Monday, October 19, 2009

On financial doping

"And this will be one nation under the dollar, with justice and liberty for none."

- The Simpsons, from the Mr Lisa Goes To Washington episode

I've a confession to make - I rarely have the time to watch the Arsenal anymore. What with working six days a weeks, daylight savings, and an incredibly slow Internet connection, I just don't have the inclination. Whether that means I should continue blogging about a team I'm no longer watching is a question for another day. Or maybe I should just spring $70 a month for Foxtel and record the matches.

Anyway, the morning before the Birmingham match, I read an article about their recent acquisition by Carson Yeung. Turns out Alex McLeish will be handed £40m in the January transfer window to turn his side into a mid-table table side. The article makes pretty clear that that £40m will not do a lot - it doesn't allow Birmingham to acquire a better class of player, it just inflates the price of mediocre players. This will put pressure on other relegation-candidates to find rich owners in order to compete with Birminghams. And this will eventually turn the Premier League into a collection of 20 expensive indulgences, each artificially supported by a rich sugar daddy.

When you consider that the combined debt of all 20 Premier League clubs is £3.1b, it's a frightening scenario. No wonder Arsene Wenger is so adamant against "financial doping".

Anyway, I've been watching highlights of the Bundesliga, and it's not bad value. The play isn't as dynamic as in the Premier League. There aren't as many stars. And technically, it's much inferior to the fare served up in La Liga or the Premier League. But still, to watch the crowds in the stadiums and the commitment on the pitch, it makes me wonder if there isn't something more to football than technical quality.

The Germans have gone down a different route with their league. Instead of surrendering their league to rampant capitalism, they've restricted the quality of their elite clubs to better preserve the integrity of the competition as a whole. I've found this website which explains the areas in which the Bundesliga has been organised than the Premier League. The pertinent points are that: (1) there's a cap on the price of tickets, meaning that season tickets are within the grasp of ordinary fans; (2) there's a ruling that no one individual can own more than 49% of a club, meaning that sugar-daddies can never blatantly impose their will on a club; and (3) teams are actually solvent, instead of mired in transfer-funded debt.

The sacrifice they've made is that the Bundesliga is no longer competitive with the elite clubs of Europe. Look at the Champions League, and you see that even Bayern Munich has slipped into the second tier of clubs. Ribery, the best player in Germany, will surely leave for Real Madrid, Man Utd or Barcelone next season. Wolfbsburg, the Bundesliga champions, would be a long-shot to reach the quarter- or semi-finals.

But still, it's a choice that seems a lot more logical than what's happening in England, where clubs are being swallowed up by idle, profligate businessmen. It's okay in the short term, but we've seen with West Ham and Portsmouth what happens when a wealthy backer goes belly-up. And a lot of other clubs are tethered to financial ruin in a similar way. Maybe it's time to diminish the quality of the Premier League, in order to preserve its integrity. Or maybe I should subscribe to Foxtel and hope that my $70 a month will somehow find its way to a coffers of a struggling Premier League club to hep them survive.


GPS Justin said...

I don't know how Australia can keep the NRL and A League off free tv even though there is such a large fan base.

SBS is doing well but at least can we watch some more Premier League matches instead of the Champions League ones, and we rarely see Arsenal anyway??

Connolly's agent said...

You need digital TV, Justin. Arsenal CL matches ares shown on SBS 2 or 3, sometimes as a replay. I've seen most of the CL matches this year, compared to one or two EPL matches on the computer. I still miss that year when SBS showed two EPL matches a week, one live Saturday night and one on extended replay on a Sunday afternoon.

V said...

the germans are certainly brave to go with such a principled approach. its a shame the english FA aren't bold enough to adopt their policies. If for example you had standing tickets atmospheres in the league would be even better.