Back in the early 1990’s, the European Cup stopped being a football tournament and became the Champions League. The raison d’etre of the rebranded competition: creation of an ever-expanding trough of filthy lucre to feed the pigs running European football’s biggest clubs. To their credit, UEFA do a shamelessly good job of quantifying exactly how deep this trough is. Three-quarters of a billion Euros deep, according to their report this week.
Platini’s press release lauds the distribution of this money across competing clubs, highlighting the token “solidarity payments” to member nations. But the UEFA spin omits the fact that the distribution of bounty from Europe’s most lucrative sporting tournament is concentrating wealth and reducing competitiveness in European football, stacking the odds against teams outside the continent’s wealthier nations.
This happens because of the discriminatory formula used to parcel out the loot – specifically, the use of the “TV Market Pool” to allocate revenue. Almost half the total take of the Champions League, €341m, is distributed according to “the proportional value of the national TV market each individual team represented, among other factors”. Clear as mud in a pigsty, but let me explain that for you: it means they give the money to the teams from the big rich countries – teams who already have more money because they’re from big rich countries.
What this means in practice is that last season Arsenal received more swag from this bag of cash than their three group G opponents *combined*. Serbia’s FK Partizan, Portugal’s Braga, and Ukraine’s Shaktar Donetsk received €1.3m, €2.2m, and €3.8m respectively, while Wenger’s prepubescent chokers trousered €16.6m in TV pool dough.
Shaktar, by the way, progressed further than the Gooners and still ended up earning €8m less in prize money across the whole tournament. That’s why the TV pool is so despicable: it distorts competition, destroys meritocracy, and creates a franchise effect based on geography and demographics – accidents of history. Even the Barclays Premier League doesn’t differentiate this way – within that gilded cage, spoils are divided on merit alone.
Let’s look at a pair of Europe’s top sides to see how this plays out. Last year, Ajax (four-times winners of the European Cup/Champions League) and Real Madrid (nine times) competed against Milan and Auxerre in Group G. Real raked in over €39m from the tournament; Ajax brought home a little over €12m. Fair enough, you might think: Ajax didn’t make it past the group stage, whereas Mourinho’s Madrid reached the semi-finals. But what if the roles were reversed, and Ajax had instead lost out to the unbeatable Barça in the semi-final?
Real would still have earned more: €26m to Ajax’s €25m. That’s because the Bernabeu club’s share of this “TV Market Pool” is €17m, and Ajax’s is just over €3m.
Doesn’t that just reflect the fact that everyone wants to watch the likes of Ronaldo, Benzema, and Kaka, rather than Rodney Sneijder (brother of Wesley), Daley Blind (no relation to Danny), and Mats Rits (just a Belgian)? Maybe. But with Real guaranteed a Champions League cheque €14m bigger than Ajax’s every year, it’s a hell of a lot easier for them to afford Karim Benzema. In fact, that €14m covers the cost of Karim very neatly: €8.5m in wages plus a €35m transfer fee amortised over six years is just over €14m per year. So the effect of UEFA’s distribution rules is to hand the world’s richest club another world-class striker to score against their less bankable opponents.
Which he did: Benzema scored four times against Ajax in two games, each of which ended 4-0 for the Spanish side.
This same TV money gap applies all over the Champions League. Group C: Manchester United €26m, Rangers €9m. Group B: Schalke €18m, Benfica €3m. Group F: Chelsea €27m, MSK Zilina €0.2m.
As long as UEFA’s rules for distributing this cash remain in place, teams from the smaller footballing countries like Holland, Portugal, and of course Scotland will remain twice handicapped. Handicapped once because their domestic TV deals are limited by the size of their domestic TV market; and handicapped again because UEFA amplify that effect.
So as a football fan in Scotland, what can you do? I’ve thought about this long and hard, and there’s only one answer: we need more Scots.
UEFA can talk about “solidarity payments” all they like, but what we need are more Scottish Sky Sports subscribers, to produce more tartan TV takings, and then we’ll get a bigger share of UEFA’s TV-driven dough.
We Scots have to breed. UEFA’s message to Scottish football fans is clear: “Go fuck yourselves.”
Battle of Britain 1992