"During the Football World Cup, there was no world economic crisis, because the fans were kept too busy to think about anything else"Carmen P. Flores
There are economists who pass through life with neither grief nor glory. Others, on the contrary, stand out above the rest. José María Gay de Liébana is one of those who does not go unnoticed. He is defined as a financial stonemason, Professor of Financial Economics and Accounting at the University of Barcelona. In addition to being a presenter and financial analyst in various media, and a writer. This teacher is a great speaker, passionate about football, which serves as his escape valve, and has been an Español supporter all his life.
What is the relationship between football and the economy?
More than it might seem, because when football is hot the economy is also hot. Very high investments are madein football, the consequences being the large indebtedness of the teams, which on top of thishave considerable expenses and then the accounts get out of shape. I always say that football is the reflection of the economy. Football is now quite inflated by transfers, and the economy is also inflated, and soin a few months we will see how the economy was inflated and football is becoming inflated.
Will there be a bubble?
In football we do have something of a bubble, and the Neymar case has confirmed it. He is a player without a market at 250 million Euros. Apart from that,his club owns his rights, so they can afford to say they are not reducing the price. There is no-one in the world of football who can afford an investment with these characteristics; which means that the price of this player was inflated. And Barça did very well in their day, because they collected the money and made a profit, but after the cost of the player, the rights have been taken outside of the market. When this happens, in which football players transactions have been made, I getquite surprised because then I see them playing on the pitch and see that they are not actually superstars, but rathera swollen speculative bubble.
The thing we need to realise is that, behind an inflated signing there is inflated financing.
And because of this, this investment has to turn out to be very profitable, it has to return a lot of performance so that the teams can pay the debt backafterwards, and if not, they will have problems. This inflated investment means its cost is not the same as a modest one. All this affects the profit-and-loss statement and if things do not go well, then you end up having a problem.
Who sustains football?
Season ticket holders-members- count for nothing, although they morally get told that indeed they do and suchlike. Nevertheless, football is sustained by televisions and sponsors. For example, currently in Barçathe membership fees and season ticket subscribers represent 8% of total income. When JosepLluísNúñez was in his first season there in 78-79, season ticket holders accounted for 87% of the income. Of every 1,000 million Euros that Barça took in, 870 were from membership fees,season ticket holders and ticket sales, because that’s what there was. And today the millions that Barça takes in only represent 8%. So, what's up? That there are two key elements involved: television and sponsorships.
If the teams have television visibility, then they will get a sponsor. If I am someone like Barça, United or City that have worldwide visibility and worldwide projection, I will get worldwide sponsors. The key to having these sponsors is to be on television. Teams and televisiongo hand-in-hand.
There are the big clubs with big brands and because of these sponsorships, rather than doing their pre-season preparation in Esparraguera or Vilafranca del Penedés, they have to go to Australia, China and the United States, and then these teams do not work because they start the league tired and lose against Athletic Bilbao.
And how are they going to play properly if in three weeks these kids have gone through all the time changes there have been and those that will be? But these are what the script demands, and meanwhile the big teams announce that they will reach 1,000 million income. Of course, this is only achieved through sponsorships, television rights and all the commercialisation through marketing.
Does that mean that television is acting as the referee in football sports competitions worldwide?
Yes, that is why more and more, the fans do not understandwhat the issue of football television schedules is. As an amateur I am critical of this also. I am a fan of Español, and many times I do not like the timetables that they put to watch them on TV. But we have to understand that the schedules are made not only to be seen here, but also around the world. Because of course, if our teams were only to be watched here, the type of rights paid to them would correspond to “playing at home”, and yet Spanish matches are watched in China and the US, which adds to our prestige and gives us an increase in income during the entire league. And specifically, also for Español.
What is the financial situation of the five big clubs?
