UEFA club competitions are arguably good advertisements for football. There is, however, a tension between those tournaments and the domestic Leagues. The calendar is filled to the rim, partially because of expansive UEFA club competitions. Also, competitive balance is affected. Hypercube conducted research for EPFL in order to quantify the impact.
Hypercube analysed the match calendars of all domestic leagues and UEFA club competitions over the seasons from 1992/93 to 2013/14, containing over 200.000 matches. Also, we analysed financial data of clubs and correlated them with sporting strengths over the seasons from 2007/08 to 2013/14.
Evolution of UEFA club competitions
In 1992/93 UCL was contested over 82 matches, including Qualifying Rounds, while in 2013/14 there were 213 matches. UEFA Cup consisted of 126 matches in 1992/93, it then merged with UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1999 and with UEFA Intertoto Cup in 2009, and comprised 481 matches in 2013/14.
This evolution never changed the fact that UCL is dominated by clubs from the traditional top leagues, England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France. On average, 7 out of 8 quarter finalists came from these Leagues.
The number of match clashes between domestic League matches and UEFA club competition matches has been reduced significantly over the past ten years. Domestic leagues have freed up dates, sometimes by moving the start of the season into mid-summer or by shortening the winter break. That is, they revert to opportunities which are less commercially attractive. On the other hand, a match scheduled head-to-head with UCL might also suffer from diluted attention.
Hypercube analysed the data, which confirmed that these effects are there. Especially in countries with severe winters, the UEFA club competitions have a negative impact on the scheduling opportunities and commercial value of the leagues.
Financial distribution and competitive balance
An elite group of clubs is taking shape, which dominate European club football. Financially as well as on pitch, it is virtually impossible to catch up with them.
The financial distribution system by effect reinforces the weakening of competitive balance. Real Madrid’s earnings in UCL are higher than most clubs’ total budget. And a club like Olympiakos can keep its domestic rivals at a distance by means of its UCL revenues, thus qualifying for UCL again and again – and the gap only grows.
Of course, other teams get revenues from UEL, and there are solidarity payments too. Hypercube analyzed the impact of the system as a whole. One of the main findings is that bigger clubs benefit more from European revenues than smaller clubs. For example, while FC Basel already has the highest revenues of all Swiss clubs, FC Basel benefits more from UCL (>20% of their total revenues) than FC Zürich from UEL (<10%), and solidarity often makes only a very minor contribution (1%). This means that financial balance and, as a consequence, also competitive balance have come increasingly under pressure. In particular the mid-sized leagues, which have one secured spot in UCL Group Stage, are severely affected. With this research as an objective basis, EPFL initiated a discussion with UEFA and other stakeholders about the future of European club football. After all, when competitive balance gets off-kilter, then who’ll want to watch the game?