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God in Blatter

September 6th, 2006 by · No Comments · Features, Football

The battle for the heart and soul of the global game has only just begun precipitated, ironically, by the most successful tournament to date. The G14, a group of 18 majors clubs, are demanding a slice of the huge revenue generated by the event. Their argument, apart from the obvious greed, is that they provide the players that make it such a global attraction for television audiences, and at their own cost.

Clubs are demanding influence on international schedules and control over the participation of key players. Clubs say the years of investment and the risk in releasing players for exhibition games, friendlies and tournaments should be insured against. The clubs want proper protection of their assets, covered by FIFA, though what the premium on a player with $100m buy-out clause, like Ronaldinho, is anyone’s guess.

There are echoes of the Bosman case that are making FIFA nervous. A ruling is due in the test case for Charleroi player, Abdelmajid Oulmers, who, under FIFA rules, was forced to play an international against the wishes of his club. During the match, Morocco v. Burkina Faso, Oulmens was injured and out of club football for 8 months. His club are claiming $1.5m damages from FIFA. Other European clubs who have lost players to long term injuries during the World Cup are looking on with interest. One domestic example is Newcastle who see an opportunity for a major compensation claim against the FA and FIFA after a long term injury to Michael Owen during the first round.

The Charleroi claim may soon look like small beer when Premiership clubs let the lawyers loose. It’s currently estimated that winning the Premier League and the Champions League in a season is worth north of $80m for a club. That’s just gate receipts and television revenue. The value of merchandising and other spin-offs is harder to calculate, as are the ‘intangibles’ such as the ease of attracting players to a successful club. If one club can make a case that a loss of a key player was a factor in lack of success on the field then the floodgates could open. FIFA could drown in multi-million dollar claims.

The numbers, as the bean counters like to call them, make compelling reading. FIFA revenue has grown from $9m during the 1982 World Cup in Spain to an estimated $3billion for the tournament in Germany. Sponsors alone have contributed $600 million to this tournament on the back of extraordinary viewer numbers. Each game is estimated to have attracted 500 million viewers on average with 1 billion viewers for the final alone. The World Cup is the biggest media event on the planet by a mile.

The clubs see not a penny.

Also keeping Sepp awake at nights is the fact that the G14 clubs are discussing negotiating their own broadcast rights. Many Premiership clubs are keen to break the traditional collective bargaining by the FA and negotiate directly with the distributors of content, including new boys on the block such as broadband provides like BT and mobile operators like Vodafone.

As Blatter faces new challenges to his presidency he may be forced into serious concessions with the leading clubs, a major influence on national FIFA delegates, just to protect his position. He has regularly proved to be a man who will do anything to hold onto power.

By 2010 the global game, and the tournament in South Africa, could be run by a cartel of the top European clubs and the wide boys, asset strippers and money launderers that own them. My god, even Sepp looks better than that!

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