Madrid is in a good situation. Barça has perhaps too much short-term debt. A debt that is reducing, but I always recommend that it be less, and Barça lacks a little more in its own resources. Bayern Munich is a club that is very well positioned. Manchester United is very good and we have to keep in mind that although they play in a city called Manchester,it listed on Wall Street and has its fiscal domicile in the Cayman Islands. It is a company with a particular strategy. Then there is Manchester City that is not within the big five but does have resources similar to those of Paris Saint Germain that come from outside football, and because of this, what we have to keep in mind is that there are two clubs that are the top-drawer ones, which are Manchester City and Paris Saint Germain that have entered the “jet-set” but what comes into play here is Gulf States money, public money used to invest in football clubs to be positioned at European level, and to be well-positioned in Europe for something so sensitive as football. They invest here to win over Europeans’hearts and minds.
What does the influx of Gulf States capital mean for European football?
It causes a dysfunction because it destabilizes what was until now the status quoof the European football of Barça, Madrid, Juve… These teams have lived on the income they generated from their own activity, on the sale of players and on their heritage, then all at once they see that their rivals have got unlimited money, that they appear to have no problems, and that if they have to sign a player for 250 million, as in the case of Neymar, there is no club with financial capacity to make this signing. But Paris Saint Germain appears on the scene, which does indeed have this money to be able to pay for him, and that is what the problem is. In football, there are two situations: on one hand, that you have a crack does not mean that you have a team and I believe that, unlike other sports, football is feelings, it is heart, and therefore somehow that shows in the fans, in the second team players, and suchlike. With the influx of foreign capital, the life-long sense of club gets lost.
Is the same thing happening with the influx of Chinese capital into Spanish football?
Yes. Espanyol is making a clear commitment to China. And the Chinese, in the truest sense of the word, are Chinese and move in their own Chinese world. In Spain, there is a sensitivity that dictates that the team should be close to their membership, that football should integrate people, and therefore the club should bereaching out to their fan base, but now all this willsuffer a blow, because fans feel a great dealfor the club and, therefore the ones in charge of the club too, the president and the board,who are regarded as people from round here.
For example, in Barça or in Atlético de Madrid orin Español, the peoplethere are from round here, and are not for Chinese capital, and this is a new reference that has its pros and its cons.
The advantage from the money point of view is that we achieve financial stability,which in Españolas always precarious. A little bit is lost from the sentimental point of view, and from the most global point of view, we see that what were European clubs now are now of Arab capital, Chinese capital, and Thai capital, and when I look at the great European manufacturers, I see that the main Volkswagenshareholder is Qatar. The principal of IAG is Qatar, the principal of IBERDROLA is Qatar, in El Corte Inglés the second largest shareholder is Qatari. This is for me the thermometer that shows that Europe is losing prominence and that Europe is being up bought in parts by foreign capital. So then, football is the indication of a real economic situation that will become more pronounced in the coming years due to the European economy’sloss of weight.
Does this capital influx benefit small football clubs?
If in some way theyhappen to be the chosen team, it is fantastic because it allows them to build themselves up, be stronger, have more power to sign players, but the fact of taking over one club rather than anotherimbalances things. So, you have to try to be one of the candies that get picked.
World football leaders have been involved in major cases of corruption. How does that affect football clubs?
In principle, it generates doubts and when you see these cases of corruption, it is hard to understand that flairplay has to come above all else. Yes, here the top managers have not complied with the rules of flair play. Fortunately, we have the press that reports these scams. What we should do is go about eliminating them. When strange things happen in a sector, the image of the sector getsdamaged. I also think these strange things are on the decrease and this has also happened here. Nevertheless, I am optimistic and I think this will happen less and less, of handling things in twisted and tortuous ways.
Will Qatar 2022 be a failure?
Well, I do not know. I think the world football consumer is not ready for a football world cup played in December. The World Cup is something that we all look forward to in summer, which comes when the leagues are over, and it comes in handy because it fills the gap left by the leagues. Normally, at the time of the World Cup there are no economic problems because people are distracted by football.
If people are busy with football, there is no crisis. If we look at this issue, we can see that crises never erupt in June or July.
