Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

Five Years UEFA Club Licensing Benchmarking Report – A Report on the Reports. By Frédérique Faut, Giandonato Marino and Oskar van Maren

Last week, UEFA, presented its annual Club Licensing Benchmark Report, which analyses socio-economic trends in European club football. The report is relevant in regard to the FFP rules, as it has been hailed by UEFA as a vindication of the early (positive) impact of FFP. This blog post is a report on the report. We go back in time, analysing the last 5 UEFA Benchmarking Reports, to provide a dynamic account of the reports findings. Indeed, the 2012 Benchmarking Report, can be better grasped in this context and longer-lasting trends be identified.More...

The EU State aid and Sport Saga – Setting the scene

The last years has seen the European Commission being put under increasing pressure to enforce EU State aid law in sport. For example, numerous Parliamentary questions have been asked by Members of the European Parliament[1] regarding alleged State aid to sporting clubs.  In reply to this pressure, on 21 March 2012, the European Commission, together with UEFA, issued a statement. More...

FFP for Dummies. All you need to know about UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations.

Football-wise, 2014 will not only be remembered for the World Cup in Brazil. This year will also determine the credibility of UEFA’s highly controversial Financial Fair Play (FFP) Regulations. The FFP debate will soon be reaching a climax, since up to 76 European football clubs are facing sanctions by the UEFA Club Financial Control Body (CFCB). More...

Prof. Weatherill's lecture on : Three Strategies for defending 'Sporting Autonomy'

On 10 April, the ASSER Sports Law Centre had the honour of welcoming Prof. Weatherill (Oxford University) for a thought-provoking lecture.

In his lecture, Prof. Weatherill outlined to what extent the rules of Sports Governing Bodies enjoy legal autonomy (the so-called lex sportiva) and to what extent this autonomy could be limited by other fields of law such as EU Law. The 45 minutes long lecture lays out three main strategies used in different contexts (National, European or International) by the lex sportiva to secure its autonomy. The first strategy, "The contractual solution", relies on arbitration to escape the purview of national and European law. The second strategy, is to have recourse to "The legislative solution", i.e. to use the medium of national legislations to impose lex sportiva's autonomy. The third and last strategy - "The interpretative or adjudicative solution"- relies on the use of interpretation in front of courts to secure an autonomous realm to the lex sportiva


Enjoy!


 

Tapping TV Money: Players' Union Scores A Goal In Brazil. By Giandonato Marino

On March 27, 2014, a Brazilian court ruling authorized the Football Players’ Union in the State of Sao Paulo[1] to tap funds generated by TV rights agreements destined to a Brazilian Club, Comercial Futebol Clube (hereinafter “Comercial”). The Court came to this decision after Comercial did not comply with its obligation  to pay players’ salaries. It is a peculiar decision when taking into account the global problem of clubs overspending and not complying with their financial obligations.  Furthermore, it could create a precedent for future cases regarding default by professional sporting clubs.

More...

International transfers of minors: The sword of Damocles over FC Barcelona’s head? by Giandonato Marino and Oskar van Maren

In the same week that saw Europe’s best eight teams compete in the Champions League quarter finals, one of its competitors received such a severe disciplinary sanction by FIFA that it could see its status as one of the world’s top teams jeopardized. FC Barcelona, a club that owes its success both at a national and international level for a large part to its outstanding youth academy, La Masia, got to FIFA’s attention for breaching FIFA Regulations on international transfers of minors. More...

Athletes = Workers! Spanish Supreme Court grants labour rights to athletes

Nearly twenty years after the European Court of Justice declared in the Bosman case that all professional athletes within the EU were given the right to a free transfer at the end of their contracts, the Spanish Tribunal Supremo[1] provided a judgment on 26 March 2014 that will heighten a new debate on the rights of professional athletes once their contract expires.

More...

Welcome to the ASSER International Sports Law Blog!

Dear Reader,

Today the ASSER International Sports Law Centre is very pleased to unveil its new blog. Not so surprisingly, it will cover everything you need to know on International Sports Law: Cases, Events, Publications. It will also feature short academic commentaries on "hot topics".

This is an interactive universe. You, reader, are more than welcome to engage with us via your comments on the posts, or a message through the contact form (we will answer ASAP).

