Learning From Other Leagues
by Absolute Thai Football
As the 50 week Thai season staggers to a close it’s time to learn lessons from other world leagues. Some, like England, Spain and Germany are flourishing, whilst Italy weakens in Europe and China struggles to shake off the recent corruption scandals.
The league coefficient ranks European leagues, determining how many of their clubs will enter the Champions and Europa League. Based on a country’s results over five seasons in those competitions, it’s two points for a win and one for a draw. The season’s total is then divided by the number of teams from that country. Germany are currently third, one place ahead of Italy but behind Spain and England. In Asia, the AFC decide who enters their Champions League and AFC Cup based on football competitiveness, professionalism, marketability and financial health. Two years ago Thailand’s league was placed twelfth in the East Asian section behind Singapore and Indonesia, although only Indonesia of the three countries met the AFC criteria. The chances are that Thailand has risen since then with a direct entry to the Champions League this year. A good run by league winners Buriram and runners up Chonburi would be great to see, but would paper over the cracks in the fundamentals of league oversight.
In the 1950s mainly amateur German footballers left for professional leagues abroad, the national team were struggling and the 1962 defeat by Yugoslavia brought loud calls for a national, fully professional structure.
Sixteen teams were selected from the forty six regional league applicants in 1963, with the sixteen most organised and sustainable chosen. Selecting one in three clubs gave the new league more strength than the Thai model where regional, semi professional lower leagues feed into two top divisions with vast financial chasms between the haves and have nots.
Football Association Oversight
The Bundesliga is directly controlled by the Deutsche Fußball-Liga. The DFL manages marketing, finances and club licences (without which teams are relegated to the regional leagues.) To get a licence, clubs must be financially healthy and meet strict standards of organisational conduct. They must also run an academy. The Bundesliga and second Bundesliga annually spend €75m on youth programmes. Last year Germany were European champions at under 17, under 19, and under 21 level. Five thousand players aged 12-18 are educated, meaning 15% of Bundesliga players are under 23. Ten years ago it was 6%. This allows more money to be spent on expensive talent if one in 7 players cost the club little or nothing.
This year’s decision by the Thai FA to reduce the number of foreigners was made without this bedrock of universal academy systems, heightening divisions between clubs as, for some, it is a well established system and for others it is an investment they simply cannot afford.
German League Winners since the formation of the EPL in 1992: 6
People often assume the EPL has the best attendances, but the Bundesliga is way ahead. Borussia Dortmund have an eye watering average home crowd of 80,365 (with the world’s biggest stand) and the league averages 45,176. Manchester United’s average is 5000 down on Dortmund and the league 9000 less. Thai attendance figures are often a work of fiction. I was stunned to read that the 2011 Thai FA Cup final was a near sellout as I looked across the acres of empty space.
Domestically, Sky holds pay per view rights to broadcast all first and second division matches. Only four matches: the season opener, the first match after the winter break and the relegation playoff are broadcast on free television. The Bundesliga’s television income is a fraction of the EPL’s, but it makes the mix between match day revenue, sponsorship and television rights more balanced than England. The German TV market is the most competitive. When pay TV was introduced in 1991 most houses already received 34 channels for free, so the DFL were forced to show all 612 Bundesliga and second Bundesliga games live on pay TV, carrying the production costs. Thailand’s TV coverage has expanded massively with the Truesport contract pushing it in to the mainstream and other channels such as SKTV showcasing their clubs, but someone flicking from the fare on channel 101 to 102 would see poor production values and a lack of English commentary on the latter.
Foreign players in teams
Match day squads must have no more than five non EU players with three allowed in the team, the same ratio as the TPL with non Thai players, whilst Thailand accepting one Asian non Thai in the team suggests the imminent Association of Southeast Asian Nations will approach labour in a similar way to the EU.
Despite last year’s €1.7bn turnover and €30m profit, Bundesliga clubs paid less than 50% of revenue in players’ wages. This is the continent’s lowest. In 2010 the Premier League averaged 68%, with Manchester City paying a mind melting 107%. In Thailand these figures are not available, but should be. When Khoen Khoen recently drew with former champions Muang Thong United, disgruntled MT president Rawi Lohthong revealed:
“It’s a shame because the whole salary of Khon Kaen players may be 30 times less than our players’ salary.”
And that’s as close as we get to analysing the pay structures of the different teams.
The Bundesliga may be perceived as less dramatic than the English and Spanish leagues, but this week, one point separated the top four in Germany, the EPL had a gap of thirteen and it is 18 points in Spain.
A highly developed organisational structure feeding strong local players into the national team whilst creating a huge fan base buying £10 tickets, this sensible financial business model gives it a chance to overtake the Spanish league now it has four Champions League places. The Bundesliga’s rise is Serie A’s fall, which drops to three spots with its falling League Coefficient. There is much to learn here…