By Christophe Jost and Tony Attwood
Looking at what is happening in Germany there appears to be much more acceptance in Germany than there is in England of the reality that now football has stopped the financial consequences could be huge.
There seems to be far less of the talk in Germany about the huge transfers clubs can make. Nor is there the assumption that everything will pick up and be the same.
Rather there is an acceptance that football is part of the rhythm of people’s lives, whether they are spectators or amateurs. Football is part of the fabric of society which gives joy to many people; which is probably not where we would start if trying to describe football’s place in English society.
If we were considering football in English society the discussion would probably centre on angst, pain and anger, with occasional joy for a few.
The big worry in Germany in fact is that smaller clubs are in danger and the 2nd and 3rd divisions may end up with just eight or 10 teams in each league.
There is also a realisation that situations such as that experienced by Hanover 96, will make the league impossible to re-start. Hanover had the entire team and all the club staff placed in quarantine. They will come out of quarantine this coming week, but what if a new case appears? What happens then? No one is sure.
One of the questions the German League is asking the clubs is, “what happens to you if there can be no more games this season?” And the answer is that the only chance of survival is games behind closed doors (“ghost games” as it would be literally translated from the German). Televised ghost games could bring some TV revenue, and without that, the club dies.
There is also talk of keeping all the players in isolation, as they are when in the build-up to a world cup tournament, but with more stringent controls, playing the “ghost games” to bring in some money, and then being ready for the new season.
But of course, this can only work if everyone agrees and everyone can work together, not just in terms of agreeing the practicalities, but also because the economics of football need to be totally re-invented. Again it’s a subject area we are just not hearing in England. Yet in England as in Germany, something will have to change. As long as the dialogue is about the transfers Arsenal (and other clubs of course) can make and the players they need to lose, and not much else, then quite simply, the League is sinking.
The fact is that football has been living from hand to mouth and what we have at the moment is not a workable business model. A solidarity between the clubs is needed which will consider payroll issues, cashflow issues and every other element of sponsorship.
But this is going to be incredibly hard in England because the ownership of clubs is so different, making it impossible to imagine some clubs co-operating with others. Can you imagine the owners of Manchester City co-operating with anyone? They feel wrongly attacked, and they have no financial worries. Why should they be concerned about anyone else when they feel no one is concerned about them. The same is true of PSG; why should they bother about anyone else?
But most clubs do need to change their business logic and become businesses that do not just funnel money from sponsors and TV companies to the players, but actually create a long term sustainable business model, where the profits also cannot be syphoned off by the owners. The fact is most clubs do not have three months worth of cash reserves – and that’s the problem.
So there is serious talk in Germany about a salary cap. That may need some changes to European law, but European law has always seen sport as different from industry and the rest of business, so that could be possible.
And there is the central issue of cashflow because if this goes on much longer they will not be paying their players. So for a solution, the clubs have to come together to agree on what to do, which again brings us back to the way English clubs are run. That model doesn’t induce coming together.
So there is agreement: this crisis is likely to change the structure of German football and the sort of economics that is part of normal business has to be part of football.
And thus the discussion becomes one of “what happens next?” There needs to be co-operation and solidarity, and an understanding of each other’s problems. Because the reality is, if clubs start going bust, there will be no games in September because there will be a knock-on effect between the clubs.
Thus in Germany, we have fans saying, we will show solidarity. We don’t expect our season tickets to be refunded. These fans are offering to help contribute to a fund to help the smaller clubs. Can you imagine that in England for the Premier League?
Or if Wolverhampton Wanderers says, “we’ve already spent next season’s TV money, so now we are in trouble,” can you imagine other clubs saying “of course, no problem, here’s some cash.”
It seems unlikely.
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