, the Dutch Eredivisie and the Scottish Premier League. Mainly as a result of their lower populations and smaller economies, these and other leagues such as the Belgian, Danish and Scandinavian leagues generate less revenue than those of the bigger nations, and there are currently no clubs in the Deloitte Top 20 from outside the big five leagues, although these are home to a number of extremely well run and successful clubs.
Despite earning only a sixth of Real Madrid's revenue for example, Portuguese club Porto regularly reach the last 16 of the Champions League and have been European champions twice – in 1986–87 and 2003–04. Porto make use of third-party deals and an extremely effective scouting network, particularly in South America, to purchase promising young players to develop and play in the first team in the near future before eventually selling them for a large profit. Since 2004, Porto has covered its large operating losses with a €190 million net profit in player sales.
The three main Dutch clubs, Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord, have each been crowned European champions at least once. In recent years, however, their dominance has been challenged by the emergence of other clubs such as FC Twente, meaning they can no longer rely on annual infusions of Champions League cash. As in other countries, the Global Recession greatly diminished sponsorship and TV income, turning an Eredivisie profit of €64 million in 2007–08 into a €90 million loss for 2009–10. PSV recorded a €17.5 million loss as their annual revenue dropped back 40% from €85 million to €50 million, while major rival Ajax – the only Dutch club listed on the stock exchange – lost €22.8 million. After enjoying 11 consecutive years of Champions League qualification and reaching the semi-final in 2005, PSV found its regular profits turning into losses and began selling top players, including Heurelho Gomes (Tottenham Hotspur), Mark van Bommel (Barcelona), Park Ji-sung (Manchester United), Johann Vogel (Milan), Alex (Chelsea) and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink (Celtic). Able to count only on the much lower revenues of the UEFA Europa League (less than €4 million in 2010), the club took on a €10 million loan from its long-standing benefactor, the electronic giant Phillips, and in April 2012 was forced to sell its ground and training complex to the local council for €49 million, leasing it back for €2.3 million per year. A leading councillor said that the move was necessary because of "the idiocy of big money and the game played between millionaires and football agents".
Recognising the social and cultural important of its clubs, Dutch authorities invested over €300 million in football between 2006 and 2011, mainly through indirect subsidies and loans to clubs such as FC Utrecht, FC Groningen, FC Twente, Vitesse and ADO Den Haag, though such aid has fallen foul of EU rules.
A 2011 report from PriceWaterhouseCoopers expressed deep concern at the fragile financial state of Scottish football. Despite a modest profit in five of the previous six seasons, net indebtedness of SPL clubs had grown over the previous year to £109m, with half of clubs reporting a worsening position and only two clubs debt free. Despite providing the first British team (Celtic in 1967) to become European champions, since the advent of pay-per-view TV Scottish football had failed to keep up with its English counterpart; in stark contrast to the Premier League's vast TV earnings, following the collapse of the Irish satellite broadcaster Setanta in June 2009 the joint Sky-ESPN TV rights to be shared among all SPL clubs now amounted to only £13 million per year, a figure little changed from the £12 million it had received under the Sky deal as long ago as 1998.
Following the global downturn, job insecurity and rising unemployment meant that a number of Scottish fans did not renew season tickets, leading to a 10% fall in attendance over one year. The entire turnover of SPL champions Rangers for the 2008–09 season dropped 38% to £39.7 million. As with other leagues, participation in the Champions League continued to make the crucial difference between profit and loss for the two "Old Firm" clubs. However, because of mediocre performances in recent years, the SPL champions no longer qualify automatically for the Champions League group stages and are now largely confined to the much less lucrative Europa League.
There was also concern at the heavy debt being loaded onto some clubs as a result of new owners borrowing heavily to acquire the club and then using future earnings to pay the interest, a practice known as a leveraged buyout. The world's richest club, Manchester United, was bought in this way by the Glazer family in 2005 after which the club, previously very profitable, remains several hundred millions of pounds in debt. Since 2005, more than £300 million which might otherwise have been spent on players, improving facilities or simply kept as a contingency has been taken out of Manchester United and spent on interest, bank fees and derivative losses. (While Manchester United FC Limited was almost debt free, its ultimate holding company "Red Football Shareholder Limited" had a negative equity of £64.866 million in its consolidated balance sheet on 30 June 2010.)
Liverpool found itself in a similar position after being purchased by Americans Tom Hicks and George Gillett in February 2007. Although subjected to less leveraged debt than Manchester United, by 31 July 2010, the club was suffering a negative equity of £5.896 million while its holding company, KOP Football Limited – the entity which carried the debt – had a negative equity of £111.88 million, leaving the club tottering on the verge of bankruptcy, and had to be put up for sale. Hicks and Gillett placed what was widely believed to be an unrealistic value on the club in the hope of making a vast profit however, for which they were severely criticised in the House of Commons as "asset strippers draining the club with their greed". Eventually Liverpool was bought by a new American consortium, but because leveraged buyouts are permitted under normal stock market rules they will not be addressed by the FFP rules.
The leveraged buyout model is common for normal business ventures where – apart from the actual employees – the overall national impact of a firm collapsing is not particularly significant since other companies will fill the gap in the market. LBOs have sometimes been defended by those using them as mechanisms to bring greater efficiency and financial discipline to target companies, although there are also examples where they have actually added to an existing problem of debt. To football fans who find themselves paying significantly higher ticket prices (around 50% at Manchester United in the first five years of the Glazer takeover), LBOs are anathema, perhaps representing the complete opposite of the wealthy benefactor model, taking money out of the club and providing few or no positive changes to their club since no new players are purchased and no facilities or stadia are built or improved. As with debt taken on in an attempt to improve the team, unexpected failure (such as not qualifying for the Champions League) can cause significant financial problems for clubs loaded with LBO debt.
For these "emotional stakeholders", their club is not a "normal business" but rather an intrinsic part of their lives and often of great social and cultural importance to the local community. LBOs are also believed to have played at least a part role in takeovers at Portsmouth, Hull City, Chesterfield, Notts County and Derby County, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the main supporters groups of Manchester United and Liverpool, MUST and Spirit of Shankly called on the British government to legislate against future LBOs of football clubs, calling for an outright ban or a limit on the amount which can be borrowed against acquisition – perhaps along the German model where no individual can own more than 49% of the club. There have also been calls to restrict levels of dividend withdrawal and improvements in "proper person tests"’ introduced after the earlier takeover of Manchester City by Thaksin Shinawatra. After being ousted as prime minister of Thailand in a military coup, Shinawatra was accused of human rights abuses, charged with three counts of corruption and had his financial assets in Thailand frozen, but eventually made a significant profit when selling the club to Sheik Mansour.
A number of clubs across Europe were historically in a position to spend substantially more than they earned as a result of the benevolence of their owners who made substantial financial gifts to the club, either by paying off existing debt, providing direct injections of cash, issuing extra shares or giving loans which are later written off. Such a practice adversely affects the market by creating wage and transfer inflation as well encouraging other clubs to spend more than they can afford in an effort to remain competitive. For example, Internazionale's enormous losses since the mid-1990s have been largely underwritten by their president, energy company owner Massimo Moratti. Its archrival, Milan, was also financially supported by Silvio Berlusconi (over €120 million between 2007 and 2010). The Della Valle brothers, meanwhile, also contributed €84.7 million to Fiorentina from 2006 to 2009. Juventus had re-capitalized twice in recent years, by about €104.8 million after the 2006 Italian football scandal and in 2011 by €120 million. In Ligue 1, Paris Saint-Germain became the richest club in France and one of the richest clubs in the world after Qatar Investment Authority became the majority shareholder of PSG after buying 70% of the shares in 2011 by buying the club in a deal worth €50 million, which covered an estimated €15–20 million in debt and losses of €19 million from the 2010–11 season. PSG splashed a French record €108 million and were the biggest spenders in the world for the 2011–12 season. In the English Premier League, Chelsea's massive transfer spending since 2003 has been paid for by their owner, the Russian oil and gas billionaire Roman Abramovich, while Manchester City is owned by one of the world's richest men, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. Since 2008, the owner has spent in excess of £1 billion on players and infrastructure at the club, though this has drawn considerable criticism from other clubs and football figures. Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, a major proponent of the FFP legislation, has referred to transparent owner equity investment as "financial doping".
Referring to the intention to reduce the plutocratic influence of the "Sugar Daddies", UEFA President Michel Platini said, "If you buy a house, you have a debt but that doesn't mean someone is going to stop you from working. If you depend only on a rich benefactor however, then the financial model is too volatile."
Delay in implementing FFP Rules
Despite broad approval across Europe, in early 2010, the European Club Association succeeded in delaying the full introduction of the FFP Regulations to give clubs more time to adjust. The original timescale was lengthened, with a phased implementation over five years meaning that the full rules would apply in 2015 instead of 2012. The clubs also rejected a proposal by UEFA that the new rule should only apply to clubs with a turnover of more than €50 million, agreeing that all clubs should be treated the same. Also on the agenda was a proposal to limit squads to 25 players with unlimited under-21 players per team at national and European level, as well as plans to reduce fees paid to agents. Clubs also agreed that they will not be able to owe each other money, nor will they be allowed to compete in Europe if salaries have not been paid to players or non-playing staff.
Despite the delay, ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, representing Bayern Munich, called the new rules "a magnificent achievement" and pointed out that 93 clubs from 53 countries who attended the ECA's General Assembly in Manchester agreed with the proposals. He stated, "After only two years of existence, the European Club Association has managed, together with UEFA, to set measures that will shape the future of European club football into a more responsible business and ultimately a more sustainable one."
