Sharing the wealth – a common enough phrase but a rarely practised way of living. You certainly wouldn’t expect to hear of it in the cut-throat world of professional football. And yet, take a look inside the Dutch league and there it is.
In October 2018, it was announced that the Netherlands’ three representatives in European football – PSV and Ajax (Champions League), Feyenoord (Europa League) – would distribute some of their earnings from these competitions among the other teams in Eredivisie.
This meant the Dutch professional football league was the first in Europe to vote on a redistribution of a share of the revenue from the continental club competitions among non-participating clubs.
So, how did this all come about?
As reported on the league’s official site, a change was decided upon in 2017. Eredivisie clubs voted unanimously to improve their current model in a bid to “strive for continued development and improvement of the quality of Dutch professional league football.”
In November 2018, the league came to a final agreement on a “change agenda” which would be driven by five main factors.
- Greater Solidarity in the distribution of revenues between clubs – there have been some amendments made to how the Eredivisie’s TV revenue for their own league games is redistributed. However, the most notable change comes with the introduction of non-participating clubs now getting a share of any earnings received by Ajax, PSV or Feyenoord from European competition. The Eredivisie’s three representatives in the Champions League and Europa League would share 5% of any revenue received for participation in the group stages and 3.75% of any earned after the group stages. Ajax, unfortunately, was the only club to advance to the last 16 of the Champions League with PSV crashing out on the bottom of their group. Feyenoord failed to reach the group stages of the Europa League, crashing out in the third qualifying round.
- Investing in the quality of youth training programmes – amendments made to training compensation fees, ages a player can sign a contract, agreements to refrain from poaching youth players from other clubs
- Change in the format in professional league football – possibility of a change regarding promotion/relegation between the Eredivisie and the Eerste Divisie – the bottom two teams to be relegated from Eredivisie with team third from bottom involved in promotion/relegation playoff with the team who finished third in Eerste Divisie.
- Achieving equal match conditions in the Eredivisie – an incentive for clubs currently playing on artificial turf pitches to change to natural grass or hybrid style pitches.
- Continued development of the professional football sector – this guideline was “to improve the quality and position of the Eredivisie” and “to exploit the collective media and commercial rights of Eredivisie clubs.”
Part number one of the change agenda is the most significant from the view of an outsider looking in at the Eredivisie and its setup. Could it be a groundbreaking change for the better? It will be interesting to see how many other European leagues follow suit. Surely, it would be beneficial for most leagues. Think of the gulf in class between PSG and the rest of Ligue 1. The same could be said for La Liga – Barcelona, Real and Atletico Madrid dominate the top three places there almost every year. Juventus are going for their eight Serie A title in a row. Is that engaging for the neutral fan? Will it entice people to tune in to Italian football in general? Not really.
In Germany, FC Bayern are going through a transition period but still up there pressuring Borussia Dortmund and looking for their seventh league championship in a row.
Could Scottish football do with a share of Celtic’s Champions League revenue? The last time a team other than Celtic or Rangers won the Scottish league was in 1985. Aberdeen achieved it under the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson, before he moved south to take over Manchester United.
Then, of course, there is also the Premier League. With the gap between the top six and the rest of the division growing year-on-year, it’s clear a ‘sharing the wealth’ model would benefit the other 14 clubs. The bottom three in the Premier League are currently totalling 52 points between them. Never before has English football’s top-tier had such a poor points total within it’s relegation zone. Going back over the previous five seasons, the average at this stage for the bottom three teams is a total of 65 points between them. The top six are getting bigger, better and richer while the bottom clubs fall farther and farther behind with each passing season.
European football as a whole, could do a lot worse than taking heed of the example being set by the Eredivisie with their forward-thinking, big-picture ideas. There will always be stronger clubs in every country but each nation has a duty to ensure that the gulf in class (and money) between the top teams and lower teams doesn’t get to a stage where it’s no longer interesting for a fan to even watch a game.
Remember the excitement as Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli pushed Juventus all the way for the Italian league championship last season? It was a hell of a lot better than this season’s Serie A title “race”. Do you know how far PSG are ahead in Ligue 1 right now? 17 points clear with a game in hand. Is there any reason to tune into a Ligue 1 game between now and May? Not for me.
It would be fantastic for the game if one of Europe’s ‘big’ leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy, France) was to take the bold and brave step of following Dutch football’s precedent.
One thing’s for sure – there is certainly enough money to go around.