Tennis: the very financial reform of the ATP world circuit

He was indeed there, this Monday, June 20, for his first training balls on the English lawn. Rafael Nadal intends to play the Wimbledon tournament from June 27, which he has not won since 2010, and his painful left foot is asked to be silent. The Mallorcan is far from done with tennis. On the courts as well as outside, as he has just proved by playing the VRP of the “One Vision” plan of the ATP, the association which organizes the world circuit.

The reform presented last week by the boss of the instance, Andrea Gaudenzi, did not really make the headlines. Yet she wants to be ” revolutionary “. It must be said that the Italian has been fine-tuning it almost since his arrival at the helm of the ATP at the start of 2020. Two years of discussions turned upside down by the pandemic, but which finally lead to a strategy shaping the future of the circuit. And obviously, the priority is financial.

More profits for more players

Because the observation is bitter. According to the ATP, tennis can boast of one billion fans on the planet and thus claim fourth place in terms of popularity (after football, basketball and cricket). Except that the little yellow ball points far away in terms of the income generated by its show. Globally, it crunches only 1.3% of the 52 billion dollars in revenue from the media, when football devours 40.6%, and basketball 8.6%. In other words: the product is poorly displayed and poorly sold.

The ATP’s solution is therefore to ensure that the tournaments it organises, mainly the Masters 1000, are upgraded. To do this, they will be longer (12 days rather than 8) and will welcome more players. (96 rather than 56). The American tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami are already in this format. They will be joined by Madrid, Rome and Shanghai in 2023, by the Canadian Masters and Cincinnati in 2025. Only the Bercy and Monte Carlo tournaments remain concentrated over 8 days, their infrastructures not allowing an extension for the moment.

In addition to this growing system, there is a desire for transparency in tournament costs, allowing real revenue sharing with players. At the same time, the ATP promises a 35% increase in bonuses by 2025, and a 37% increase in bonuses distributed at the end of the year to 30 and no longer 12 players. All the measures must ultimately benefit more than 140 players, while less than a hundred really share the cake today. “As a result, they welcome the reform rather well, because more of them will be able to afford solid coaching allowing them to recover better, to better manage their season, underlines Lionel Maltese, lecturer at Aix-Marseille University and consultant for the Open 13 Provence, ATP 250 tournament. On the other hand, smaller tournaments will no doubt find it even more difficult than before to land big headliners. »

The utopia of unitary governance

The ATP certainly evokes a solidarity redistribution for the smallest tournaments through its subsidiary ATP Médias which must collect the new exploitation and broadcasting rights, but for the ATP 500 competitions (11 tournaments) and ATP 250 (40 tournaments), guaranteeing a solid board will be a headache, with players who are truly untouchable. “The black hole of the reform is that it does not offer flexibility on points in the ATP ranking either, continues Lionel Maltese. If we credited certain tournaments like Marseille or Metz with 300 points for example, instead of 250, the leeway to seduce players with something other than the financial aspect would be interesting. There should be more proportionality in the points rather than these rigid levels, 1,000, 500, 250.

The reform is not more talkative on other less striking and stumbling points. What about the physical and mental health of the players, yet more and more undermined? The debate on the duration of the matches, however still pregnant between the proponents of the end of the matches in five sets and the defenders of the tradition, is dodged. The ATP first formulates what to inflate its business, before a second phase of its plan which pursues the chimera of a unitary governance. Shared today between the ATP, the WTA in charge of the women’s circuit, the International Federation, and the four organizers of the Grand Slam, it is hue and dia, as shown by the debate on the participation of the Russian champions (read opposite). The collective strategy is still in limbo. “There is still a lot of work to do,” recognizes the ATP plan. Indeed.


Wimbledon, without Russians and without points

The English tournament remained firm on the exclusion of Russians and Belarusians from its garden. The ATP and the WTA have therefore decided that no points will be awarded during the fortnight. The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has made the same arrangement for the junior and wheelchair events. Many players are annoyed by the measure, regretting coming to almost play “an exhibition”. The debate is decided differently by the US Open: the American Federation (USTA) organizer accepts Russians and Belarusians, who will line up under a neutral flag from August 29th.