Manchester United Chief Executive David Gill, also a member of the ECA board, said that his club would meet the new rules, despite their reported debts of £716.5 million. He said, "We have seen what the proposals are and we would meet the financial break even rules. We as Manchester United have always been run professionally and will continue to be run professionally."
Summary of current FFP Regulations
Only a club's outgoings in transfers, employee benefits (including wages), amortisation of transfers, finance costs and dividends will be counted over income from gate receipts, TV revenue, advertising, merchandising, disposal of tangible fixed assets, finance, sales of players and prize money. Any money spent on infrastructure, training facilities or youth development will not be included. The legislation currently allows for eight separate punishments to be taken against clubs transgressing the rules, based in order of severity: Reprimand / Warning, fines, points deduction, withholding of Revenue from a UEFA competition, Prohibition to register new players for UEFA competitions, Restrictions on how many players a club can register for UEFA competitions, Disqualification from a competition in progress and Exclusion from future competitions
The full regulations (Edition 2015) are available to download from the UEFA official portal UEFA.com here; http://www.uefa.org/MultimediaFiles/Download/Tech/uefaorg/General/02/26/77/91/2267791_DOWNLOAD.pdf
Criticism of FFP
Creation of a big club status quo
One of the major criticisms of FFP is the possibility of solidifying the so-called big clubs which generate largest revenue and profits, and can consequently spend more money on transfers. Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail has criticised FFP, believing they will create a procession instead of competition and has compared the regulations to "a giant drawbridge that is being pulled up". Samuel believed Manchester City's £194 million loss in 2010–11 was justified, with the club having to spend big to get lucrative Champions League football before the "door closes".
Qualification and participation in the Champions League is regarded as a lucrative affair and can earn clubs up to £60 million in prize money and television rights a season if a club makes it to the final. A club only has to play 13 matches from the group stages to reach the final. In comparison, finishing bottom of the Premier League is now worth £175 million, but is won over 38 matches.
The financial gulf between successful clubs in the top-tier of European league has had an impact domestically, most notably in the Premier League, where for approximately a dozen years (from 1996 to 2008) there had been an almost complete dominance of the three major domestic English competitions by just three clubs (Arsenal, Chelsea, and Manchester United). During this period, the lack of competition for lucrative Champions League football in England from outside of those four clubs was frequently criticised. More recently, however, the grip on the four top places in the Premier League (that enable automatic entry into the Champions League competition) by the incumbent "Big 4" clubs has been eroded somewhat in more recent seasons due to the rise in competitive performance of both Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City and the relative decline of Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United.
Questionable sponsorship deals
Some forums have expressed concern at the potential risk that as clubs become ever desperate to raise "allowable" revenue which will positively affect their balance sheet, they will indulge in questionable U.S.-style advertising and sponsorship practices from multiple backers which may eventually compromise the ethical composition of football. Some clubs are easily able to attract reputable sponsorship due to the willingness of companies to be associated with a successful brand. For example, many top clubs raise money from selling sponsorship for their playing as well as their away and training kit, and other titles like the "official logistics partner" (Like Serveto for Barcelona) or "official marine engine partner" (Like Yanmar for Manchester United). Several top clubs have similar deals.
To review such practices, UEFA accountants can review related company deals that might be from a sister company or parent company's subsidiary. Manchester City's deal with the Abu Dhabi Investment Group and Paris Saint-Germain's deal with Qatari Investment Group fall under such reviews.
Other commentators pointed to actual and possible loopholes in the legislation itself; for example, up until the end of the 2014–15 season, clubs will be allowed to exclude from the FFP calculation the wages of players signed before June 2010 as long as they can show an improved trend in their accounts. There is also the potential for legal action to overturn the legislation and for larger clubs to artificially raise their income from massive sponsorship deals or stadium naming rights via companies with a vested interest in the club's success, or from the sales of "overseas rights" to consortiums without clearly identified investors.
Differing tax rates
In addition, there remains the issue of widely differing tax rates and social security costs to which the European leagues are subject, meaning that some clubs have to pay a player much higher gross wages in order for him to be left with the same net salary as if he belonged to a club in another country.
In addition, the UEFA guidance states that each club's accounts must be audited under the national accountancy conditions applicable in their particular country, which may vary.
Third party ownership
One area of concern for English clubs is the practice of third-party ownership. Under this model, companies or wealthy individuals buy a percentage of a young player in the hope that if his value increases in the future they will make a profit based on their percentage. The advantage for clubs is that they can make big savings from not having to pay the full transfer value of a player and can also make other financial gains, that is, from selling on a player's image rights. Following the problems caused by the sale of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano to West Ham United in 2006, third party ownership was banned in the Premiership, although it is widely used in South America and Europe and is permissible under FFP. Following the introduction of FFP, the Premiership unsuccessfully lobbied UEFA to review the situation to avoid English clubs being disadvantaged, and in October 2011, the leading sports lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont told the BBC that the Premier League's third-party ownership rules were not legitimate and that a legal challenge to overturn them would have a "very, very good chance of succeeding".
On 4 February 2013, UEFA confirmed that it intended to ban third-party ownership of players, stating, "We think this should be the case all over the world, certainly all over Europe. If FIFA will not do it, we will certainly do it as far as Europe is concerned."
Charity and solidarity payments
Another big issue for English clubs is the substantial payments made to the lower leagues in the football "pyramid" and to other charities out of their joint Sky TV deal. In 2009–10, Premier League clubs paid a total of £167.2 million to various causes, including £62.2 million to recently relegated clubs in "parachute payments"; £56.4 million across The Football League in "solidarity payments"; £17.3 million to the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA); £7.8 million domestically and £3 million internationally to the Creating Chances Trust ( a charity for children leaving care); £12 million to other charities such as the Football Foundation, which provides funding for grass roots sport; £2.9 million to Professional Games Match Officials (referees and assistant referees); £2 million to the Conference National; and £500,000 to the League Managers Association.
These payments cannot be discounted from FFP. The German, Italian and Spanish leagues are not run along this model, with only France's Ligue 1 among the big European leagues having a similar system of voluntary payments to outside interests. The amounts paid by Premiership clubs, around £8.36 million per club or 14% of turnover, could make a big difference to a smaller club in meeting FFP, yet could actually be stopped at any time by a 14–6 majority vote of the 20 club chairmen, and as of March 2012, the Premier League continues to lobby UEFA to request that these payments can be offset against the FFP calculations.
Transfer spending across Europe's top five leagues during the 2010 summer transfer window was nearly 40% down on the summer of 2009, though this was seen more as a result of the worsening global financial situation than the introduction of FFP, and was also partly due to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, with players being more concerned with the success of their country in the tournament than in moving clubs.
Although all of the traditional big English clubs spent more than £50 million on players, overall spending in the English Premier League was significantly down on the previous season, totalling a relatively modest £395 million. In Spain, Barcelona's finances up to 30 June 2010 revealed that the club's shareholder equity was dropped to negative €59.109 million, from a positive of €20.844 million, despite awareness of the FFP rules. Around the same time, however, Real Madrid club president Florentino Pérez told the club's general assembly that the net debt was reduced to €244.6 million by 30 June 2010 as a result of an increase in revenue over the previous season, while the net asset/equity was slightly increased to €219.7 million.
In Italy, where for some time there had been concern at the slow growth in football income and the lack of competitiveness among clubs – partly due to the inequality in TV income – pressure by a number of clubs finally led to the three biggest clubs – Internazionale, Milan and Juventus – agreeing to end the long-standing system whereby clubs negotiated their own TV rights. During the 2009–10 season, each had earned at least €100 million from major broadcaster Mediaset, and the introduction of the "collective sale" model of distributing TV income immediately strengthened the smaller clubs by up to €10 million each more per season, leaving the big clubs much worse off; in the case of Juventus, by around €43 million per year. But the change, which left the Spanish league as the only major league where clubs still negotiated separate deals, led to a much more entertaining and competitive season with a number of clubs being in with a chance of winning the Scudetto. Despite the effect the change had by reducing the spending power of his own club, Inter club president Massimo Moratti indicated that he was actually looking forward to the changes, saying, "Some thought that FFP was against owners like me, but I say that at last it means that I can stop putting money into football every day. Inter are so expensive that I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. I hope that FFP allows us to experience football in a different way."
January transfer window
In England, it was during the January transfer window that the most surprising business was done. Chelsea spent a reported £50 million on Fernando Torres and €25 million on David Luiz from Liverpool and Benfica, respectively.
Despite Chelsea's intermediate holding company, "Chelsea FC plc", making a sight improvement in its accounts with a net loss of £67.7 million for the 2010–11 season, the effect of the increase in intangible assets led to a higher cost in the future. As transfer fee was considered as a purchase of a capital, the real effect of transfer fee was the amortisation of the transfer fee, which is proportionally to the contract length. For example, Fernando Torres' £50 million transfer fee had to be amortised by about £9 million a season, which in the 2010–11 season amounted to only £4.5 million (due to half season). The club may lower the expense of amortisation by selling players and extending the player contract.
Chelsea's transfer spending that season was the club's biggest outlay since 2004 when they made losses of £87.8 million at the start of an eight-year period during which they won a number of trophies. Arsène Wenger, whose club Arsenal have been cited as an example of good financial governance by UEFA, questioned Chelsea's behaviour after the signings, saying, "Chelsea supported the financial fair play. In the morning they announce a £70 million loss, in the afternoon they buy £75 million worth of players. Where's the logic in that?"
