Q&A: Financial fair play explained
1) How do you explain financial fair play in one sentence?
Financial fair play is about improving the overall financial health of European club football.
2) When did financial fair play start?
Financial fair play was approved in 2010 and the first assessments kicked off in 2011. Since then clubs that have qualified for UEFA competitions have to prove they do not have overdue payables towards other clubs, their players and social/tax authorities throughout the season. In other words, they have to prove they have paid their bills.
Since 2013, clubs have also been assessed against break-even requirements, which require clubs to balance their spending with their revenues and restricts clubs from accumulating debt. In assessing this, the independent Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) analyses each season three years' worth of club financial figures, for all clubs in UEFA competitions, The first sanctions and conditions for clubs not fulfilling the break-even requirement were set following this first assessment in May 2014. The conditions relating to non-compliance with break-even requirements were effective for the 2014/15 campaign.
From June 2015, UEFA updated its regulations (as it does from time to time for all regulations) to address some specific circumstances with the aim to encourage more sustainable investment while maintaining control on overspending. Situations addressed include clubs requiring business restructuring, clubs facing sudden economic shocks and clubs operating with severe market structural deficiencies in their operating region. For the first time the work of the CFCB is potentially expanded to include clubs not yet qualified for UEFA competitions but who anticipate and want to participate at some stage in the future.
3) Are clubs no longer allowed to have losses?
To be exact, clubs can spend up to €5million more than they earn per assessment period (three years). However it can exceed this level to a certain limit, if it is entirely covered by a direct contribution/payment from the club owner(s) or a related party. This prevents the build-up of unsustainable debt.
The limits are:
• €45m for assessment periods 2013/14 and 2014/15
• €30m for assessment periods 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18
In order to promote investment in stadiums, training facilities, youth development and women’s football (from 2015), all such costs are excluded from the break-even calculation.
4) Are clubs automatically excluded if they are not in line with FFP?
If a club is not in line with the regulations, it will be UEFA's Club Financial Control Body that decides on measures and sanctions.
Non-compliance with the regulations does not mean that a club will be excluded automatically, but there will be no exceptions. Depending on various factors (e.g. the trend of the break-even result) different disciplinary measures may be imposed against a club. There is a catalogue of measures:
d) deduction of points
e) withholding of revenues from a UEFA competition
f) prohibition on registering new players in UEFA competitions
g) restriction on the number of players that a club may register for participation in UEFA competitions, including a financial limit on the overall aggregate cost of the employee benefits expenses of players registered on the A-list for the purposes of UEFA club competitions
h) disqualification from competitions in progress and/or exclusion from future competitions
i) withdrawal of a title or award
In addition the CFCB have decided in numerous cases that the objectives of FFP can be best achieved by taking a rehabilitative approach rather than a punitive approach. This has led to the conclusion of settlement agreements between a club and the CFCB, combining certain financial contributions with numerous restrictive conditions, which provide a roadmap for clubs to reach break-even in the foreseeable future (see further detail in points 11–16).
5) Are owners allowed to inject money into their club as they like or through sponsorship?
If a club's owner injects money into the club through a sponsorship deal with a company to which he is related, then UEFA's competent bodies will investigate and, if necessary, adapt the calculations of the break-even result for the sponsorship revenues to the level which is appropriate ('fair value') according to market prices.
Under the updated regulations, any entity that, alone or in aggregate together with other entities which are linked to the same owner or government, represent more than 30% of the club's total revenues is automatically considered a related party.
6) Who grants a licence to clubs to compete in a UEFA competition?
Every club that has qualified for the UEFA Champions League or UEFA Europa League needs a licence, which is granted to a club by the national associations (or sometimes leagues). This is based on the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations. UEFA then verifies documents and figures from all clubs which have been registered for one of the UEFA competitions.
7) Some clubs have enormous debts or do not pay their debts. Can those clubs still comply with financial fair play?
A certain level of debt is part of a normal financing approach for any business. However the build-up of net debt is restricted by the break-even rules, which require owners or investors to recapitalise and cover any losses. In addition, in the future any investors looking to conclude a voluntary agreement with the CFCB will be expected to commit funds in advance, ex ante rather than ex post. Finally certain debts with added importance, such as debts to players or key staff, social/tax authorities and other clubs are monitored on a regular basis by the CFCB.
8) Has it happened that a club has been denied access to UEFA competitions because of FFP?
