Financial Fair Play is incompatible with business

Gary Tipper_PalatineGary Tipper, managing partner at Palatine Private Equity, discusses the business of football, and how the new Financial Fair Play rules are incompatible.




Almost every business in every sector is built upon the idea of competitive advantage. Firms will do whatever it takes to find a gap in the market, including accepting losses for the first few years. Sadly, it seems that one of the UK’s most lucrative industries, and one Manchester is particularly good at, seems not to agree.

I am, of course, talking about football. Having seen Manchester City spend and lose millions over the first few years after being taken over by Sheikh Mansour, UEFA decided to solve a problem that never existed by creating the Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations. As a hardened City fan, the words Financial Fair Play are enough to make my blood boil, especially when considering the fair aspect.

Before the regulations were announced, I think most football fans thought the idea of FFP was to make sure clubs were not taken over by disreputable owners. The likes of Leeds and Portsmouth have experienced this in recent years, with mis-management leaving the clubs debt-ridden and ultimately heading for administration. No one wants to see this happen again, as in the end it is the fans that really suffer.

However, what UEFA have come up with is a system that effectively means that the clubs with the largest turnovers are the ones that can spend big in the transfer market, protecting the old order of European football. No other industry in the world blocks new money being invested in it, which is essentially what UEFA is effectively doing to European football. Whether fans like it or not football is now a huge global industry and should be dictated by market forces not by an industry body trying to protect the old order.

Imagine if this sort of protectionism had happened in the technology sector, which in the 1960s and 1970s was dominated by the big hardware players like IBM. Had rules stopping businesses losing money been in place, companies like Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook would not exist. Each of these household names lost millions if not billions in their development years, enabling them to become the large organisations that ultimately transformed an industry and broke up the old monopolies that existed.

Why should football be different? If money hadn’t come into the likes of City, Chelsea, PSG and others, European football would be an oligopoly for the foreseeable future – making it incompatible with business.

Here football can learn a few lessons from business. Instead of the current rules, make any new owner put up to two years running costs in a blocked account that is used if they decide to remove their support, ensuring clubs avoid administration. This would also have the effect of keeping away the buyers without any real financial substance.

When looking at sustainability, it is also important for the rules to focus on debt levels. In the past too much debt has led to the downfall of many clubs, but under FFP, it is currently seen as acceptable for United to have £500m of debt and Real €600m of debt while City are punished despite being debt free. The £50m fine handed to the Blues is another clear example of the real aim of FFP – further establishing the status quo.

As a global industry, the rules governing football should be along the lines of the rules that govern businesses. With the current rules being incompatible, they should be challenged as I think it is best for business. Manchester has had a great footballing history and with the emergence of City in the last five years should have an even better future, dictated not by UEFA, but by market forces

The Business Success of the Champions League

In 2013 UEFA reported a global audience of 172.6 million viewers when Bayern Munich defeated Borussia Dortmund at Wembley Stadium.  As the final for this year approaches it is expected that the global viewership will surpass these numbers when Real Madrid and Atletico face off in Lisbon.

So why is the UEFA Champions League such a successful ¨product¨?

If we analyze the tournament from a business perspective we can come up with the following conclusions:


The Champions League is one of the most well-marketed sports properties in the industry.  The best way to measure the success of a property is by analyzing its audiences and the levels of engagement and interest that it generates.  As is stated above, the Champions League matches are eagerly anticipated every year drawing huge global audiences throughout the season making it an attractive property for commercial sponsors.

UEFA´s UCL sponsorship program is one that has adopted the ¨less is more¨ approach with only eight official sponsors (Gazprom, Heineken, MasterCard, Sony, Unicredit, HTC, Adidas and Ford, soon to be replaced by Nissan) allowing for true partnerships that add great value to the engagement for both sides.

Furthermore, sponsors get a huge impact in the form of commercial airtime along with on-ground benefits that can be activated during the eight-month duration of the competition, along with logo placements at pre and post-match interviews and VIP ticket allocation.


UEFA has mastered the art of branding its star product.  Every football fan across the world recognizes the tournament’s official logo and anthem, and regardless of whether a match is played in London, Barcelona or Milan, all stadiums look exactly the same on television.

In addition, all matches are played at exactly the same time on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings having created what is known in the industry as an ¨appointment to view¨ for the past 20 years, building massive brand strength for the property.

Structural Strength

The tournament is made up of the best football clubs from across Europe who in turn have the best players on the planet.  This leads to very competitive matches that are attractive to audiences in neutral markets.  (For example, a match such as the recent semifinal between Atletico Madrid and Chelsea FC is not only viewed in the UK and Spain, but in fact performs very well in many ¨neutral countries¨).  This means that the competition is not only attractive in local markets, unlike many other football leagues and tournaments across the world.

So wherever you may be on May 24th watching the final between Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, remember that behind all the marketing and commercial success of the Champions League there is a fantastic football product.

Written by:  Diego Valdes, Program Director, Sports Business Institute Barcelona

-The Sports Business Institute Barcelona provides online sports management training for the football industry.

Exclusive pictures from Champions League final

Well, someone was always going to do it. Some wags have mocked up how they see the 2012 Champions League final panning out.

I’m sure Chelsea and Bayern fans will have something to say about it – but it’s still a laugh and worth sharing.

Also, anyone to stingy to pay for picture rights may find this picture comes in handy!

The Champions!

Love it or loath it, you just can’t beat the excitement that surrounds the UEFA Champions League knock out stages.

This morning’s quarter final and semi final draws had the F.C. Business office at a standstill, each with our own predictions on the likely pairings.

Tie of the round, Man Utd v Chelsea? For me, Tottenham v Real Madrid.

Last week Arsenal where comprehensively beaten by Barcelona, two teams with a football ethos that attracted a worldwide TV audience of over 300m.

But what is brilliant about the Champions League is the branding. The consistency of its look and feel from the title music, to the days games are played and the time of kick-off, everything is consistent. The use of colour and imagery promotes an air of prestige.

So whilst the competition and cup itself is steeped in history, UEFA bit the bullet, looked to the future and have produced a competition that is unrivalled anywhere else.

The English FA are currently working on plans to revamp the FA Cup. Maybe it’s time for some far reaching changes to its format or is the real key to reigniting this grand old competition, in its branding?

The FA Cup has lost its way, and whether anyone likes it or not, they should look to how UEFA have developed the Champions League and give the FA Cup the presence it deserves!