This is an exciting development for the Centre, a new dynamic way to showcase our scholarly output and to engage with the sports law world. We hope you will enjoy it and that it will push you to come and visit us on our own playing field in The Hague.

With sporting regards,

The Editors


Asser International Sports Law Blog | Why the European Commission will not star in the Spanish TV rights Telenovela. By Ben Van Rompuy and Oskar van Maren

Asser International Sports Law Blog

Our International Sports Law Diary
The Asser International Sports Law Centre is part of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut

Why the European Commission will not star in the Spanish TV rights Telenovela. By Ben Van Rompuy and Oskar van Maren

The selling of media rights is currently a hot topic in European football. Last week, the English Premier League cashed in around 7 billion Euros for the sale of its live domestic media rights (2016 to 2019) – once again a 70 percent increase in comparison to the previous tender. This means that even the bottom club in the Premier League will receive approximately €130 million while the champions can expect well over €200 million per season.

The Premier League’s new deal has already led the President of the Spanish National Professional Football League (LNFP), Javier Tebas, to express his concerns that this could see La Liga lose its position as one of Europe’s leading leagues. He reiterated that establishing a centralised sales model in Spain is of utmost importance, if not long overdue.

Concrete plans to reintroduce a system of joint selling for the media rights of the Primera División, Segunda División A, and la Copa del Rey by means of a Royal Decree were already announced two years ago. The road has surely been long and bumpy. The draft Decree is finally on the table, but now it misses political approval. All the parties involved are blaming each other for the current failure: the LNFP blames the Sport Governmental Council for Sport (CSD) for not taking the lead; the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) is arguing that the Federation and non-professional football entities should receive more money and that it should have a stronger say in the matter in accordance with the FIFA Statutes;  and there are widespread rumours that the two big earners, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, are actively lobbying to prevent the Royal Decree of actually being adopted.

To keep the soap opera drama flowing,  on 30 December 2014, FASFE (an organisation consisting of groups of fans, club members, and minority shareholders of several Spanish professional football clubs) and the International Soccer Centre (a movement that aims to obtain more balanced and transparent football and basketball competitions in Spain) filed an antitrust complaint with the European Commission against the LNFP. They argue that the current system of individual selling of LNFP media rights, with unequal shares of revenue widening the gap between clubs, violates EU competition law.


Source:http://www.gopixpic.com/600/buscar%C3%A1n-el-amor-verdadero-nueva-novela-de-televisa/http:%7C%7Cassets*zocalo*com*mx%7Cuploads%7Carticles%7C5%7C134666912427*jpg/


The complaint will surely be frowned upon in Brussels. First, Spain is on the verge of introducing a joint selling arrangement. So what is the point of using competition law as an instrument to obtain … a joint selling arrangement? Second, the argument that a horizontal agreement, preventing LNFP clubs from individually competing in the sale of their media rights, is needed to ensure fair and effective competition seems, to put it mildly, counterintuitive. Third, who files an antitrust complaint on 30 December?

The complainants essentially target the polarization of revenues between the two top clubs (Real Madrid and FC Barcelona) and the other clubs. This is a well-known and long-standing feature of the LNFP, which is only in part attributable to disparities in the clubs’ media rights income. The complainants point out, however, that media coverage is also an important driver of other main revenue streams (e.g. value of sponsorship deals, ticket sales, and merchandising). 

Since the end of the 1990s, clubs have been selling the LNFP media rights individually. In a system of individual selling, a club’s bargaining power is evidently determined by the market potential of the matches of a specific club and not by the collective attractiveness of the competition as a whole. This has resulted in a pronounced imbalance between the two top clubs Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, who are able to extract supra-normal profits, and the other clubs.

For the 2010-2011 season, for example, the two Spanish giants both received around €125 million for their live media rights, leaving their domestic peers fighting over the scraps (i.e. the next biggest clubs earned around €40 million and the majority of the clubs sold their rights for about €15 million). In other words, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona generate ten times more revenue from their media rights as compared to the smaller clubs.

While it is easy to see why this situation may be considered unfair from the perspective of the majority of the clubs, it is less evident to find a competition law problem. 