In Italy, Milan club vice-president Adriano Galliani criticised English teams for their transfer spending in the wake of the big money moves for Torres and the £35 million spent by Liverpool on Andy Carroll as Torres' replacement; "Everyone's talking about balancing the books, but then they spend like crazy people, Chelsea strengthened in an amazing way spending €80 million, I just don't know where financial sense will end up."
In response, Chelsea chief executive Ron Gourlay insisted that the club were in "a strong position" to meet UEFA's initiatives and were on course to halve their losses during the following financial year, having reduced their players' bonus scheme, negotiated new sponsorship deals, raised ticket prices and were able to count on additional TV revenue from higher Champions League and SKY television rights.
Following news of Manchester City's interim financial results showing another huge deficit, UEFA president Michel Platini said he had been given personal assurances from club management that they would abide by the new rules. UEFA's Head of Licensing Andrea Traverso also stated, "We are in talks with the club, they are aware of the rules and they probably have a strategy to raise their income."
Despite Chelsea and Manchester City's losses, Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore said that he did not expect UEFA's rules to lead to any English club being banned from European competition. He stated, "I don't see any circumstances where any of our clubs could get near to exclusion.... UEFA is too sensible, and it's not in its interests to do so. It's more about taking the steam out of the system and acting as a speed bump rather than about barring clubs."
In all, English clubs spent £225 million during the January 2011 transfer window, prompting UEFA to issue a reminder that the activity counted towards the 2012 to 2015 period over which they were only allowed to lose £39 million in total, and that it would affect the amount they could spend in later years. This was due to the principle of amortisation – whereby a players transfer fee must be divided out between the number of years in his contract (i.e. a player bought for £20 million with a four-year contract must be represented on the club balance sheet as a £5 million net payment – or loss – over each of the four years of his contract). A UEFA statement said,
UEFA is aware of the recent transfer activity across Europe and is confident that clubs are increasingly aware of the nature of its financial fair play regulations which require them to balance their books. It must be noted, however, that the financial fair play rules do not prevent clubs from spending money on transfers themselves but rather require them to balance their books at the end of the season. It is therefore difficult to comment on any individual situation without knowing the long-term strategy of each club. The clubs know the rules and also know that UEFA is fully committed to implementing them with rigour.
"The last wake up call"
UEFA's club licensing report on top-flight clubs for 2010 (2009–10), the last full financial year before the regulations had been approved, showed annual losses in the main leagues topping €1.6 billion (£1.3 billion), a 36% rise on the previous year, although the German Bundesliga managed to produce an overall total gross profit of €130 million (£109 million/US$171 million) for the 2009–10 season.
The survey of 665 clubs showed that 56% were in the red at the end of the 2010 financial year. Although UEFA pointed to some improvements in the situation such as the 6.6% rise in overall income, a small drop in the proportion of clubs' revenue going on players' wages, and an increase in the number of home-grown players in the Champions League, these were the worst statistics on record. UEFA's head of legal affairs, Alistair Bell, said, "The system is not going to have much credibility if a big club that is in serious breach of the rules is not punished in an effective way. For me the sanctions need to be effective enough that people come into compliance with the system, otherwise clubs are going to become disillusioned rapidly."
The general secretary of European football's governing body, Gianni Infantino, said, "This is the last wake-up call. This trend has to change very quickly to safeguard European football. We must end this negative spiral and gamble for success, these losses cannot continue."
Wider acceptance of FFP
In June 2011, the English Football League announced that clubs in the divisions lower than the Premier League had also agreed in principle to adopt the FFP Regulations at their annual meeting. Debt in the lower leagues stood at around £700 million, of which 80% applied to the second tier of English football, the Championship. FA chairman David Bernstein described the Football League's announcement as "very encouraging". Michel Platini also commented, "We are very happy to see that Football League clubs, under the umbrella of the Football Association, are again taking the initiative on good governance issues by introducing Financial Fair Play."
Later, it was agreed by a majority of 21–3 that Championship losses were to be incrementally decreased season by season, with clubs able to make a maximum loss of £6 million for the 2012–13 season and £5 million for 2013–14, while from the 2014–15 season clubs will be allowed to make only a £3 million loss and can expect heavy fines or a transfer embargo if losses exceed £6 million. From 2015–16, clubs can deliver a £2 million operating loss on top of accepting £3 million in investment from their owner, which combines to make a £5 million overall loss. Teams that win promotion to the Premier League having failed to adhere to the rules must pay a "Fair Play Tax" on their losses which ranges from 1% on the first £100,000 to 100% on anything over £10 million.
Barnsley director Don Rowling said, "There are people that want to put money into their clubs to chase the dream but they will have to face the nightmare at a later date. This will bring people into the game for the right reasons… now we have a model that is about being sustainable and being clever rather than how big your wallet is at a particular time" Acknowledging that some clubs would not abide by the rules, Rowling continued; "There is so much hype now from people including supporters who want you to chase this dream of getting into the Premiership. You look at the support base of some clubs and it is very, very difficult to realise their ambitions, that is why there are people who want to buy a club and push it forward."
Tom Glick, CEO of Derby County, whose wage bill was expected to land the club with a £7 million loss that season, commented, "It is an indictment of the industry that we need to go to the length of regulations to try and tell us to be sensible in the way we spend. This is transformational for our business, it allows all of our clubs to work towards a business model that is sustainable. We are currently in a model that is not sustainable so we have clubs that go out of business or teeter on the edge.
During the summer, Arsenal sold Gaël Clichy and Samir Nasri to Manchester City before their contracts expired. The players refused the deal so that they could negotiate with City on their own for what should be higher wages. City's end of season financial results became public, showing Premier League record losses of £197 million with players wages of £174 million, £21 million more than turnover (Chelsea's previous record in 2005 was £141 million). Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger questioned whether UEFA would go through with their threat to take action against clubs who broke the rules, believing that Europe’s wealthy clubs would use legal means to fight any attempt to ban them from European competition or from buying players. Wenger said,
We live in a world where any decision made is challenged. Europe (the European Union legal system) has created that and we see how far Europe has gone. The authority of the legal affairs is challengeable everywhere. UEFA want to create a situation where clubs with deficits cannot play in the Champions League but I question whether they will be able to force it through. Will they have the legal power to force that through today? I question that because you have as well Paris Saint-Germain and Málaga [other high spending clubs] in other countries. Once they represent a force together, it will be difficult to fight against.
At the time, Swiss club FC Sion were fighting a UEFA decision to ban them from the Europa League for fielding ineligible players. Supporting Sion, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the ECA chairman highly critical of English clubs' spending, stated, "FIFA and UEFA need the clubs for a World Cup or European Championship but the clubs don't need them."
Manchester City naming rights
In July 2011, Manchester City announced that the City of Manchester Stadium was to be called "Etihad Stadium" after signing a ten-year rights deal with their existing shirt sponsor, the Abu Dhabi-based airline Etihad Airways. The deal was reported to be worth £400 million over ten years, but is now thought to be around £340–350 million over the ten years. The deal was almost double the previous all-time record of US$300 million (£187 million) for the world-famous Madison Square Garden in New York, and was several times the £90 million, 15-year sponsorship deal which Arsenal had agreed with Middle Eastern airline Emirates in 2006.
A number of football figures immediately questioned the validity of the deal because the chairman of Etihad Airways, a company around a third the size of British Airways and has yet to make a profit since it was launched in 2004, is Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the half brother of Manchester City owner Sheik Mansour.
Manchester City pointed out that the sponsorship deal included the development of the entire 210 acre site that would surround the stadium with an expanded football academy and training ground, sports science centre, office and retail space and a 7,000-seat stadium for youth games.
As infrastructure, the cost of building the Etihad Campus does not count towards the FFP financial calculation because it is not considered to be football-related; however, any income generated will, and therefore will greatly assist Manchester City in meeting the UEFA requirements and providing a vital new revenue stream which could create millions a year for the club. Manchester City are in the unique position of having acres of vacant land adjacent to their stadium and this potential was quickly recognised by Sheikh Mansour and Khaldoon Al Mubarak just weeks after taking over City in September 2008. Some have speculated that City will maximise regeneration; football finance expert Tom Cannon has stated that the plans are "probably the most exciting of any ground in Europe".
In August 2011, UEFA confirmed their intention to examine the deal to ensure it was not an attempt to unfairly circumvent the FFP regulations. The head of UEFA's Financial Control Panel, Jean-Luc Dehaene, said they would benchmark all deals to make sure they represented fair value. He said,
If we see clubs that are looking for loopholes we will act. It is not enough to say 'we've got a sponsorship contract and that's OK' if the contract is out of line. You know where the problems are and you know you will have to confirm them. But on the other hand they are all members of the ECA (European Club Association) and if they don't follow the rules they won't have the support of the other clubs.
Arsène Wenger immediately demanded that UEFA should block the deal, believing that it was an attempt to circumvent FFP: "It raises the real question about the credibility of Financial Fair Play. They give us the message that they can get around it by doing what they want. The sponsorship cannot be doubled, tripled or quadrupled because that means it is better if we leave everybody free. He [Michel Platini] is not stupid, he knows as well that some clubs will try to get around that and at the moment I believe they are studying, behind closed doors, how they can really check it. That is where Financial Fair Play is at stake."
