American Football

‘A question of survival’: European soccer faces $1 billion decision

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented European football with a Rubik's cube like no other to unravel.Complex questions, unprecedented decisions and unenviable repercussions are facing the game's administrators and clubs with livelihoods, integrity and survival all on the line.It's the beautiful game's Darwinism moment — and nobody's immune.The stakes couldn't be higher. European football is funded by billions of dollars from television rights deals, but clubs also understand that the health of their players and employees can't be compromised."For lots of teams it is an existential question — a question of survival," Lutz Pfannenstiel, who is Sporting Director at Bundesliga club Fortuna Düsseldorf, told CNN Sport.READ: Italian soccer league should 'finish properly,' says Alessandro Del Piero

No 'one size fits all' solution

Barring the anomaly of Belarus, football across the continent has been on lockdown since mid-March.As countries begin embarking on phased re-openings, leagues are having to delicately navigate how and if to end the current season.Whilst there's a strong desire by European governing body UEFA to see domestic competitions through to their completion, the menu of best worst-case restart options is largely unpalatable.And for some the consequences proved too hard to swallow.Last month, the Dutch Eredivisie declared its season effectively null and void.Ajax was on course to lift its 35th title, though there'll now be no champion crowned for the first time in the league's 64-year history."Of course (we were) disappointed," former goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, who is now the club's chief executive, told CNN Sport's Patrick Snell."At the end of your career, you always look at how many league titles you won […] and so that's why for the club, it's maybe understandable that […] the players would have rather […] seen it differently." To add insult to injury, there'll be no relegation from and no promotion to the top-flight — a decision which led Cambuur head coach Henk de Jong to call it "the biggest disgrace in the history of Dutch sports."De Jong's side were 11 points clear at the top of the Eerste Divisie (Dutch second division) and primed for the big time.That dream has been snatched from them and a legal challenge against the ruling has followed suit with a final decision pending.READ: Potential Premier League return divides fans at top and bottomAjax was denied the Dutch title after the current season was scrapped.

Brewing discontent

The picture is equally fraught in France where the top-two divisions were ended through a weighted points-per-game system.Whilst Paris Saint-Germain can now toast a third successive Ligue 1 title, discontent is brewing.Lyon, who finished seventh and have subsequently missed out on European football for the first time since 1997, announced on Friday it is taking action against the French League's (LFP) decision to end the season, by first going to the Administrative Court of Paris.Meanwhile Amiens, who finished second from bottom, has launched a petition calling for the league (LFP) to review its decision to relegate the club — one which is "fraught with consequences that goes against fairness in sport."Across the Channel, the UK has recorded the most number of COVID-19 deaths in Europe, jeopardizing England's Premier League hopes of resuming the season.Proposals by the league to conclude the season at several neutral grounds have reportedly been met with a less than enthusiastic response.Sports lawyer Daniel Geey explained that whilst each league is governed by its own constitutional and contractual relationships, all face a fine balance between pragmatism and satisfying its members in the fairest way possible.He told CNN Sport: "It's imperative to prepare and plan with the possibility that things might not go to plan […] You have this football ecosystem of lots of different stakeholders trying their best to mitigate against what is a completely unforeseen situation."The reasonableness and proportional aspects will play a part of the rationale […] Would a reasonable league administrator come to a decision which it believes resulted in the fairest, most proportionate and non-discriminatory outcome for all of its league participants."READ: Paris Saint-Germain named French Ligue 1 champion after season canceled

Big financial hit

Striking a balance, though, between upholding sporting integrity and preserving financial sustainability has never been more important.Van der Sar is under no illusions that there'll be a "big hit" for everyone involved with income streams from broadcast deals to commercial and matchday revenue drying up like never before.Although clubs in the world's richest league — England's Premier League — enjoy the spoils of a multi-billion-dollar domestic TV rights deal, it is they who stand to lose the most in this crisis.Football finance expert, Kieran Maguire, has calculated that should the season be scrapped, domestic broadcasters could be entitled to an eye-watering rebate of almost $1 billion."A lot of that money has already been advanced by the TV companies to the Premier League, who has then distributed it to the clubs," Maguire told CNN Sport."So the clubs will be in this real pincer movement in the sense that they're going to have to pay money back but they've got no money coming in to pay that money back."And what about wages?According to Maguire, they have increased a staggering 2,811% since the league's inception in the 1992-93 season.Although a handful of clubs have negotiated wage reductions or deferrals during this period, Maguire did not believe an umbrella wage cap would be introduced any time soon."If you are one of the elite clubs in the big six you're competing against Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich. PSG and so on. If there isn't one being applied against your peer group across the rest of Europe, then you're going to be at a competitive disadvantage."Whilst football is big business behind the numbers are livelihoods at all levels of the game.Pfannenstiel is one of 60,000 people employed in the Bundesliga. The consequences of not playing football, he said, posed a very real question of survival."If there would be no football played for many, many months or […] the unthinkable would have happened not till the end of the year, then of course, for every club in the big leagues, it would have been very difficult," he said.READ: Premier League under pressure over Saudi stake in soccer club takeoverThe German Bundesliga is set to return behind closed doors later this month.

Return to normality

Despite the gloomy outlook, glimmers of light are emerging.Following government approval, Germany is set to be the first of European footbalRead More – Source

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