A competition law perspective 

As stated above, the complaint is launched against the LNFP who, according to FASFE, by means of authorising the individual selling of TV rights system, is violating EU competition law.

First, the complainants argue that the system of individual selling strengthens the dominant positions of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona and, subsequently, undermines the competitive position of the other clubs. So far so good. But then they jump to the conclusion that Article 102 TFEU is being violated, not by the LNFP, but by Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. 

There they lost us – and presumably anyone remotely familiar with EU competition law. But let’s be a good sport and contemplate this line of reasoning a bit further.  

It might be argued that Real Madrid and FC Barcelona hold a (collective) dominant position on certain product markets in Spain and, by extension, in a substantial part of the internal market – even though the complaint fails to properly define those relevant markets. On the upstream market for the acquisition of media rights of La Liga, both clubs behave to a certain extent independently of their competitors. Spanish broadcasters first seek to acquire the media rights to their matches, which undercuts the bargaining position of the other clubs in the subsequent negotiations for the purchase of their rights. A more fundamental flaw is that the complainants contend that the possession or even strengthening of a dominant position by way of competition falls within the prohibition of Article 102 TFEU. The complaint does not put forward a single argument substantiating how both clubs engage in abusive conduct. 

Second, the complainants argue that the LNFP, according to Article 49 of its statutes, must look after the common interests of the competitions that it organises and of its members. In their view, the 1996 decision of the LFNP General Assembly to re-introduce a system of joint selling, which has negatively affected the majority of clubs and a large majority of fans, does not comply with this objective. 

While it can be argued that the LNFP’s decision constitutes a decision of an association of undertakings within the meaning of Article 101(1) TFEU, it is difficult to see how it has an anti-competitive object or effect. Quite on the contrary, the decision lifted the competitive constraints on the clubs’ independent decision-making that were in place up until the season 1997-1998. 

It should be noted that a system of joint selling of media rights does not necessarily bring about an equitable distribution of the revenues among the clubs. Albeit connected, the distribution mechanism is a separate measure, which is typically for the most part performance-based. Moreover, financial solidarity can also be implemented through other mechanisms, such as a taxation system or the redistribution of voluntary contributions. That said, it must be acknowledged that a system of joint selling does facilitate the sharing of revenues among clubs. The ability of sports organisers to impose alternative financial solidarity mechanisms might be constrained by the pressure of the larger clubs (which evidently wish to see a larger share of the revenues flow back to them because they are primarily responsible for generating these revenues). The clubs’ media rights income ratio in the other top European football leagues, where media rights are sold collectively, illustrates this point. In the season 2011-2012 the earnings ratio of the top to the bottom club was as follows: Premier League (1,55 to 1); Serie A (4,35 to 1); Bundesliga (2,3 to 1); and Ligue 1 (3,2 to 1).[1] 

Considering that joint selling only creates incentives for horizontal solidarity, the financial solidarity justification in itself could not outweigh the anti-competitive effects of a joint selling arrangement. The restrictions of competition are considerable. First, joint selling agreements prevent clubs from individually competing in the sale of their media rights. Access to the market can therefore be foreclosed to competing buyers. Second, joint selling leads to uniform prices and other trading conditions. Price-fixing is a hard-core restriction that is normally prohibited. Third, joint selling could lead to output restrictions when certain rights are withheld from the market. 

As the discussion of the competition law decisional practice below will demonstrate, it is even unclear whether the financial solidarity argument can be invoked as a partial legal defence against the prohibition of restrictive agreements. 


The financial solidarity conundrum

One of the key assumptions underlying the complaint is that the EU institutions advocate the joint selling of media rights. This is presumably one of the main reasons why they are turning to Brussels for help. While it is true that the European Council (e.g. in the 2001 Nice Declaration) and the European Parliament have always been supportive of the link between joint selling and the principle of financial solidarity, the same cannot be said about the European Commission. In policy documents, the Commission has refrained from making (strong) pronouncements on the solidarity benefits of joint selling vis-à-vis individual selling. In the Helsinki Report on Sport (1999) the Commission underscored the need to examine the precise link between the joint selling of media rights and financial solidarity between professional and amateur sport. In its White Paper on Sport (2007) the Commission acknowledged that joint selling “can be a tool for achieving greater solidarity within sports”, but immediately added that also a system of individual selling by clubs can be linked to a robust solidarity mechanism. Only in the Communication on Developing the European Dimension of Sport (2011) the Commission expressed some general support for a system of joint selling. Surely some of the Commission’s press releases coinciding its decisions in this area mention benefits for financial solidarity (see e.g. here). If the complainants had looked at the actual decisions, however, they would have realised that that rhetoric is inconsistent with the legal argumentation.