A number of other English clubs had already negotiated naming rights for when they had redeveloped their grounds, including Bolton Wanderers (Reebok Stadium), Stoke City (Britannia Stadium) and Swansea City (Liberty Stadium). Commentators, however, expressed their surprise that Manchester City had been able to generate such a large sum to re-brand an existing ground which they themselves did not even own. Liverpool's managing director, Ian Ayre, said that although naming rights were common for new stadiums, there was no precedent for the lucrative re-branding of existing grounds: "It hasn't happened in Europe that a football club has renamed an existing stadium and it's had real value. It was the City of Manchester Stadium or Eastlands for the last nine years and now it's going to be called something different and someone has attached a huge amount of value to that. I find that odd because it has never been done before. There is no benchmark that says you can rename your stadium and generate that amount of value. Mike Ashley tried it at Newcastle but nobody called it Sports Direct@St James' Park and it certainly didn't have that kind of value." (In fact, the Newcastle deal had not involved the exchange of any money, merely being a device to showcase existing sponsors)
At the Global Sports Forum in Barcelona in early March 2012, it was revealed that UEFA had banned its senior executives from talking about the Manchester City situation for fear of prejudicing any future legal action against the club. When asked to comment on the Manchester City losses of £197 million over 2010–11, Philippe Rasmussen, UEFA FFP manager, stated, "I am not authorised to talk about this. I am not allowed to talk about it."
In March 2012, the Council of Europe produced a report which described the deal as an "improper transaction", recommending that, "UEFA should prohibit clubs from sponsoring themselves or using associated bodies to do so…UEFA will have to take care to ensure their financial fair play rules are not circumvented, and that clubs should not overpay for the rights they acquire. Clubs will no doubt try to supplement their income if possible. They could for example call on sponsors to invest more so as to reduce or eliminate their deficits…care will have to be taken to prevent any circumvention of the financial fair play rules in this way." Criticism in the report of Manchester United's debt-financed model was ignored by the British press, as was the proposal that executives of clubs should not be members of the game's governing bodies, which would have disqualified United's David Gill from his then role at the Football Association.
UEFA drop threatened transfer embargo
On 24 November 2011, Arsène Wenger's fear that UEFA would ultimately back down from taking punitive action against clubs when pressure was applied appeared at least partly justified when UEFA announced that following legal advice, proposals to impose player transfer embargoes on clubs failing to meet the FFP rules had been dropped amid fears that they may be legally unenforceable or might cause legal challenges from individual players. Lawyers advised UEFA that they may be open to restraint-of-trade civil actions brought by individual players who had joined a particular club on the basis that they were involved in Champions League football, but were now excluded from the competition because of the FFP regulations, which they themselves had not signed up to.
Reduced spending but further losses
At the beginning of 2012, Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini, faced with a number of injuries and players absent at the African Cup of Nations, admitted for the first time that because of FFP he had been told by senior club management that he would be unable to buy any new players during the January transfer window unless he first moved on existing players, and perhaps not even then.
Premiership spending in the 2012 January transfer window was down 70% compared to the same period the previous year. Across Europe, a number of other clubs confirmed that they were not planning to buy players outright during the transfer window, preferring to rely on loan deals. The 2012 Deloitte report stated, "Financial fair play has definitely had an impact," while Arsène Wenger remarked, "It looks like economically the whole of Europe is being a bit more cautious."
Shortly afterwards, however, the new Premier League accounts for the 2010–11 season – the first since FFP came into effect – showed that even with record annual revenues of £2.3 billion, the 20 Premier League clubs lost a combined total of £361 million, a large proportion of which was due to Manchester City's £197 million loss – the biggest in football history, – followed by Chelsea's £68 million loss. In the first eight months since taking over, Liverpool's new owners, the Fenway Sports Group consortium, also posted a £49.6 million loss; £35 million of this was a result of having scrapped earlier plans by the former owners, Hicks & Gillett, to pursue a new Stanley Park stadium development in favour of returning to an original scheme to enhance the club's existing stadium, Anfield.
Commenting on the Premier League club losses, CEO Richard Scudamore refused to introduce break-even legislation into Premier League rules, as the Bundesliga had done earlier and which, in complete contrast, were now recording profits of nearly €2 billion (£1.7 billion) for 2010 11, with an overall profit of €52.5 million (£44 million). The Bundesliga had also generated record revenues over the previous 12 months, bringing in almost €2 billion (£1.67 million) and retained its position as the world's most attended league with an average attendance of 42,101. Bundesliga CEO Christian Seifert said, "The measures for an improved cost control approved by the clubs in August 2010 have borne fruit. The Bundesliga is as popular as never before with fans, sponsors and media partners."
According to the 2012 UEFA Licensing Report, among 665 UEFA clubs sampled in order to produce the report, only six clubs that had competed in 2011–12 European competitions failed to meet the UEFA threshold of a maximum €45 million aggregate net loss. This was reduced to five clubs by the time the group stages of the two UEFA competitions commenced. There was an additional seven clubs which did not compete in European competitions in 2011–12 that also failed to meet the UEFA €45–million net loss threshold. As many as 12 of these 13 clubs were covering their high net losses with re-capitalisation or decrease in shareholder capital. The 13 clubs that were failing to meet the UEFA €45 million net loss threshold in 2012 therefore represented just under 2% of the 665 UEFA clubs sampled by the report.
Breaking the 2012 Licensing Report figures down further, among all of the 650 top division clubs across Europe, 53% (344 clubs) were exempt from FFP, while among the remaining 47% (306 clubs), about half (179 clubs or 28%) made a profit. Of the 20% (127 clubs) that made a loss, for just under half of these (60 clubs or 9%) the net loss was within the acceptable deviation (below €5 million) permitted by UEFA FFP guidelines, while 8% (54 clubs) had a net loss greater than the permissible €5 million threshold but still below the €45 million loss threshold where the club's owner is required to cover the addition €40 net loss with an infusion of equity in order to satisfy UEFA FFP compliance.
According to the report, however, of the 54 clubs with a net loss between €45 million and €5 million in 2012, only 20 of these clubs were receiving the necessary level of equity contributions from their owners to be able to satisfy UEFA FFP compliance, thus a total of 47 (34+13) clubs were failing to meet FFP compliance at the time the UEFA Licensing Report was published in 2012, which represents a passing rate of 92.8% (603 clubs across the 650 clubs sampled).
All of the biggest five leagues within the regions administered by UEFA (i.e., the English Premier League, the Spanish La Liga, the Italian Serie A, the German Bundesliga and the Portuguese Primeira Liga) had at least one club which did not break-even (i.e., had losses exceeding €5 million), with other clubs in leagues such as Ireland, Wales and Finland exempt from FFP due to their small size.
Italian clubs 'unable to comply with FFP'
On 29 March 2012, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) announced the annual report for Italian football, which showed that only eight clubs produced a profit during the 2010–11 season with an aggregate net loss of €428 million and negative equity of €204 million Among the Serie A clubs, the total value of production dropped to €2.031 billion with the cost of production increased to €2.306 billion; net asset (net equity) decreased to €150 million, with equity ratio dropped to a very low ratio of 5%. The total debt was also increased to €2.658 billion, up from €2.332 billion in 2009–10.
The big Italian clubs continued to rely heavily on TV money from the Champions League; however, one qualifying place had been lost to the German Bundesliga for the 2011–12 season due to the recent poor performances of their sides in the competition and there was now increasing concern at the stagnant growth of Serie A club's match-day income, sponsorship and merchandising. Certainly the Italian league appeared to be falling way behind their major rivals; A decade previously, the total €900,000 million revenue of Serie A had been not far behind the English Premier League's €1.1 billion, with the income of the Bundesliga, La Liga and French Ligue 1 trailing a long way behind at around €500 million each. Now, while Premier League revenues had surged to €2.4 billion, the Bundesliga and La Liga's earnings had now both caught up with Serie A at €1.5 billion, with Ligue 1 not far behind at €1.2 billion
Particularly worrying was the state of Juventus', finances. Still recovering from the effects of the 2006 Italian football scandal which saw the club relegated, Juventus published the largest loss in their history at €95 million. Club president Andrea Agnelli, whose company Exor owned shares in the Italian motor company Fiat, and whose family had long underwitten the club's spending, called the losses "intolerable", but said that they were necessary to keep the club competitive. In 2005, Juventus' earnings had been the third-highest in Europe, but since then their revenues had actually declined by 33% (€75 million) Having failed to qualify for that year's Champion's League and with a €43 million drop in domestic TV income due to the new collective deal, wages over turnover had jumped from 67% to a massive 91%, well above UEFA's recommended maximum of 70%. Despite launching a new share sale aimed at raising €120 million of new money and changes to their financial model in order to meet FFP, Juventus admitted that losses for the coming year were also likely to be high.
Milan, also having a long tradition of big losses covered by their owner, generated a €67.3 million deficit on earnings of €220 million in the year ending 31 December 2011 (for the whole Milan Group, not just the football club) on top of a €69.8 million loss for 2009–10.
Elsewhere, at high spending Internazionale, who during the previous five years had lost a massive €665 million, the club's management were now seriously considering how they were going to meet the new rules. Again, 20 years previously Inter's revenues had actually exceeded that of Real Madrid but now totalled only around half that of their huge Spanish rival. Having estimated losses of €60 million for the previous season the club actually went on to record an €87 million loss, raising concerns that management were unable to control expenditure, at least in the short term. Even during their "best" recent year of 2010, when they won the Champions League and sold players worth €72 million, Inter still made a €69 million loss.) One club official compared the state of football's finances to the sub-prime banking crisis but vowed, "We will be ready to meet all the standards set by UEFA and we are working on various fronts. That means cutting costs and increasing revenues." Inter had already made a number of changes, including a salary cap of €3 million for most first team players, a lower basic salary (with higher bonuses for success), lower contracts for older players extending their contracts and the sale of expensive fringe players. Inter sporting director Marco Branca admitted that the club could no longer afford the fees paid in the past, declaring, "We have to organise our finances for the financial fair play rules in the next two years. We are looking for younger players now with great talent who we can develop."