Football: UEFA’s new financial fair play, a sham reform

Two giants from England, two greats from Spain: the four clubs qualified in the last four of the Champions League after the quarter-finals on Tuesday 12 and Wednesday 13 April are regulars at continental feasts. No one is surprised to find Manchester City, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Villarreal at the top. This last guest was certainly less expected, but the winner of the Europa League 2021 is anything but a newcomer to the European football scene, already a semi-finalist in 2006.

→ ANALYSIS. Football fan, a family affair?

It is not tomorrow the day before that surprise little thumbs will take their place at the banquet of the football ogres. The new rules of financial fair play that UEFA has just voted will certainly not upset the hierarchy in place.

On the contrary, since they will offer “more latitude for clubs”, recognized Aleksander Ceferin, the president of the European governing body. Understand: a little more flexibility in the management of their budget to cope with the consequences of the health crisis and more broadly to adapt to changes in “the football industry that changed”repeats the boss of UEFA.

Regulate excessive pay

Launched during the 2010-2011 season, first-generation financial fair play (FPF) aimed to limit club debt by establishing a simple principle: do not spend more than your income, with a tolerance of 30 million euros. euro deficit over three accounting years. Overall, the regulations have proven to be quite effective, avoiding huge imbalances, even if the clubs have sometimes applied themselves to finding workaround techniques. On the other hand, the FPF did not prevent a mad escalation of wages, and it is this excess that it wishes to regulate.

→ DEBATE. Does the financial imbalance between PSG and other clubs affect the “beauty of sport”?

Regarding debt, the new rules authorize an additional deficit for clubs (from 30 to 60 million euros), but force the worst off to repay 10% of their debt every year. On the payroll side, they set a limit on spending allocated to salaries, transfer compensation and agent commissions. This limitation will be progressive: equal to 90% of club income in 2023-2024, 80% thereafter, and 70% from the 2025-2026 season.

In the event of non-compliance, various sanctions are provided for depending on the overrun: a fine called “luxury tax”, adding to a fund then redistributed to the most virtuous clubs, deductions of points, the banning of certain newly recruited players, or even relegation from one competition to another (from the Champions League to the Europa League for example).

PSG very advantaged

The reference for this payroll control is the “salary cap” system, which exists in the American professional leagues. “Except that the UEFA-style salary cap has nothing to do withsays economist Luc Arrondel, professor at the Paris School of Economics and sports specialist. In the United States, the system concerns a closed league, like the NBA for example in basketball, a single manager who shares the payroll between the different franchise owners, an absolute and not a relative division of the payroll. The rules are more restrictive across the Atlantic, while those of UEFA are just akin to rules of good management. »

Will they be effective? In any case, they give air to certain clubs like PSG, whose payroll today is overflowing. The Parisian club has three years to get into the nails, the ideal time to calmly negotiate the Kylian Mbappé case and offer the striker a staggering jackpot before the more restrictive 70% rule applies.

“All the clubs which have large shareholders and significant equity such as PSG or Manchester City are clearly at an advantage compared to historic clubs with extremely indebtedness such as Barcelona or Juventus Turin”underlines the economist Jérémie Bastien, of the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne.

The Super League still in the background

It is therefore difficult not to place this new FPF in the context of the great fight between UEFA and the promoters of the Super League, this project of a closed league competing with the Champions League, led by a few leaders of major clubs. The presidents of Barcelona, ​​Turin and Real Madrid have not completely given up, even if their project aroused a huge outcry in the spring of 2021. However, they are the most embarrassed by the new FPF, unlike a Nasser Al Khelaïfi, president of PSG very hostile to the Super League and precious ally of Aleksander Ceferin, the boss of UEFA.

→ REREAD. Super League: the craziest night in European football

“It is clear that PSG is in the odor of sanctity at UEFA, and that its requests undoubtedly benefit from a more attentive listening than those of the secessionists of the Super League.comments Luc Arrondel. However, the FPF does not only obey these political motivations, and in any case does not completely upset the situation: the system does not prevent inequalities from widening between clubs and the birth of a Super League in term seems inevitable to me. »

It’s always the same question that has been hovering over European football for ages. “This new regulation ultimately only concerns the big clubs, the only ones capable of generating large revenuesconcludes Jérémie Bastien. For forty years, nothing has stopped the excessive financialization of football, which goes hand in hand with a growing precariousness of the majority of clubs. If nothing is done to fight against it, if bankruptcies multiply, the big clubs will impose their Super League, the culmination of this process..



