Anyone who has a television, reads the paper, or even remotely interacts with other human beings in the United States was aware of the NFL lockout that happened over the summer. I will be the first to admit that a) I wouldn’t really mind an NFL lockout and b) that I had to read a “For Dummies” article to even know what was going on. Unbeknownst to the majority of Americans, two other football leagues found themselves in lockouts this summer- the Spanish La Liga, and the Italian Serie A.
The Spanish Footballers Association (AFE) called a lockout on August 17th, negotiating with the LFP, the top two tiers (42 clubs) of Spanish football, on the basis that a number of players were owed up to three month’s wages by clubs saddled with billions of Euros worth of debt. It’s estimated that the clubs of La Liga are a total of €4 billion in debt. There are over 200 players in the league who’s clubs cannot afford to pay wages. The league as a whole is supposed to be responsible for paying these players, and the debate causing the lockout is that of whether the LFP’s emergency fund is large enough to cover the cureoning cost of the unpaid players. Obviously a quick fix to a larger problem, a league emergency fund is not the proper way to address the overwhelming debt present at smaller La Liga clubs.
TV rights are one of the largest sources of income for most European football leagues. Unlike in leagues across Europe, clubs in Spain individually negotiate their television deals. Real Madrid and Barcelona, the only global clubs in Spain, rake in about €300M from television rights between them. The other 40 clubs make about one tenth of that. When no less than 6 clubs started this season in administration, there clearly needs to be a readjustment to revenue allocation in the league. Barca and Real will obviously fight any movement in this direction, as even with such a revenue stream they still carry a hefty level of debt. Terms were agreed between the clubs and the players association, the emergency fund was increased, unpaid players were paid, and the LFP proceeded with just one set of fixtures missed.
Serie A action was postponed for disagreements concerning clubs’ desire for players to be compelled to move in the last year of their contract. Ultimately what this does is ensure a revenue stream for the selling clubs by allowing them to collect a transfer fee. A player who lets their club contract run out is considered a free agent, and no transfer fees are involved when they sign at a new club. The other issue that was debated was a “solidarity tax” to be applied to high earners at the club. In my opinion, anything that involves football, money, and the Italian government must be taken with a grain of salt. The don’t exactly have a sterling record together. It is near impossible to even speculate a way to even the playing field in Serie A, what with all the money laundering, match fixing and such. Although miles better than the situation was in the eighties and nineties, there is still a long road of clean up before the league has regained the respect it deserves. The league and players associations were able to agree to a one year contract, as opposed to the usual three year contract, which speaks to the continued unrest in the league.
As compared to the NFL lockout issues, both La Liga and Serie A seem to be in pretty deep shit. NFL Players Association was fighting for a revenue split of 50-50 between owners and players. Granted the NFL has some sort of revenue sharing system between the franchises, but most European football clubs spend anywhere between 60% and 80% of annual revenues solely on player wages. As I previously discussed, the UEFA Financial Fair Play rules are the first step toward reeling in the insane spending happening in Europe that has been detrimental to many leagues and clubs. If anything, this summer’s lockouts have given clubs, players, and governing bodies the chance to reexamine the financial structures and at least begin to identify areas that should be addressed to ensure the successful continuation of entertaining, competitive football.