Despite their efforts to improve finances in the future, the "Big Three" of Italian football accounted for 89% (€252 million) of the total Serie A loss of €285 million in 2010–11, and Massimo Moratti warned, "We are not yet able to balance the books. I don’t know how Italian clubs will play in the Champions League in future, if UEFA’s fair play is confirmed."
Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani also admitted, "FFP hurts Italy. There will no longer be patrons that can intervene. Until now people like Berlusconi and Moratti would be able to support us, but with the fair play it will no longer be possible."
European Union support for FFP
On 20 March 2012, it was announced that UEFA and the European Commission had signed a joint agreement intended to prevent clubs using the EU legal system to challenge the validity of FFP, for example by claiming that it conflicted with anti-competition legislation. This was an important step because for clubs in countries which are part of the EU, the European Court is the highest authority (above even a nation's own supreme court) and the ultimate channel by which FFP might be challenged legally.
The European Union – who acknowledged the unique "specificity of sport" in the Treaty of Lisbon – policy on sport stated "good governance in sport is a condition for the autonomy and self-regulation of sport organisations". The vice-president of the EC and the Commissioner for Competition, Joaquín Almunia, confirmed that the existing FFP rules were both valid and in accordance with European legislation, saying, "I fully support the objectives of UEFA's FFP rules as I believe it is essential for football clubs to have a solid financial foundation."
UEFA president Michel Platini said, "Our statement confirms that UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations are fully consistent with EU State aid policy. The rules will protect the interests of individual clubs and players as well as football in Europe as a whole"
UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said, "Let us be clear, this is not a new law … if anyone was thinking of filing some sort of complaint saying FFP somehow restricts European competition law they would have to file it to the Commission. This is a big milestone in the enforcement of the break-even principle"
During the summer, Spanish side Málaga, bought by a wealthy benefactor in 2010, unexpectedly went into financial meltdown, with players wages left unpaid and several sold cheaply in order to keep the club afloat. Since buying Málaga, Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al-Thani had invested nearly €80 million in players, infrastructure and developing a youth academy as part of a five-year plan to fast-track the team to domestic and European glory. Despite the team finishing fourth in La Liga ahead of schedule, earning a place in the Champions League, Al-Thani, a member of Qatar's royal family, abruptly announced that he had had enough of the uneven distribution of TV revenue in Spain and of criticism by the media, and was now no longer willing to bank-roll the club.
In July, Milan sold two of their top players, Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimović, to free-spending Paris Saint-Germain for a combined €65 million (£51.4 million) in order to meet FFP. Club owner Silvio Berlusconi commented, "We did not want to sell Thiago Silva or Ibrahimović and turned down the first offer. We then thought about the Financial Fair Play… so we had to accept it with weeping hearts. It was impossible for us to turn down the offer. It has saved us a lot of money in transfers and wages, meaning our finances are secure for many years to come. We will save 150 million euros in two years."
In July, there were renewed concerns that wealthy clubs might try to bypass FFP when Chelsea signed a "commercially confidential" three-year deal under which Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom would become Chelsea's "global energy partner". Some commentators pointed to Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich's 2005 sale of his controlling stake in oil company Sibneft to Gazprom as possibly infringing UEFA rules defining "related-party transactions" as including those where clubs could potentially exert "significant influence" over clubs' sponsors. Earlier, Paris Saint-Germain, owned by the Qatar government (who had recently been, and continued to be, the biggest spenders in world football), signed a similarly confidential sponsorship deal with the 50% state-owned Qatar National Bank. Having earned almost €60 million after winning the previous season's Champions League, Chelsea had also signed new sponsorship deals with Audi, Sauber F1 and Delta Air Lines, and it was felt that the deal was unlikely to be scrutinised in the same way that the Manchester City-Etihad sponsorship after the Chelsea club website also announced that Gazprom has signed an almost simultaneous agreement to also become an official partner of the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Super Cup.
With Premier League spending on players continuing unabated during the summer transfer window, Liverpool principal owner John Henry, who had previously joined Arsène Wenger in criticising Manchester City's deal with Etihad Airlines as a means of circumnavigating FFP, proposed that the only way of preventing clubs from effectively ignoring the rules would be for the Premier League to follow the example of the French and German football authorities by incorporating the FFP legislation into the Premier League's own rules. Such a move would allow domestic sanctions to be taken over and above any measures taken by UEFA to curb excessive spending by clubs. Henry said,
"The mandate of financial fair play in Europe is for clubs to live within their means... half of the clubs in the top divisions within Europe are losing money and 20% are in straits of varying degrees... There are a lot of clubs within the league that support financial fair play. We believe the league itself may have to adopt its own rules given that clubs seem to be ignoring UEFA’s rules, which may be porous enough to enable clubs to say that the trend of huge losses is positive and therefore be exempt from any meaningful sanctions."
At the Premier League Annual General Meeting, delegates from Manchester United and Arsenal spoke in favour of the Liverpool proposal, as did West Ham United's joint chairman David Gold, who commented, "I was involved in bringing in the FFP rules in the Championship and at the time I thought should I get to the Premier League, I’ll lobby for it. Even the big clubs now are saying we have to get to grips with costs."
The proposal was not unanimously agreed. Manchester City said that it would prefer to manage their business as they saw fit, while Fulham, who had in the past enjoyed significant financial support from their owner Mohamed Al-Fayed, said that such a plan might "kill the dreams" of other clubs.
It was decided that various possible changes would be discussed over the coming months, with one possibility being the full adoption of the FFP rules in to the Premier League's own rules. Such a change, however, would require a 14–6 majority by club chairmen.
On 30 May 2012, UEFA refused to issue a licence for the 2012–13 European season for Beşiktaş and Bursaspor, and probationally suspended Beşiktaş for one more season if the club had qualified between 2013–14 to 2017–18 (five years). They were the first two clubs to be banned since UEFA renewed its UEFA Club Licensing regulation in 2010. As FFP is only fully in force in 2013, both clubs violated UEFA Club Licensing instead of FFP. However, UEFA did not specify which article(s) they failed. Article 49 stated that there should be no overdue payables towards football clubs and article 50 stated that there should be no overdue payables towards employee and social/tax authorities. Beşiktaş have been sued by numbers of clubs for overdue solidarity contribution and the club used misunderstanding the rule as an excuse. However, the club were also sued by Matteo Ferrari for overdue wages, and news reports claimed that Manuel Fernandes had submitted a transfer request after the club failed to pay his wages.
Moreover, according to the statutory filing in Turkish Public Disclosure System (Turkish: Kamuyu Aydınlatma Platformu), Beşiktaş Futbol Yatırımları Sanayi ve Ticaret A.Ş (BİST: BJKAS), the list portion of the club, had a negative equity on 29 February 2012 for negative TL 286,256,446 The listed company also recorded a successive net loss in consolidated accounts: TL 12,050,502 (2006–07), TL 1,345,510 (2007–08), TL 29,417,643 (2008–09) TL 48,442,389 (2009–10) TL 120,079,175 (2010–11) and most recently TL 84,932,418 in the first nine months of 2011–12 season. It was uncertain whether Beşiktaş lied on the acceptable deficit of €45 million or not (after deducting irreverent income and cost). Beşiktaş, however, certainly covered the net loss by increasing debt, as well as breaking one or more financial indicators such as negative equity, thus Beşiktaş would be banned if FFP was already in force.
It was reported that Bursaspor had overdue debt to Portsmouth (Collins Mbesuma). Last but not the least, the last Turkish member of the "big three", Galatasaray, champion of 2011–12 Turkish Süper Lig, had a negative equity and aggregate net loss in 2010–11 and 2011–12 season (first nine months). The club had to either cover the net loss by equity contribution (instead of increasing debt) and/or reducing relevant break-even result to €5 million in the near future in order to avoid sanction due to FFP. However, the incident of Beşiktaş also reflected the fragility of Turkish football, as Beşiktaş were already the one of the leading clubs of the league and had qualified for European competitions successively from 2002 to 2012. Galatasaray returned to UEFA Champions League in 2012–13 season and this may put the club back on the right track.
Meanwhile, another Süper Lig club, Trabzonspor, announced plans to greatly boost their annual income in order to both meet FFP and to provide a guaranteed revenue stream to allow then to expand onto the European stage when they received approval to build a 28 megawatt hydroelectric power plant in the hills above their Black Sea home of Trabzon. The Financial Times estimated that following after an initial investment of between US$30–50 million, Trabzonspor would be able to count on an additional US$10 million per year from the domestic sale of electricity, before taking account running costs, financing and tax.
Massive new Premier League TV deal
Despite the worsening European financial crisis, during the same week that Spanish banks were forced to request a further €100 billion in loans (considered a national bail-out in all but name by some commentators) in mid-June 2012, the Premier League announced that the sale of the latest three-year broadcast rights package to BskyB and BT had yielded a spectacular 71% increase over the previous deal to BskyB and ESPN.
The 2013–14 to 2015–16 seasons contract was worth £3.018 billion, an increase of £1.25 billion over the existing agreement, and guaranteed each top flight English club at least an additional £14 million per year; in addition, once Internet and overseas rights plus the £180 million paid by the BBC for Match of the Day highlights were included, Premiership clubs could count on a total of at least £5 billion in TV earnings by the time the deal expired, well into the period that FFP was scheduled to come into full effect.
