Ten principles for a European football league

European club football is at a tipping point. Huge imbalances have emerged across the continent and clubs with glorious European traditions are no longer able to compete. Clubs have accumulated billions of losses, many of them caused by uncontrolled spending. To stay afloat, clubs in Spain and France have mortgaged their futures, by selling media rights for 50 years (or more) and it appears that others will follow.

Last October we began an open dialogue on the future of European club football. Since then, we have spoken to nearly 50 European clubs and other football stakeholders. The vast majority of them share the assessment that the very foundation of European football is under threat. It is time for change.

Clubs bear all entrepreneurial risks but too often are forced to sit on the side-lines when key decisions are made, and they are watching their sporting and financial foundations crumble. Our discussions have made clear clubs are often unable to publicly speak up against a system where the threat of sanctions is used to stifle opposition.

Our dialogue has been honest, direct, and fruitful. There are clear conclusions about the need for change and the building blocks of how to achieve it. Clearly there is more work to do, and the dialogue will continue. The consistent feedback received by us on European club competitions has been distilled into the 10 principles presented below.

  • Broad Based and Meritocratic Competitions
    The European football league should be an open, multi-divisional competition with 60 to 80 teams, allowing for sustainable distribution of revenues across the pyramid. Participation should be based on annual sporting merit and there should be no permanent members. Open qualification based on domestic performance would grant rising clubs access to the competition while maintaining competitive dynamics at domestic level.
  • Domestic Tournaments: the Foundation of Football
    Participating clubs should remain fully committed to domestic tournaments as they do today. At the same time, the critical need to strengthen and make more competitive domestic tournaments across the continent must be addressed. European competitions should play a pivotal role in helping to achieve this goal by generating and allocating additional resources throughout the system.
  • Improve Competitiveness with Stable and Sustainable Resources
    Improving the competitiveness of European clubs requires additional financial resources to be shared across the pyramid and strictly enforced Financial Sustainability rules. Clubs also need greater stability and predictability in annual revenues so they can make sensible, long-term commitments to player and infrastructure expenditures. Substantial improvements in the format and attractiveness of the current European competitions would generate additional resources. Stability and predictability in revenues would be dramatically improved by offering clubs a minimum of 14 guaranteed European matches each season.
  • Player Health Must Be at the Centre of the Game
    The health of players must be a key component in determining the number of matches each year. The number of European club competition match days should not be increased beyond those in currently planned competition calendars. Player organisations should be involved to safeguard players’ health and social dialogue across EU should be promoted. Importantly European clubs and players should not be obliged to participate in expanded or new tournaments imposed by third parties.
  • Club Run Competitions with Transparent, Well Enforced Financial Sustainability Rules
    European club competitions should be governed by the clubs as they are domestically, not by third parties who benefit without taking any risk. The governance structure must be fully compliant with EU law. To improve sustainability, spending should be based only on resources generated, not from competition-distorting capital injections. Financial Sustainability rules should allow clubs to only spend a fixed percentage of their annual football-related revenue on player salaries and net transfers with appropriate provisions for smaller clubs and transition rules.
  • The World’s Best Football Competition
    In developing a pan-European competition, the aspiration must be to create the most exciting sporting event in the world. Football fans deserve the best matches, and the best experience. It is also critical that younger generations, attracted by globally expanding US sports and digital entertainment, continue to embrace football as the most loved sport in the world. This can only be achieved with competitions that enable the world’s best players to compete throughout the entire season with exciting matches from beginning to end.
  • Improved Fan Experience
    Football is the people’s game and dialogue with fans and independent fan groups is essential to discover ideas which can improve the fan experience. Additional measures should be taken to facilitate fan attendance at away games. There should also be standards for infrastructure to bring football stadiums up to consistent, high levels of quality, enhancing the live football experience.
  • Develop and Finance Women’s Football
    Football stakeholders should promote and develop the women’s game by putting it “centre stage” side-by-side with men’s competitions. To achieve this goal, financing should be significantly expanded beyond existing contributions from women’s European club competitions. Investments should be provided not only at a professional but also at grass roots level.
  • Significant Increase in Solidarity
    Grass roots solidarity is an essential pillar of European football and should be increased far beyond current levels. As previously announced, a minimum of €400 million per year to grass roots solidarity, non-participating clubs and social causes – more than two times the contribution from existing European Club Competitions – should achieve this objective. Transparency should be ensured via the supervision of independent authorities with clear annual reporting on spending and its impact.
  • Respect For European Union Law and Values
    European football and its stakeholders must embrace the values, laws and fundamental freedoms of the EU. Further, no European club should be forced to dispute resolution systems outside the EU rule of law. The jurisdiction of sport arbitration should be strictly limited to matters of sport. Any other disputes should be addressed to the appropriate forum. All cases should be under the ultimate supervision of the judicial system of the EU.

Later this year, the Court of Justice of the European Union will rule on the legality and compatibility of the UEFA monopoly with the framework of the fundamental freedoms, principles and values that are the basis of the EU. Their decision will impact not only football, but all European sports. Our objective is to present a sustainable sporting project for European club competitions, available to, at a minimum, all 27 EU Member States, as soon as possible after receipt of the judgment. The issues are clear, and action must be taken for the benefit of fans, players, and clubs.

Bernd Reichart