After the need to address competition issues in relation to joint selling arrangements for football media rights emerged in the 1990s, several National Competition Authorities (NCAs) found that the system was incompatible with the national competition rules. The NCAs were sceptical about the necessary link between joint selling and revenue distribution and, subsequently, did not consider it to be a pro-competitive benefit capable of offsetting the identified restrictive effects. Even though the NCAs spoke out uniformly against the joint selling of football media rights, in three Member States their decisions were either overruled by a national court (United Kingdom) or circumvented through legislative action (Germany) or executive orders (the Netherlands).[2] This created uncertainties regarding the circumstances under which joint selling could be considered compatible with EU and national competition law. 

In the UEFA Champions League decision (2003) the European Commission for the first time assessed the compatibility of the joint selling of football media rights with Article 101 TFEU. In two subsequent decisions, German Bundesliga (2005) and FA Premier League (2006), the Commission raised similar competition concerns and imposed similar remedies to address these concerns. 

In all three decisions, the Commission found that joint selling arrangements are caught by the prohibition of Article 101(1) TFEU, but may create substantial efficiency gains so that Article 101(3) TFEU could be invoked as a legal defence. It identified three main benefits: (1) the creation of a single point of sale (which creates efficiencies by reducing the transaction costs for sports organisers and media content operators); (2) branding of the output by one entity (which creates efficiencies as it helps the media products receive wider recognition and distribution); and (3) the creation of a league product focused on the competition as a whole rather than individual clubs. 

To ensure that the efficiency benefits outweigh the toxic cocktail of anti-competitive effects (i.e. price-fixing and considerable risks of market foreclosure and output restrictions), the Commission carefully prescribed the way in which the rights must be marketed by imposing a list of behavioural remedies. 

Competition concern

Remedy

UEFA

DFB

FAPL

Risk of foreclosure effects in downstream markets

Non-discriminatory and transparent tendering procedure

X

X

X

Independent monitoring trustee overseeing tender process

 

 

X

No conditional bidding

 

 

X

Risk of market foreclosure effects in downstream markets as a result of exclusivity and bundling of media rights.

Limitation of scope of exclusive contracts:

-       a reasonable amount of different rights packages

-       no combination of large and small packages

-       earmarked packages for special markets/platforms (new media rights)

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

 

X

X

X

Limitation of duration of exclusive contracts: max. three football seasons

X

X

X

Risk of output restrictions

Fall-back option to clubs for unsold or unused rights

X

X

X

Parallel exploitation of less valuable rights by clubs

X

 

 

Risk of monopolisation

“No single buyer” obligation

 

 

X

In all three of the Commission’s investigations, the parties put forward the financial solidarity argument as the main justification for an exemption of their joint selling arrangements under Article 101(3) TFEU.[3] Yet the Commission never substantially addressed that argument. Only in the UEFA Champions League decision, the point was briefly considered. The Commission simply noted that UEFA had failed to substantiate the indispensability of a joint selling agreement for the redistribution of revenue and, subsequently, for the organisation of the Champions League.[4] Since it could exempt the joint selling agreement on economic efficiency grounds, however, the Commission concluded that “it is not necessary for the purpose of this procedure to consider the solidarity argument any further”.[5] As such, the Commission conveniently got round the issue.

The national decisional practice subsequent to the Commission’s precedents equally refrained from addressing the issue. The NCAs started focusing their assessments exclusively on efficiency benefits, as instructed by the Commission.  