Amid predictions that the huge windfall would spark a renewed wave of excessive transfer spending, the chief executive of the Premier League, Richard Scudamore, expressed his hope that the money would not merely find its way into the pockets of players and their agents and that clubs would use the opportunity to reduce their debts and bring their businesses onto a more secure financial footing, as demanded by FFP. He commented,
"We are entering a new era with financial fair play, I'm hoping it will get invested in things other than playing talent. It should also be able to achieve sustainability. Priority number one is retain and attract top talent but there ought to be a way of doing that while achieving sustainability. Some of it ought to be used to reduce losses"
First Financial Fair Play penalties
On 11 September 2012, UEFA announced that they had imposed the first penalties of the Financial Fair Play era. The penalty was to temporarily withhold prize money from 23 clubs after they failed to comply with the rules. The 23 clubs penalised had until 15 October 2012 to prove that they had plans to pay a combined €30 million in unpaid player wages, transfer fees and social taxes for the period ending on 30 September 2012.
It was announced later that 16 of the 23 clubs facing potential prize money withholding had nevertheless received their prize money from European competition as a result of managing to settle their debts before the 30 September 2012 deadline. Consequently, the following 16 clubs had a punishment reprieve after having prize money initially withheld:
- Borac Banja Luka, FK Sarajevo and Željezničar Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
- CSKA Sofia (Bulgaria)
- Maccabi Netanya (Israel)
- Shkëndija (Macedonia)
- Floriana (Malta)
- Budućnost Podgorica and Rudar Pjevlja (Montenegro)
- Ruch Chorzów (Poland)
- Sporting CP (Portugal)
- FC Vaslui (Romania)
- Rubin Kazan (Russia)
- Atlético Madrid (Spain)
- Eskişehirspor and Fenerbahçe (Turkey)
Since the original 11 September action by UEFA, two other clubs faced action as their situation with overdue payments had deteriorated between June and September 2012. They were Lech Poznań of Poland and Arsenal Kyiv of Ukraine.
On 21 December 2012, the first punishments of UEFA Financial Fair Play were handed out to eight clubs in total. Vojvodina and Arsenal Kyiv avoided a ban but both were fined with Vojvodina fined €10,000 and Arsenal Kyiv fined €45,000 but facing an extra €30,000 fine if they failed to prove they had no outstanding payments by 31 March 2013. Hajduk Split, Osijek, Rapid București, Dinamo București and Partizan faced a ban from UEFA club competition (for the next season that they managed to qualify to participate) unless they could prove that they had paid their outstanding payments by 31 March 2013. The ban would be applicable for the next three seasons (i.e. 2013-14, 2014–15, 2015–16). Osijek, Dinamo București and Rapid București were fined €100,000 each. Hajduk Split were fined €40,000 but would be fined an extra €40,000 if they failed to prove they had no outstanding payments by 31 March 2013.
Rapid București were the only club that missed the 31 March 2013 deadline and as a result have been handed a one-season ban from European competition (applicable only for the next European competition they qualify for) However, they have been relegated to the Romanian Liga II for the 2013–14 season as they failed to obtain a license for the 2013–14 Liga I due to accumulated debt.
Málaga have been handed the biggest punishment so far, resulting in the club being banned for one year from UEFA competition, applicable for the next four seasons (i.e., 2013–14, 2014–15, 2015–16 and 2016–17) providing that a club appeal against the ban fails. Málaga also faced another one-year ban during the applicable four seasons if they failed to prove they had no outstanding payments by 31 March 2013, as well as being fined €300,000. However, Málaga avoided a two-season ban as they met the 31 March 2013 deadline.
The case against Lech Poznań and Sporting CP was dropped by UEFA, who also released the prize money they withheld from all clubs that were punished or avoided punishment.
French government inquiry on FFP
It was announced that the French government would look into the impact of UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules on the French league and how it would affect clubs with Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco coming under the spotlight, particularly PSG with their heavy spending due to Qatari ownership. The Cultural Affairs, Education and Sport Commission set up the inquiry with Thierry Braillard, the deputy for the Rhone region, given the task to lead the inquiry. Braillard stated:
"The aim of this inquiry is to talk to people at UEFA about Financial Fair Play, bearing in mind that, for the 2012–13 season, the cumulative deficit of professional clubs in France was €250 million. The commission will focus in particular on the financing of clubs like Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco by Qatari or Russian investors, and the fairness of that in relation to their opponents in domestic competition."
UEFA warning on inflated sponsorship
In early February UEFA reminded clubs that they would be expected to prove that they were not trying to bypass FFP by entering into inflated sponsorship deals with parties closely associated with their owners. The warning came in the wake of an announcement that Paris Saint-Germain had completed a deal with the Qatar Tourist Authority worth €200 million (US$262 million) per year until 2016. As with the Manchester City agreement with Etihad Airlines, the news was met with considerable criticism in view of the ownership of the club by members of the Qatari royal family; however, PSG club president Nasser al-Khelaifi refused to accept that the club was doing anything wrong, telling L'Equipe, "We have been building an international brand. This deal is a strong symbol. Qatar have benefited a lot from their investments in PSG…it's necessary to become one of the great European clubs. Other clubs have invested for 20 years. We have been there for a year and a half and now we must stop pouring money? It would be unfair."
The most recent UEFA Licensing Report confirmed that despite rising revenues, club losses had almost trebled between 2007 and 2011 from £515 million to £1.45 billion, with player's wages increasing 38%. A separate simulation exercise based on the three years between 2008 and 2011 showed that 46 clubs would have failed the break-even test had FFP applied then, over which 20 made losses of more than the acceptable total of €45 million. Two were believed to be Chelsea and Manchester City. City's most recent results showed another large loss of £97.9 million and while Chelsea posted their first profit of the Roman Abramovich era this was largely due to one-off share dividends and winning the Champions League in 2011–12; the club are expected to go back into the red over the 2012–13 season.
UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino said, "Everyone, including PSG, know they have to demonstrate (that the sponsorship deals) are without cheating and that will be submitted to panels. We have a regulation which speaks about fair value of deals and the fact that a related party cannot just inject money into a club directly or indirectly." He confirmed that UEFA's 15 strong team of accountants (the Club Financial Control Body) would begin analysing figures during the spring of 2014 for the years 2011–12 and 2012–13, the first period to be monitored under the new break-even regime.
Infantino said that there were signs that rules already in force to ensure clubs paid their bills on time and the looming enforcement of the break-even rule were having an effect. "Overdue payables" rules had succeeded in reducing the amount of overdue debt by 68% to €18.3 million since June 2011, there had been a tiny fall in the gap between revenue and expenses (0.1% to 12.7%) and attendances had held up well across European football despite the continuing financial crisis.
Premier League agree new financial regulations
On 7 February 2013, the FA Premier League in England agreed to new financial regulations in the wake of the big upcoming new TV deal and pressure from both the government and supporters. From the 2013–14 season, Premier League clubs cannot make a loss of more than £105 million over a three-season period (including 2013–14, 2014–15 and 2015–16), an average of £35 million per year. Any club that loses more than £105 million in that time faces possible point deductions while clubs making any loss up to the £105 million limit will come under tighter financial scrutiny from the Premier League. Clubs are restricted on how much of the Premier League Central Funds they receive that they can spend on player wages. The limit is £4 million in 2013–14, £8 million in 2014–15 and £12 million in 2015–16. However, this only applies to clubs that have a wage bill higher than £52 million per year in 2013–14, £56 million in 2014–15 and £60 million in 2015–16.
On 11 April 2013, these new rules were ratified at a summit in London and added to the Premier League rulebook. Fourteen of the 20 clubs voted in favour, five voted against while Swansea City were the only club to abstain altogether.
In early May 2013, Jean Louis-Dupont, the lawyer who in 1995 won the ground-breaking Bosman ruling against the EU and UEFA, launched a legal challenge against the FFP rules on that grounds that it might restrict the income of his client, a Belgian registered football agent named Daniel Striani. The earlier case had been brought by a Belgian player, Jean-Marc Bosman, on the basis that the refusal of his former club to allow him to move to a new club when his playing contract expired amounted to an unlawful restriction on his freedom of movement, subsequently making it much easier for players in similar situations to move between clubs. A later statement by Striani, who has represented a number of Premier League players, claimed that, "The rules will lead to restrictions in terms of investment, will diminish the number of player transfers that take place and will also bring down the revenues of player agents…This rule also impacts upon the right to free movement of capital, to free movement of workers and to the free availability of services. Financial fair play will further increase the gap between big clubs and smaller teams. I mainly work with the latter, hence my concerns. I don't know whether other agents share my opinion or whether clubs will follow my example, but I'm confident about the outcome."
UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino dismissed Dupont's claim, saying, "We are not worried about it. First, because we have the best lawyers working for us but also because FFP has been agreed by all of the clubs, associations and the European Commission. These haven't been imposed."
It is believed that any final judgement may be as long as five years; however, Daniel Geey, a competition and football law specialist at Field Fisher Waterhouse, commented, "This is significant. The EC has always said in the background that it supports the objectives of FFP. Now it must undertake an objective assessment of whether, among other things, FFP is anti-competitive. The complaint will either be upheld, leading the Commission into negotiations with UEFA and possible formal proceedings or be rejected, which could lead to a further court challenge. Either way this won't be a quick process and in the meantime UEFA will make licensing decisions based on the FFP break-even regulations."
On 20 May 2014, it was announced that the EC had rejected the complaint and did not intend to investigate it any further. The EC argued that the financial fair play rules apply to clubs, not to players' agents, and therefore Striani had no legitimate interest in complaining about them. A spokesman said, "UEFA is very pleased that this decision by the European Commission upholds all aspects of the financial fair play regulations." Striani said he would continue the legal fight.