Football: Champions League, reform of the strongest

Barcelona-PSG is the major duel of the knockout stages of the Champions League which begins this Tuesday, February 16. The sixth confrontation in sixteen years, but with an epic memory during the last meeting in March 2017: the incredible “remountada” of the Catalan club (6-1 after losing 0-4 in the first leg). Even without Neymar and Angel Di Maria, the injured PSG stars, the poster is enticing.

And it is this kind of spectacle that UEFA intends to increase by 2024. Next month, the governing body of European football should have its members vote on a reform of the Champions League which subscribes to the always more matches, and therefore hard cash. A motivation that does not come out of nowhere. This reform is only the latest avatar of a desire marked for twenty years by the giants of continental football: to limit sporting uncertainty and to ensure as many benefits as possible.

Under the threat of a “Superleague”

Their ideal, expressed at the end of the 1990s? A “Superleague” private and closed, where the big clubs of the flagship nations would meet together to run their small value shop. Juventus of Turin, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Manchester United are the most fervent supporters of this formula. Its promoters will agitate it over the years under the nose of a UEFA fearing to see itself stripped of its authority and its treasure.

→ READ. Champions League: reform too much?

To avoid schism, UEFA will thus regularly reform its Champions League, in 2003, 2008, 2016, and always in the same direction, by favoring the big clubs. The 2024 reform was initially supposed to confirm the trend. At the start of 2019, the project increased the number of group matches from 96 to 224, and guaranteed 24 of the 32 teams the right to automatically participate in the competition the following year. In other words, almost a closed league.

An outcry from the national leagues, who feared for the interest of their championships, prompted UEFA to review its copy. But for the big clubs, it was about not letting the pressure drop. The pandemic in 2020 reinforced their determination. Faced with the losses recorded, the football giants must ensure their rear.

So here they are reactivating their Superleague. In the fall of 2020, their project “leaked” to the Anglo-Saxon press. A championship with 20 clubs, including 15 permanent and 5 guests, and a jackpot of 350 million euros guaranteed for the first six, 2.5 times more than what the Champions League offers today to its finalists.

→ ANALYSIS. When the camera spoils the sporting spectacle

Faced with the threat, the football authorities take out the cannon. For the first time, the International Federation (Fifa) and its constituent confederations, including UEFA, react together “Following recent speculations relayed by the media”. In a press release published on January 21, 2021, they emphasize that any club or player playing in the Superleague “Would be refused the right to participate in any competition organized by Fifa or its confederation”.

The national championships also jostled

The stick on one side, but the carrot on the other. The revised formula of the reform of the Champions League (read below), by multiplying the matches (180 instead of 96 in the first phase) and by providing for the possibility for some clubs of a repechage according to their points UEFA accumulated and not thanks to their national ranking, undermines the traditional idea of ​​equity and sporting meritocracy. The sidelining of the Superleague is well worth a few concessions.

How far ? This is one of the questions that remain. The multiplication of European matches will inevitably have repercussions on the national championships. No wonder then to see also emerging projects to reduce the number of clubs in national leagues and lighten the calendars.

With the cake of its television rights trimmed by the Mediapro affair, the French Ligue 1 is considering going from 20 to 18 or 16 clubs. In England, a project “Big Picture” a move from the Premier League to 18 clubs has recently come out of the woods. It is worn by the American Fenway Sports Group, owner of Liverpool, and supported by the wealthy Glazer family who own Manchester United.

The movement has also been encouraged for more than a year by Andrea Agnelli, the president of Juventus and the European Club Association (ECA), a fervent supporter of the Superleague. “We must offer young people exciting competitions”, he defended at the end of January. And that, of course, is a big business.

A “plus” formula

The new formula of the Champions League should concern more clubs: 36 against 32 today. They would no longer be divided into groups but united in a sort of incomplete championship, each team playing ten games against ten different teams (five at home, five away). This first phase therefore has more matches (180 against 96 today).

The first 8 in the standings are qualified in the round of 16 where they join the winners of the qualifiers organized between those finishing between the 9e and 24e square. This formula also ensures more French clubs, France winning a qualifier with three starting clubs automatically, plus one having to go through the preliminary round.