In short, in competition law proceedings related to joint selling arrangements, the financial solidarity defence has never been very compelling – it was either considered unsound (early national enforcement practice) or remained unaddressed. Of course, one may still argue that the elephant in the room was surreptitiously taken into account (bearing in mind that the acceptance of a similar price-fixing cartel in other sectors would be difficult to imagine).[6] 


Redistribution formulas for media rights income  

After the European Commission de facto legitimized the joint selling of football media rights, the system became the common practice for marketing such rights in Europe. Since Italy reintroduced the system of joint selling in 2010, Cyprus, Portugal, and Spain are now the last EU markets in which first division football clubs sell their rights individually. 

To put the distribution key foreseen in the pending Spanish Royal Decree into perspective, we will first summarize how the other four big European leagues redistribute the media rights income. 

England: Since 1992, the year in which the Premier League was formed, it was decided that 50% of the revenue is split equally between the 20 clubs, 25% is paid in Merit Payments (depending on where a club finishes in the final League table), and the final 25% is paid in Facility Fees (based on each time a club’s matches are broadcast in the UK). All international broadcast revenue, and central commercial revenue, is split equally amongst the 20 clubs. For the season 2013/2014, the ratio between the top (Liverpool at €132 million Euros) and the bottom earning club (Cardiff City at €84 million) was 1.57:1.

Germany: Within the German Bundesliga clubs, the criteria for the distribution of revenues will be determined by a 2:1 ratio between the top-ranked and the bottom-ranked teams in an ad hoc distribution ranking for the years 2013 – 2017. This means that the revenue sharing distribution will range from a maximum of 5.8% of the total amount for the first place team to at least 2.9% for the 18th place team. The Bundesliga’s international media rights income distribution, however, remains based on both international and domestic sport performance.

Italy: Italy’s Serie A joint selling system had an earnings ratio of the top to bottom club of 5.25:1 for the season 2013/2014. Juventus, the top earning club, had an income from TV rights of €94 million, whereas the bottom earning club, Sassuolo, of €17.9 million.[7] Out of the total amount distributed, 40% is distributed to all the clubs as a fixed amount. Furthermore, 30% is distributed on the basis of past results (15% on results during last five seasons, 10% on historical results[8], and 5% on last season’s final league position); and 25% according to club supporters base.  

The planned Royal Decree in Spain will have a distribution system that guarantees Real Madrid and FC Barcelona an amount that is very close to what they earn now. The income ratio of the clubs will start at 4:1 and diminishes as the total amount of income increases. From the total income, about 3% will be deducted for the Spanish FA and for non-professional sports. Additionally, 10% will be assigned to the Second Division. The remaining amount will be distributed as follows: 50% as fixed amount for all the clubs, 25% depending on sports results while taking into account historical results. The other 25% will be distributed in relation to public awareness similar the Italian system (calculated on the basis of TV audiences, city population, and number of fans of the club).  


Conclusion

It is safe to say that the competition complaint launched by FASFE will not lead to the European Commission opening a formal investigation. The complainants fail to demonstrate how the current Spanish individual selling system breaches, or even potentially breaches, Article 101 and/or 102 TFEU. In that regard, it should be noted that they already tried their luck with the national competition authority (CNC), alleging infringements of national competition law. On 8 January 2013, the CNC decided to reject the complaint because it only prescribed the results of the current media rights sales process without demonstrating violations of the national competition rules. 

Whether FASFE is aware of the same judicial inaccuracies in its Commission complaint is unknown. On the other hand, it is quite evident that invoking competition law to argue for the introduction of a cartel with significant anti-competitive effects is paradoxical. The ex post fairness (i.e. the outcome of market competition) that FASFE is looking for is quite different from the ex ante fairness in the market place that competition policy is concerned with. One can therefore interpret the complaint as an attempt to add pressure on the involved Spanish parties (the CSD, the LNFP, and the RFEF) to introduce the new Royal Decree once and for all. Although the Spanish public is provided daily episodes full of jabbering, backstabbing and other drama, as with all Telenovelas, the soap is dragging on and on and should have ended ages ago. 

