The sport is going through an intense period. On the national level, the feat of EV Zug – Swiss champions after trailing 3-0 in the play-off final – will long be remembered by hockey fans. It will be the same, for lovers of the round ball, of the semi-final second leg of the Champions League between Real Madrid and Manchester City, which finally turned in favor of the Spanish club. As for basketball fans, they have just been enthusiastic about the quarter-finals of the EuroLeague.
Created during the 2000-2001 season by the ULEB, an independent organization of the International Basketball Federation, this competition can help to foreshadow the consequences that the advent of a ” Super League” managed by a commercial company. Increasing revenue through a show concentrating the best talents while reducing sporting hazards through a closed league should restore the profitability of clubs: this is at least the argument put forward by the twelve who tried, in April 2021 , to create such a supranational championship.
However, the financial situation of basketball clubs playing in the EuroLeague is far from idyllic. To be convinced of this, it is useful to look at the composition of the teams that will take part in the Final Four of this competition at the end of May: the Turkish defending champion, Anadolu Efes, strongly supported by a powerful holding of the same name, as well as the basketball sections of the sports clubs of Olympiakos Piraeus, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. It is no coincidence to find these clubs, whose men’s football teams regularly participate in the prestigious Champions League. Indeed, in the absence of a tycoon compensating for the operating losses of basketball clubs as for the Anadolu Efes, it is the football sections that come to relax the budgetary constraints of the sports clubs.
For example, FC Barcelona, the EuroLeague regular season leader, has a payroll of 34.8 million euros, allowing it to recruit top players like Nikola Mirotic. However, this investment is only possible through the support of the football section, which compensates for annual losses estimated at 27.4 million euros, despite – by the way – a recurring deficit and a debt estimated at more than one billion euros. In the history of the EuroLeague, only Anadolu Efes managed to put their name on the charts without the support of a football section. A feat that was only made possible through the largesse of its shareholder.
The creation of a closed European league has therefore not improved the profitability of the best continental basketball clubs. This result echoes the deficits of North American franchises playing in Major League Baseball, another example of “Super League”. This is not surprising when one remembers that any increase in the income of professional clubs automatically generates a proportional increase in expenditure… and therefore in club deficits, if the league is not able to put in place mechanisms effective regulation putting an end to the arms race between clubs.
The project is not dead
To date, only the National Football League (an American football competition) seems to have really managed to ensure the profitability of its franchises through effective governance of its cartel (equal sharing of revenue and strict financial ceiling, for example). This is less the case for other North American sports leagues – despite the exceptions to antitrust laws they have – and a fortiori for European leagues, whether private or not, so-called “super” or not.
The football “Super League” has long been a sea serpent stirred up by the big clubs to weigh in during negotiations with UEFA when it comes to defining the format of the competitions or the key to the distribution of audiovisual rights. In recent months, it has gone from being a threat to an established project, which is still supported by Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Juventus Turin.
These clubs are awaiting the response of the European Court of Justice on the legality of the sanctions pronounced by UEFA against them in order to possibly relaunch their project. They do not realize that the Super League represents for them a mirror to the larks: it will not allow their finances to be restored without appropriate governance mechanisms. These could just as well be established within the framework of current competitions. As such, the reform of UEFA’s financial fair play seems much more promising than the creation of a closed competition.
* Mickael Terrien is academic manager of the Sports Policy and Public Management certificate issued by the Institute of Advanced Studies in Public Administration (Idheap) as well as the Certificate in Football Management by Idheap in partnership with the UEFA Academy.