Early in the close season, French club Monaco, recently bought by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, spent £51 million on Radamel Falcao in addition to João Moutinho and James Rodríguez for a further £60 million. Manchester City, meanwhile, also spent close to £50 million in June 2013 on two players, Fernandinho and Jesús Navas, and despite their elevation to the position of the world's highest-paid sports team—with an average first-team squad member wage of £100,764 per week, more than £7,000 higher than that of the second-placed team, American baseball side Los Angeles Dodgers—Manchester City chief executive Ferran Soriano said that they were "not worried" by FFP and were catching up "very fast" with their rivals in terms of revenue. He said that the club were implementing a new playing structure under director of football Txiki Begiristain and pointed to the club's recent rise to number seven in the Deloitte Rich List.
On 17 June, it was announced that former Manchester United chief executive David Gill had been appointed chairman of UEFA's influential Club Licensing Committee (CLC), the body which decides which clubs are entitled to licenses to play in Europe, (on 25 June the committee banned leading Turkish sides Fenerbahçe and Beşiktaş, who had been due to play Champions League and Europa League football for involvement in match fixing) and which will be responsible for recommending sanctions against any clubs who fail to comply with FFP. Although the CLC has no involvement in assessing club accounts, the appointment was queried by some because Gill, a strong advocate of FFP was due to remain a Manchester United director, leading to concerns about a lack of impartiality in the event of any English clubs exceeding the £38 million allowable losses at the end of the first accounting period.
On 20 September, it was announced that UEFA had withheld the prize money of six clubs for outstanding payments that had not been paid. Astra Ploiești (Romania), Hajduk Split (Croatia), Metalurh Donetsk (Ukraine), Skonto (Latvia), Trabzonspor (Turkey) and Zrinjski Mostar (Bosnia) were all deemed guilty. The action was taken based on information supplied on 30 June to UEFA It was announced on 21 November 2013 that Metalurh Donetsk and Skonto had been referred to the UEFA Club Financial Control Body, as well as Pandurii Târgu Jiu (Romania), Petrolul Ploiești (Romania), Śląsk Wrocław (Poland) and Vitória de Setúbal (Portugal). UEFA also released the prize money to the six clubs that had their prize money initially withheld. Five of the six clubs referred to the UEFA Club Financial Control Body received punishment on 20 December 2013. Metalurh Donetsk, Petrolul Ploiești and Skonto will be banned for the next season that they qualify for Europe between the 2014–15 and 2016–17 season unless they can prove that they have paid the money they owe by 31 January 2014. Five of the six clubs were fined including Metalurh Donetsk (€80,000), Petrolul Ploiești (€50,000), Pandurii Târgu Jiu (€40,000), Skonto (€40,000) and Śląsk Wrocław (€20,000). Vitória of Portugal avoided punishment.
Across all of the "big five" top divisions of Europe, gross spending by clubs was again significantly higher that during the previous year. Partly as a result of the new TV deal, Premier League clubs spent a record £630 million – a 29% increase on the equivalent figure of £490 million in 2012, and £130 million more than the previous record set in 2008. The next highest spenders were Spain's La Liga and Italy's Serie A, each with a gross spent of £335 million, although both leagues actually generated net surpluses as a result of player transfers. They were followed by France's Ligue 1 with £315 million and the German Bundesliga with £230 million.
Plans to reduce spending at Anzhi Makhachkala
From 2011 to 2013, Anzhi Makhachkala were big spenders since Suleyman Kerimov bought the club outright on 18 January 2011. The resulting influx of cash meant that Anzhi were able to sign big name players on high wages, such as Roberto Carlos and Samuel Eto'o for €28 million and a world-record salary of €20.5 million per year. Despite this spending, however, Anzhi failed to win a single major trophy either in Russia or abroad meaning that Kerimov, frustrated by this lack of success, decided to reduce his investment in the club, which meant that some of Anzhi's top players were sold, including Willian and Eto'o to Chelsea. The opening of an academy in Anzhi's home region of Dagestan on 10 October 2012 is further evidence to suggest that Anzhi are looking towards a more sustainable long-term financial plan, following in the footsteps of other big spending clubs of recent years who are looking for a more long-term financial plan such as Chelsea, who are generally looking more to young talent and Manchester City, who are looking to have a training complex for youth (as well as senior) players opened by the start of the 2014–15 season despite spending nearly £100 million on four players during the summer of 2013.
Wages up but losses down
On 30 August, UEFA made an announcement that while wages had gone up by 6.5% in the latest financial year, losses had gone down thanks to a 6.9% increase in revenue by clubs. Europe's first division clubs lost €1.066 billion compared to €1.7 billion the previous year. UEFA also cited FFP as having been instrumental in greatly decreasing the amount of money clubs owed each other; whereas in 2011 clubs had €57 million (£48 million) in overdue payables, with ten clubs being referred for sanctioning, in 2013 only €9 million (£7.7 million) was overdue and no clubs were referred. These findings appear to indicate that while clubs are looking to be more sustainable and decrease their debt, at the same time they are also looking to maximise their revenue whatever way they can (including some unusual methods of revenue making such as the hydro-electric plant built by Trabzonspor) so that they can continue with a high level of spending without getting into more debt.
Despite the improving figures, UEFA revealed that five top clubs were still at serious risk of being found guilty of breaching the FFP rules after the first accounting period in the Spring of 2014, and warned that it was likely that legal action lay ahead. Michel Platini said, "The devil is in the detail and we're trying to get to grips with this devil. We've had discussions with clubs for years, but the clubs have lots of lawyers, they’re very competent people and they believe they’re in the right. Our committees will decide in May next year to check on their goodwill and validity and this will lead to decisions that will end up in court eventually."
The leading accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) had been hired to probe any clubs suspected as having failed FFP. On 30 August, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne admitted that it was "bracing for a flurry of cases" relating to highly complex disputes over UEFA's Break Even Rule. Referring to the cases involving Málaga, Bursaspor and Beşiktaş, Matthieu Reeb, the secretary general of the CAS, told reporters, "We've already had cases concerning clubs that had overdue payments or debts which they did not pay on time. The most difficult cases will be when we have to look at where the budget must be respected. It's a new challenge for us. We can expect trucks full of folders and papers!"
"'Fair' financial fair play & 'dodgy' financial fair play'"
On 31 December 2013, Chelsea announced a loss of £49.4 million for the year ended 30 June 2013. The club, however, claimed that a record turnover of £255.8 million for the company as a whole for the same period, combined with the previous year's profit of £1.4 million would mean that they would fall within the criteria set by FFP. Chairman Bruce Buck said that, "A long-term objective was financial sustainability, and the subsequent implementation of Financial Fair Play by UEFA and by the Premier League has brought that to the top of the agenda for football clubs. We are pleased therefore that we will meet the stipulations set down by UEFA in their first assessment period. By our own analysis, we are progressing from a commercial viewpoint as well as continuing to add trophies to our collection, which we never lose sight of as our most important goal."
But when Manchester City revealed their own set of accounts for the same period on 29 January 2014, also claiming to have met the FFP break-even rule, there were concerns that they would come under intense scrutiny from the UEFA Club Financial Control Body. The figures showed annual turnover up by almost £40 million at £271 million for 2012–13, and the club claimed that this combined with the permitted subtraction of pre-2010 wages and amounts spent on infrastructure and training facilities would bring their losses down to approximately £46.95 million, just within the allowable threshold.
Almost £47 million of the claimed turnover, however, was as a result of two specific items – the sale of player image rights for £24.5 million and the sale of intellectual property rights for another £22.45 million – both to unidentified external parties, which were neither named by the club or cited in the accounts (press reports have named Manchester City part-owned New York City FC). The sale of player image rights to an external company has never been attempted by a football club before, since they are normally considered as an integral part of their own income, part of which is retained by the player and separated from his salary for tax reasons. For example, when the club tried unsuccessfully to buy Kaká from Milan in January 2009, lucrative image rights were offered to the player as a major incentive in agreeing to sign. In addition, the club will have to prove that whichever organisation bought its intellectual property rights received fair value for their investment, and that the figure has not been merely agreed with a related party as a device to help overcome the break even principle.
Other payments between separate parts of the club—that is, the sale of "intangible assets" totaling £11.5 million to City Football Marketing, and another totaling £10.87 million with another subsidiary, City Football Services—were also thought likely to be considered examples of the club simply moving money between different parts of the clubs constituent parts, since Manchester City's six main board members—Khaldoon al-Mubarak, Mohamed al-Mazrouei, Simon Pearce, Martin Edelman, John Macbeath and Alberto Galassi—also sit on the boards of the two subsidiaries involved. Chelsea manager José Mourinho questioned the validity of the Manchester city accounts, claiming that, "Some clubs are feeling financial fair play as 'fair' financial fair play and others are feeling it as 'dodgy' financial fair play."
Liverpool's financial results up to the end of May 2013 showed losses of £49.8 million and a further £40.5 million over the previous ten months. Between 2011 and 2013, the club had lost over £90 million, though it was believed that a large proportion was related to debt arising from the aborted attempts to build a new stadium. It was hoped that the club would be able to write off an interest free loan it received from their owners, Fenway Sports Group, to repay a £38 million loan from former owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, as infrastructure costs.
In 2012, a new potential sanction was introduced allowing a club to be retrospectively stripped of a European title if they were later found to have overspent in the process of winning it. The 2014 UEFA FFP rulebook, published in late January also included two significant rule changes. One allows clubs to "plea bargain" sanctions imposed to punish them overspending. The second change provides clubs with the right to challenge plea bargains if they feel they have been negatively affected by the outcome. One possible scenario would be that a club finishing just outside their league's European competition places could claim that a club finishing above them who had overspent had unfairly deprived them of the opportunity of playing in lucrative European competition.