The UEFA club licensing system was introduced in the 2003/04 season. Since then 53 clubs on 57 separate occasions, which have directly sportingly qualified for either the UEFA Champions League or UEFA Europa League were not admitted because they did not fulfil the licensing or financial fair play criteria. Financial fair play has been introduced and added to the licensing criteria in 2011. Since then six clubs have been denied access to the UEFA competitions because they have not paid wages to players or fees to other clubs for transfers and one club has been excluded from UEFA competitions due to a failure to comply with break-even requirements.
9) Is FFP in line with European law?
UEFA has been in permanent dialogue with the European Commission about financial fair play and has received continued support for this initiative. There is also a joint statement from the UEFA President and the EU commissioner for competition, emphasising the consistency between the rules and objectives of financial fair play and the policy aims of the EU commission in the field of state aid.
10) Will financial fair play make it impossible for smaller clubs to overcome bigger clubs in financial terms?
There are large differences between the wealth of different clubs and countries, which predate and are irrespective of financial fair play. The aim of financial fair play is not to make all clubs equal in size and wealth, but to encourage clubs to build for success rather than continually seeking a 'quick fix'. Football clubs need an improved environment where investing in the future is better rewarded so that more clubs can be credible long-term investment prospects.
By favouring investments in youth and stadium infrastructure and by setting the acceptable deficits in absolute million € terms and not relative percentage terms, the break-even assessment has been structured to be less restrictive to smaller and medium-sized clubs. In time, more smaller and medium-sized clubs will have potential to grow.
11) Why has the UEFA Club Financial Control Body reached settlement agreements with clubs?
The CFCB's investigatory chamber can offer clubs settlement agreements, a common instrument for financial regulators to help facilitate compliance. Article 15 of the Procedural rules governing the UEFA Club Financial Control Body states that "settlement agreements may set out the obligation(s) to be fulfilled by the defendant, including the possible application of disciplinary measures and, where necessary, a specific timeframe. The CFCB chief investigator monitors the proper and timely implementation of the settlement agreement. If a defendant fails to comply with the terms of a settlement agreement, the CFCB chief investigator shall refer the case to the adjudicatory chamber."
12) Can you explain the financial measures handed out and how the figures were determined?
Financial measures are linked to each club's earnings from their participation in European competition during the assessment period.
13) What are the player registration restrictions and how they are determined?
The Club Financial Control Body felt that it was imperative that clubs face sporting restrictions as well as financial measures as a result of non-compliance with the break-even requirement. The restriction on the number of players to be registered on the A list serves the dual purpose of limiting the on-field benefits arising from non-compliance while also assisting in achieving the overall objectives of the break-even requirement. The A list restriction is further supported by the restriction on the number of new registrations that clubs can add to the A list and on limits on their net transfer spend.
14) What is the appeal process for other clubs?
Any decision of the CFCB chief investigator to conclude a settlement agreement or to apply disciplinary measures may be reviewed by the adjudicatory chamber at the request of a directly affected party within ten days from the date of publication of the decision.
15) How are clubs that have contravened financial fair play being incentivised to become break-even compliant?
Settlements require the clubs to become compliant with financial fair play within a short period of time. Failure to meet settlement terms will lead to the club being automatically referred to the adjudicatory chamber.
Conversely if a club fulfils each individual requirement of the settlement, it may be released from the limitation on the number of players for UEFA competitions for the following season. If a club becomes break-even compliant during the course of the settlement, all sanctions shall cease to apply for the following season, with the exception of the non-conditional element of the financial measure.
16) Where does the money from the financial measures go?
UEFA will not keep any of the money. UEFA will distribute money from financial contributions by making solidarity payments to other European clubs according to an agreed formula. The exact details for redistribution of funds will be decided by UEFA and its Executive Committee in due course.
17) How does financial fair play deal with debt?
Manageable debt geared towards the long-term development (stadium, academy, infrastructure etc) of the club is efficient for financial planning and is standard practice in most industries. Debt taken on board, including the monetisation of future income, to fund day-to-day operating activity such as wages and transfer fees or to fund short-term cash flow shortfalls can create problems and must be managed effectively.
Financial fair play through the requirement of clubs to meet their financial obligations and to break even prevents the accumulation of losses leading to unmanageable debt.
Last updated: 18.20CET, 30/06/2015
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