Spain’s third force

For a long time Spanish football has been dominated by a duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona.  The championship victory of Atlético Madrid in 2013-14, along with their Champions League final, challenged that pattern.

For a long time Spanish football has been dominated by a duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona.  The championship victory of Atlético Madrid in 2013-14, along with their Champions League final, challenged that pattern.

The structure of Spanish football is also likely to change more permanently with new arrangements for the distribution of television money.   The arrangements up to now have allowed a country with serious structural economic problems to fund two world-beating teams.   However, it also made La Liga as boringly predictable as the Scottish Premiership when both Celtic and Rangers were there.

In the past every Spanish club negotiated its own television deal which suited Real Madrid and Barcelona which in 2013/14 each got €140m from broadcasters.   The smallest clubs got one twelth of their income. Now the ratio is 1 to 4.5 and next season it will be 1 to 3.5.  Atlético’s television income should jump from €41 last season to €95m next year.

Outstanding football writer Simon Kuper wrote a full length feature on Atlético in the Financial Times weekend magazine.   For years the club funded itself with debt.  By 2010 the club owed €452m in unpaid debt, over half of that to the taxman.   The financial crisis put an end to using the tax authorities as a credit card with no limit.    They are paying off their debts at a rapid rate.

Atlético have a reputation as an ‘everyone hates us, we don’t care’ club.   Their nickname means ‘jinxed’ and they play in a run down area of the city.   The strategy being followed is that of English clubs in the 1990s: find foreign investors, build a new stadium and boost revenues generally.  In January Wang Jianlin, reputedly China’s richest man, bought 20 per cent of Atlético for €450m.

Atlético will move to its new stadium, being built on what was to be Spain’s Olympic Village, in 2017. The stadium will have 70,000 seats, a boost of 15,000.   More important, there will be 7,500 corporate seats for the Spanish equivalent of the prawn sandwich brigade (presumably tapas).   Whether the club’s soul will transfer from the Calderón remains to be seen.

In 2013/14, the club’s revenues were €169.9m, the fifteenth highest in European football.  Revenues for 2020 are projected at €310m.  Real already have revenues of €661m, the highest of any club in any sport ever.  However, they are under pressure from their fans to buy big name players and once they become interested, the price soars.

Hearts are sometimes talked of as the third force in Scottish football.  They are a club with a great heart, but nothing as a third force compared with Atlético, although other Spanish clubs might dispute that crown.



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