19th October 2018
In Focus: At what cost domestically is the Champions League continuing to grow?
By Nathan Lucas, BA (Hons) Football Business & Media student at UCFB Wembley
The Champions League showcases the greatest talent from across the European leagues in the most coveted domestic competition in world football.
Every year the top teams from each country qualify to participate in this tournament, which last season averaged attendances of over 46,000 (according to worldfootball.net). But as the allocation per country for clubs to qualify varies, the impact this has had on each league throughout Europe is also very different.
In the current 2018/19 Champions League draw, there are four English, Spanish, German and Italian teams along with three from France. Known as the five major leagues of Europe, they account for over half of the tournament.
In comparison, some of the smaller footballing nations of the continent such as Belgium, Greece or Ukraine only have one representative club competing.
This seemingly dictates the level of country competition within the Champions League itself, proven by the fact that no team outside of “Europe’s Top Five” leagues has even reached a final since 2004.
The power struggle
The extra income for any team competing in this competition, even if they’re knocked out in the group stage has also given them a huge domestic advantage over the years.
The knock-on effect has been a power struggle throughout league competitions with the smaller clubs without European football unable to compete. But with different allocations and financial income per country, the competitive balance of each league has not quite been affected in the same way. There appear to be three observable trends throughout.
Firstly, is the examples of England, Spain and Italy. Each of these countries have four spots in the Champions League and for years they have been claimed by the same teams qualifying each season. The advantage of the extra finance is evident when looking through each of the countries title winners throughout the last 15 seasons.
With the exception of Leicester City in 2015/16 Premier League, no team outside of England’s Champions League qualifiers seem likely to disrupt the routine of the big clubs lifting the Premier League title.
The same can be said of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atlético Madrid in La Liga and similarly the successful teams of Serie A, which includes Juventus and Napoli. The level of competition within their domestic leagues can almost be split into two categories, with the Champions League clubs undoubtedly being more than a step or two ahead of the rest.
Germany and France seem to have experienced things a little differently, with the sheer gulf in quality being even more evident within their league standings. Instead of having a group of clubs all vying for that top spot, two outright leaders have repeatedly made headlines despite the two having multiple European places.
Bayern Munich have dominated German competition winning the last six Bundesliga titles and Paris Saint Germain’s supremacy goes one step further, having unbelievably won 13 of the last 15 French trophies on offer since 2014.
It is safe to say that as these two clubs continue to earn millions of Euros in broadcasting income and competition winnings, it is difficult to see how the smaller clubs without the help of European earnings can challenge their domestic reigns.
Extra income has removed competitive balance
The mostly heavily influenced countries however appear to be those with only one Champions League representative. The level of competition within the Scottish Premiership and Ukrainian Premier League being two prime examples of how the extra income has removed the competitive balance altogether.
As only the champions of these leagues each season can quality for Europe’s elite competition, it is impossible for a number of teams to try and defy those at the top. This has developed a supremacy in leagues like this with the same two teams finishing in the top two every season, meaning they horde the prize money and European income between themselves.
With Celtic having won the previous seven league titles since Rangers were relegated in 2012, they have virtually qualified for the Champions League each season unchallenged.
Last season Celtic won £27.6m for reaching the Champions League group stage alone, split almost evenly between UEFA prize money and British TV broadcasting (BT Sport) as Scottish teams fall under the same bracket in European competition.
For the Europa League, the £200,000 payment second placed Scottish side Aberdeen have claimed each year, instead of the £2.6m they’ve missed out in not qualifying for the Europa League for the previous four seasons seems incomparable.
Since 2014, Aberdeen’s European earnings calculate to around £800,000, whereas Celtic who have only qualified for the Champions League twice in that period have earned just shy of £60 million. It’s no mystery to Celtic’s domestic success when they’re earning more money from qualifying in Europe than all other 41 Scottish club’s prize money combined.
Similarly, in Ukraine Shakhtar Donetsk have claimed the last four titles as well putting them in a similar position. Their qualification to the Europa League knockout phase has also boosted their earnings further.
If UEFA continue to stack the team allocations in favour of the bigger leagues, it seems impossible in these smaller divisions to avoid unbalanced competitive situations like this.
Fairness against finances
The Champions League is undoubtedly the most reputable club competition in the world. The biggest clubs want to compete and fans want to see the biggest players names out there on the pitch. But the dilemma of fairness against finances will continue to be answered by the commercial aspect of the tournament. To keep this tournament more competitively balanced, UEFA want the best teams to be competing.
The negative effects of this on leagues will potentially only be noticed by fans of the smaller teams living in the shadow of the bigger clubs. But as the Champions League continues to draw bigger crowds, more financial income and greater reputation, the difficulty this is causing domestically may just continue to grow.