There is a trend in major football leagues in Europe- domination by mega-clubs. By mega-clubs, I mean Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City, FC Bayern, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Liverpool, among others. The author of the book in German, Der Fluch der mega-clubs (The curse of mega-clubs) by Christian Spiller, takes a deep dive into why the mega clubs are changing the football landscape and the implications for the future. The sub title of the book is a bit cynical, Wie die reichsten Vereine der Welt den Fußball zerstören, meaning, how the richest clubs in the world destroys football.
Spiller is a fan of Energie Cottbus and his premise against the mega-clubs garnered some attention recently, when Bayern won the Bundesliga eleven times in a row. Unprecedented in the annals of the Bundesliga. It’s like the company in Bremen, that does the engraving of the winner every year of the meisterschale can do it with their eyes closed. Because of constant repetition.
The potency of football to attract global interests hinges on its unpredictability. Hitherto, David could beat Goliath. But things have changed. Spiller’s insights are not new, but they are worth highlighting.
The mega-clubs are in a league of their own. Because they have more resources to influence outcomes. It is like a cartel that protects their interests. Who says money can not buy success should think again.
TV money continues to be a topic of strife in the Bundesliga due to unfair distribution. The Bundesliga poorly remunerates the middle and lower placed teams that discover talents. Their jewels stay temporarily and move to the next big club because of the push and pull of money. Besides, the players want to win silverware.
Leo Kirch of Premiere, who revolutionized Pay TV in Germany, gave Bayern a “head start” and since then other teams are playing catch up. This has led to diminished attractiveness of the league.
The restructured Champions league is more of a money making event. More games in the group phase means more money for clubs. Since money is the major currency that attracts winners and wannabe stars, it is highly sought after by all. Echoes of the Super league are still re-vibrating. Is it inevitable that one day, European giants will play among themselves in a league that reeks of insularity from outside forces?
Growing disinterest in football
There is a term in research circles called competitive balance and uncertainty of outcome hypothesis. In a nutshell, teams need rivals to thrive and without rivals there is no economic value. However, a team in the league should not be too stark, else they might destroy the competitive balance and lead to certainty of outcome, which does not bode well for all. Walter Neale conducted a seminal work on the issue in 1964, titled The peculiar economics of professional sports.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, fans realized that the clubs and players do not get it. They played in empty stadiums without fans grappling with survival from the scourge of disease. It appears the teams lived in a bubble.
The outcome is what we are witnessing today: lack of interest because the winner is predictable.
The solutions to the quagmire we find ourselves are a repeat of recycled ideas like, eradication of 50+1, do away with financial fair play or salary cap.
DFL (German football league) not too long ago invited stakeholders and fans to join a task force on how to improve the Bundesliga. The task force has finished their work, and the implementation is non existent. Is the report a paper tiger?
I like the suggestion of Hertha BSC’s president, Kay Bernstein. He says, redistribution of money to clubs with strong fiscal policy, or salary cap. A return to all games played at 15:30 because it will encourage away fans to take the train and be ecologically friendly.
The state of football today needs a paradigm shift to a new awakening. Currently, the soul of the game is eroding every second without sustainable solutions and ideas. The mega-clubs have worked ‘hard’ for their interests. However, we need solidarity in all its ramifications to take the beautiful game to the next level.