Then, if there are no football matches, crises erupt. I refer to a real case: when the Caja Castilla-La Mancha crisis broke out, it was precisely on a weekend that there was no football. That is to say, curiously, at times like this it seems that people care about other things. That's why I think football is very good and it allows me to be worried about it every week. That is why all my concern for football, and even being an Español fan, prevents me from devoting myself to analysing other things. And that is why I think that in the month of December it will not come together well. Apart from everything that has been said and written. I understand that there is a country that wants to bet strongly on a World Cup. I understand that it is a step forward for football. From an engineering point of view, it will be a tremendous advance. The construction of the stadiums in the middle of the desert, in creating the right habitats, this has incredible merit for me, in addition to removable stadiums that can be taken to other places, everything is surrounded by an impressive modernity. But it is going to be a bit of a weird season.
The season will be interrupted in the month of November, and it with have to be a beautiful World Cup in a country where your team gets stuck, and so I think that we will have a crisis in the winter of 2022. There will be football, but there will be also be a crisis in the countries whose teams are knocked out.
Does football serve to fight political firesfor governments?
Totally. There was a time during the year ‘96 when there was a certain instability and it was decided that Seville and Celta would be demoted, when people demonstrated as never before, in Seville there were a million people and in Vigo I don't know how many thousands of people, and they almost beat up the city mayor. For people, football is necessary because it is an escape valve. When I go to the stadium I get away from things, I say hello to people, I worry about the result, or if the team is playing well. I am worried about the result and how we have done. This time that I give to football was not given to studying Spain’spublic accounts. If I study Spain’spublic accounts, I reach horrifying conclusions because it brings me down to earth and makes me think that there is no way out.
Is football a way of getting away from things also for those who watch football sitting comfortably at home?
Although it is not the same to watch it at home, I also do like watching at home. You see a penalty repeated many times and from different angles, and therefore I could conclude that in the stadium I see and understand very little. But the stadium has the blessing of engaging people, of meeting friends. And, if there is one thing that football has, it’s this diversion. On a day I’m tired of travelling, and there is an Españolmatch on, I turn on the TV to watch it, I'm watching the game and not doing work, because just working is not good. This way I get to Monday fresh. People have to be given football. In the same way it is good that people geta bit of culture. Some say that the current generations are better prepared and whoever says this has got no damn idea because they are increasingly uncultured. And if we give them football, they will be even more uncultured. So, we get more and more corruption. An uneducated people is a corrupt people.
Similar to what the Roman emperors applied 'The people must be given bread and circuses'?
And football is the circus attraction, but this is what people like, but then you have to keep in mind that football is a valve because everyone accumulates a series of frustrationsthroughout the week. There is always that fool who you wanted to say is a jerk but you cannot, that relative who is unbearable, that neighbour ... football takes you get away from all of it. The referee whistles one thing then you start shouting at him, and damn him to hell. Now, unfortunately, you can’t do this anymore. I can tell a defender that his mother exercises the oldest trade in the world - before you said it much more crudely.
Has football increasingly become less of a sport and more of a business?
Yes, it is normal because it is something that everyone is interested in. The other day I was with a good friend of mine who is a businessman and had contact with a very large multinational. The European president of this multinational came to Madrid, and as they were football fans,they had a terrible urge to watch a Real Madrid match. They got the tickets and went to stand, and they were dumbfounded. You see a president of a very important multinational and the European president, a very important person, who come by jet and these people are dying to go to the stadium, if on top of this they get to shake hands with a footballer or take some photos with them, these businessmengo off their heads. This is human, and football can do this to each and every one of us.
Then, who gets into football are the brands, and each brand looks for the feeling the football club awakens in us. I could say that I am not interested in a particular club because it might create a clientconflict in otherplacessuch as in a Barça-Madrid. This is why there are brands that sponsor them both, or only one or the other and there have even been companies that for some time now have been sponsoring neutral clubs like Valencia. This is interesting because this feeling and the fact that a football game is watched by so many people, so many spectators, is a truly brutal money generatingmachine, from there come leading companies such as big banks that get to sit in the directors’ box. There have been very important people who wanted me to invite them sit in the directors’ box. It’s like worship, that’s what football is.