In early March, it was also announced that only clubs taking part in European competition during the 2013–14 season will be initially assessed for compliance with the break even rule; the remaining clubs would not be assessed until the following autumn.
In late February 2014, UEFA announced that of the 237 clubs whose accounts were being assessed for compliance with the break even rule over the two year monitoring period, 76 were being investigated and might later face sanctions. Though not identifying any clubs involved, UEFA revealed that the total deficit among the clubs, who had all played in European competition during the 2013–14 season, amounted to €600 million (US$828 million). UEFA also revealed that while overall wages in European football had risen by 59% over the past five years, the overall income generated by the clubs had increased by only 42%.
The 76 clubs had been asked to provide the CFCB with updated financial information, and those involved in the more serious cases would be identified in April when the second, judging chamber of the CFCB would decide on and announce the first sanctions. It was believed that many of the infringements would be found to be quite minor and action would eventually be dropped.
All verdicts would be published by June ahead of the qualifying round draws for the 2014–15 Champions League and Europa League competitions, though several clubs were expected to challenge their sanctions at the CAS before the group stage draws in late August. UEFA Legal Director Alasdair Bell said, "July and August could be a busy time. We are not afraid of them being contested." UEFA Secretary General Gianni Infantino commented, "UEFA is taking the lead in order to protect European football from greed, from reckless spending, from financial insanity."
On 28 April 2014, it was revealed that the initial list of clubs thought to be in danger of failing the break-even rule had been whittled down to less than 20 clubs and that Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain were among them. It was also disclosed that UEFA had rejected both club's arguments that the sponsorship deals and other declared income streams were legitimate, and that talks were ongoing around potential plea bargains on sanctions.
On 16 May 2014, UEFA announced that they agreed to settlements with nine clubs after Financial Fair Play investigations, with sanctions ranging from break-even targets (e.g., limit of wage bill), sporting measures (e.g., limit of squad size in UEFA club competitions), and financial contribution (e.g., fines). The nine clubs were:
- Anzhi Makhachkala – €2 million fine, of which €1 million suspended. Squad reduced to 21 players. One-year squad salary restrictions
- Bursaspor – €200,000 fine. 1 year squad salary restrictions
- Galatasaray – €200,000 fine. One-year squad salary restrictions
- Levski Sofia – €200,000 fine. One-year squad salary restrictions
- Rubin Kazan – €6 million fine, of which €3 million suspended. Squad reduced to 21 players. Transfer spending restrictions and two-year squad salary restrictions.
- Trabzonspor – €200,000 fine. One-year squad salary restrictions
- Zenit Saint Petersburg – €12 million fine, of which €6 million suspended. Squad reduced to 22 players. Transfer spending restrictions and two-year squad salary restrictions
- Paris Saint-Germain – €60 million fine, €40 million suspended. Squad reduced to 21 players. Transfer spending restrictions and two-year squad salary restrictions
- Manchester City – €60 million fine, €40 million suspended. Squad reduced to 21 players. Transfer spending restrictions and two-year squad salary restrictions.
Later, it was agreed that the money generated from the fines would be split among the Champions League and Europa League clubs who had complied with the rules during the 2013–14 season and the 2014–15 season.
During the 2014–15 close season, Premier League clubs spent a record £835 million on transfers, £200 million higher than the previous record of £630 million from 2013. Manchester United led the way, selling 15 squad players and spending a record £150 million on five new players, including Ander Herrera (£29 million), Luke Shaw (£27 million) and a new record transfer fee for Ángel Di María (£59.7 million), as well as a lucrative loan deal for Radamel Falcao from Monaco. Largely as a result of the large new domestic TV deal, the net Premiership spend was £410 million, £350 million to overseas clubs and £60 million to Football League clubs. According to Deloitte, La Liga invested £425 million and Italy's Serie A spent a total of £260 million, followed by the Bundesliga with £250 million and Ligue 1 with £100 million.
Views on sanctions
Following the announcement of the sanctions in May, Manchester City argued that they should not have been penalised for making losses when they are debt free. The club and many supporters said that the existing rules were unfair because they punish over-investment but not the accumulation of debt, as in clubs that have been bought under the leveraged model such as Manchester United, which still remain £350 million in debt as a result of the Glazer takeover but which as a result of their huge income still met the break even test.
In early September, the Chairman of the Manchester City FC Supporters' Club told M.E.N Sport, "What City did is no different to what United have done over the last couple of transfer windows but the point is it is their money and they should be able to do what they want with it." Manchester City FC Supporters' Club, which has almost 15,000 active members, with 168 branches worldwide in the UK, Europe, Asia and the Americas, voted to back Jean-Louis Dupont in his continuing legal action against FFP. The next stage of the process was due to be heard by a Brussels court in April 2015, where an initial judicial ruling would be delivered on whether FFP was deemed to be against EU competition law. A statement by the Supporters' Club read, "Our members are consumers of the football product and it is as such that they denounce the EU competition law infringements caused by the UEFA break-even requirement. Far from implementing a true 'financial fair play,' this rule is in fact a prohibition to invest that prevents ambitious owners to develop their clubs, that therefore shields the established European elite from being challenged (this elite being unsurprisingly the main sponsors of the UEFA rule) and that, consequently, puts additional financial pressure on supporters (higher prices and lower quality)."
Like Manchester City, the French champions Paris Saint-Germain also agreed not to increase their wage bill for the next two campaigns and believed the sanctions to have been improper. PSG club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi told AFP, "For me, FFP is unfair. It stops new investors from coming into football. It protects the big clubs and obliges the smaller ones to remain small clubs. If investors are prevented from coming into football, they will invest in Formula One or elsewhere. It is not good for football. We are ready to work within the rules but I hope UEFA are going to change it next year because a lot of clubs have complained. I hope a solution can be found."
PSG admitted that the FFP rules had forced them to abandon moves to sign Argentine winger Ángel Di María because they would have had to sell someone else first, and the player eventually went to Manchester United for a British record fee of £59.7 million. PSG limited their summer recruitment to buying Chelsea's Brazilian defender David Luiz for £49.5 million. But coming soon after the fine, the move was still seen as deliberately provocative by Michel Platini. A senior source said, "There is a perception that Platini doesn't want to take Paris Saint-Germain on because they are a French club. But the reality is he and others are fuming at the way they seem to be carrying on spending despite already being fined. There is a real resolution within UEFA and among the other clubs to impose a Champions League ban on any club that carries on playing outside the rules."
UEFA scheduled a meeting for 13 October, where affected clubs could make their views known and to discuss possible amendments to the FFP rules. In Geneva at the General Assembly of the European Clubs Association, Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge reiterated his organisation's support for FFP: "I call on each club to adhere to the rules and I remind you that they should not be seen as an attack against clubs but as a positive development for the long-term game. We shouldn't really think that the finances of clubs are in good order. Proper assessment of financial fair play can only be done when a balance has been reached after several years. We're certainly not out of the woods and UEFA will continue to implement this project very seriously."
Proposed rule changes
In early September, it was revealed that UEFA had agreed to slacken the terms of the restrictions placed on Manchester City ordering them to reduce their Champions League squad from 25 to 21 players. Standard rules applicable to all clubs involved in the Champions League were that they could field no more than 13 foreign players along with four "club-trained" and four "association-trained" players. But following pressure from the club and the player union FIFPro, which claimed that the governing body could be guilty of creating a restriction of movement for players that would be against EU law, UEFA had allowed Manchester City to reduce their total non-overseas quota to five to compensate them for reduced squad numbers. This meant that the club had to include only one player developed at their own academy in their squad, as opposed to four that other clubs had to include, the remaining four of the quota being from the easier to find "association-trained" category.
After what it admitted were "full and frank" discussions with the clubs on 13 October, where Manchester City's chief executive Ferran Soriano argued that the current three-year monitoring period for the break-even test should be extended by up to seven years, UEFA confirmed that it had agreed to consider proposals put forward by both Manchester City and PSG to changing the basis of the FFP rules which focus exclusively on preventing clubs recording annual losses and to make debt reduction a part of any change to the rules. Gianni Infantino said, "We're now focused on losses and to repay the debt is part of the loss that the club can make at the end of the season. But certainly, the question of debt is something that can be put on the table."
Sanction and settlements of 14 clubs
On 8 May 2015, UEFA announced that Monaco, Roma, Beşiktaş, Internazionale, Krasnodar, Lokomotiv Moscow, Sporting CP, Rostov, Kardemir Karabükspor and CSKA Sofia were sanctioned, but at the same time formed individual agreements with clubs in order to allow the clubs to have extra time to break-even. Hapoel Tel-Aviv F.C., Hull City, Panathinaikos and Ruch Chorzów were also signed the settlement agreements in February 2015.
On 11 September 2015, due to improved financial conditions, the sanctions on Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain were partially lifted. On 18 January 2016, Hull City, Panathinaikos and Sporting CP exited the settlement agreement, but Galatasaray had broken the break-even requirement. On 2 March 2016, the club received a two-year ban from European football.
Sanction and settlements of 4 clubs
On 20 May 2016, four clubs signed a settlement agreement with UEFA:
- Astana – €2 million fine, of which €1.5 million suspended. Squad reduced to 22 players. Transfer spending restrictions, required to break even in 2018
- Dinamo Zagreb – €200,000 fine. Squad reduced to 23 players, required to break even in 2016.
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- Trabzonspor – €2 million fine, €1 million suspended. Squad reduced to 22 players. Transfer spending restrictions, require to reach a defined employee benefit expenses to revenue ratio, required to break even in 2018.
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