Whether the switch to a joint selling arrangement will significantly improve the competitive balance in La Liga remains to be seen. Since FC Barcelona and Real Madrid are guaranteed an amount similar to what they receive now, this will ultimately depend on how much the total income from the sale of the media rights will increase. The inexorable rise in the value of the broadcasting deals in the UK, which is the unique result of a duopoly of two powerful deep-pocket players (i.e. the incumbent dominant pay-TV operator Sky and new market entrant BT) that emerged after the introduction of the “no single buyer” obligation, cannot be realistically expected – at least not in the short term. Yet it is relatively certain that the overall income from media rights will go up – ultimately to the benefit of all the clubs. A (minimum) earnings ratio of the top to bottom club of 4:1 is not overly ambitious, but surely is a welcome step towards remedying the current imbalance between the two top clubs and their less fortunate competitors.


[1] See T.M.C. Asser Institute and Institute for Information Law, “Study on Sports Organisers' Rights in the EU”, Commissioned by the European Commission, DG Education and Culture, February 2014.

[2] Idem.

[3] See e.g. Commission, “Case No IV/37.214 - DFB - Central marketing of TV and radio broadcasting rights for certain football competitions in Germany” (Notice) (1999) OJ C/610, para. 7; Commission, “Notice published pursuant to Article 19(3) of Council Regulation No 17 concerning case COMP/C.2/38.173 and 38.453 - joint selling of the media rights of the FA Premier League on an exclusive basis” (2004) OJ C 115/3, para. 10.

[4] UEFA Champions League (Case COMP/37.398) Commission decision 2003/778/EC (2003) OJ L291/25, para. 131.

[5] Idem, para. 167.

[6] See e.g. Giorgio Monti, “Article 81 EC and Public Policy” (2002) 39 CMLR 1057 (calling it a “sector-specific exemption”).

[7] FASFE Antitrust Complaint of 30 December 2014, page 11

[8] In other words, this revenue is determined by overall league placings since 1946. In this category, Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan are the top earning clubs. For more info see: http://www.financialfairplay.co.uk/latest-news/tv-revenue-distribution-%E2%80%93-comparing-italian-and-english-models.

Comments (2) -

  • José Antonio Rodríguez Miguez

    2/17/2015 1:09:50 PM |

    Congratulations for this very interesting and solid post. A Spanish sayung days that “Barça is more than a club”; we can say that football is more than a sport, it’s basically a bussness, and a level playing field must be guaranted. It’s the best and only way to go forward as a sport and as bussness.  

  • Count of Egmont

    2/19/2015 2:13:50 PM |

    FASFE's complaint is indeed quite weak and amateurish (more posturing than anything else as they fail to raise some well known issues that could have significantly strengthened their case) but you forgot to mention that, irrespective of the merits of the complaint, their chances of succeeding against Real Madrid in a competition case would be near zero at the moment since the current EC Deputy Director-General for Antitrust, Mr. Cecilio Madero-Villarejo is a die-hard Real Madrid fan and club member who regularly attends football games at the VIP area of the Bernabeu Stadium. It is therefore highly unlikely that he will be very keen to open an investigation into this issue as it would go against his own personal interests. Could this be the reason why a series of unfortunate events has surrounded all Real Madrid related investigations?

    The British newspaper, The Independent, reported about this situation two years ago:

    "After Real Madrid’s victory in the 2000 Champions League final, a supporter of the club who identified himself then as a 43-year-old European Union official living in Brussels wrote to the newspaper El Pais to convey his joy at the club’s eighth European title.

    In the letter published in the newspaper on 14 June 2000, he described how after the match, in a state of some emotion, he placed a Real “Campeones” flag on the balcony of his Brussels flat. To some eyes, it looked uncomfortably like a reference to the Spanish phrase “poner una pica en flandes” – literally “putting a pike in Flanders” – which refers to the Spanish occupation of the territory in the 16th and 17th centuries.

    Not in the best taste, but given the individual’s euphoria and the memories he said it brought back of his childhood, perhaps it was understandable. The letter was written by Cecilio Madero Villarejo, who still lives in Brussels but has a better job than he did 13 years ago.

    These days, Madero is one of the four men who make up the directorate-general at the European Commission under the leadership of commissioner and fellow Spaniard Joaquin Almunia, whose job it is to enforce the rules on big business, from anti-trust, to mergers and, of course, state aid."

    Real Madrid is safe for as long as he is in DG-Comp, in any case safer than the reputation of the EC's competition policy that will surely face some scrutiny in the light of the UK's EU referendum .

Comments are closed