Financial Fair Play: A Roundtable Debate

A seminar as part of the Sport Business Centre Seminar Series

Given by: Daniel Geey (Solicitor and Lawyer with Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP), Sean Hamil (Director of the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre) and Ed Thompson ( website blogger)

Lankaster Lecture Theatre (University College London – UCL)
Medawar Building
Malet Place (off Torrington Place) 
London WC1
Tuesday 18th June 2013 at 6pm

For directions click here

This event will operate under “Chatham House Rules” – no external reporting without the permission of the speakers


In this Roundtable the rationale for the introduction of the Financial Fair Play concept will be discussed, and its prospects for success critiqued.

By way of background to the debate; in the late 1990s it began to become apparent that whilst European football was benefiting from dramatically higher revenues, these higher revenues did not translate into profitability for clubs. Rather these revenues were largely been spent on a form of playing talent “arms race” which saw elite players dramatically increase their salaries; leading to a concern that leagues across Europe would become a race between club owners with the greatest financial resources, so undermining the sporting integrity of these competitions. At the same many clubs began to make significant losses which could only be sustained through subsidies from public bodies (e.g. local authorities through the provision of subsidized stadia for example) or private investors, or increasingly through clubs going bankrupt and leaving unpaid a wide range of creditors, for example other members of the football family (such as other clubs), and also the tax authorities.

In response to this phenomenon UEFA, the governing body of European football, introduced the UEFA Club Licensing system in 2004, and then the UEFA Financial Fair Play concept in 2009. The UEFA Club Licensing system established a set of best practice criteria which clubs must meet in order to qualify for participation in UEFA club competitions. So for example, for the 2010/11 season both Portsmouth FC and Real Mallorca were banned from entering UEFA club competitions for being in breach of financial regulations, in Portsmouth’s case because they had gone into financial administration.

The specific requirements of Financial Fair Play are outlined in the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations, 2012 Edition. Central to these regulations is that clubs wishing to meet the criteria necessary to be awarded a UEFA club licence must meet the break-even requirement. In essence, the break-even requirement operates as follows: relevant expenses (cost of sales, employee benefits expenses, other operating expenses, player transfer amortisation or expenses, finance costs) must not exceed relevant income (gate receipts, broadcasting rights, sponsorship and advertising, commercial activities, other operating income, player transfer profit or income, finance income, excess proceeds on disposal of tangible fixed assets). However, it is critical to note that there is no limit on expenditure on: infrastructure costs, youth development activities and community development activities. This is to provide an incentive to clubs to develop their football business activity so that higher revenues will offset expenditure.

A form of Financial Fair Play regulatory environment has now been introduced in both the Football League and the Premier League in England.

The concept has not been universally positively received. For example, some commentators have questioned how effectively the true value of sponsorship agreements with related parties (parties related to the owner) can be measured. Others argue that if Financial Fair Play is successful it will simply institutionalise the current hierarchy of dominant European clubs and make it impossible for a less fashionable club which is taken over by a wealthy benefactor to break into the elite of successful clubs by virtue of the traditional “sugar daddy” investment route perhaps most recently best exemplified in the takeover of Manchester City by Abu Dhabi-based investors.

As stated in the introduction above, in this roundtable debate the rationale for the introduction of Financial Fair Play will be discussed, and its prospects for success critiqued.  Critically the panel will address four fundamental questions: (1) Does the scale of financial instability in European club football justify Financial Fair Play’s introduction? (2) What are the barriers to its effective implementation and how might they be overcome? (3) If it is successfully implemented what might be the unintended consequences? (4) If it not implemented successfully what might be the consequences?

Podcast from the LawInSport website.



Daniel Geey

Daniel Geey is a Solicitor and Lawyer with Field Fisher Waterhouse LLP, the leading London law firm where he is an associate in the Competition and EU Regulatory Law Group. He is also a leading advisor on sports-law related matters where his guidance has covered advice on the Fit and Proper Person Test, parachute payments and the football creditors rule, disclosure obligations under the relevant football authority’s rules, conflicts of interest and third party player ownership contracts. Daniel has also provided guidance on UEFA and Football League Financial Fair Play Regulations and how they may affect the future financial planning of football clubs. He has also given briefings and spoken at workshops and conferences on the interplay between Competition Law, Football and Broadcasting.

He also writes a popular blog on sport and the law related matters.

The following are examples of his most recent commentary on the subject of financial fair play:

Sean Hamil

Sean Hamil is a lecturer in the Management Department, Birkbeck College, University of London, and is a Director of the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre. He has published extensively on the subject of the governance of the football industry. He has a particular research interest in the question of the financial sustainability of the football industry. In 2011 he gave evidence to the House of Commons Culture, Media & Sport Committee enquiry into the Governance of English football and was quoted extensively in the final report:

The following is an example of some commentary on a subject related to Financial Fair Play:

  • Hamil, S. & Walters, G (October, 2010). “Financial Performance in English Professional Football: `An Inconvenient Truth’”. Soccer & Society, Vol. 11, No. 4, May-July 2010. Pages 354-372

Ed Thompson

Ed is a Financial Projects manager working within HSBC’s Insurance & Investments division.  He is and Associate of the Chartered Institute of Bankers. Analysing the implications of complex rules and regulations has always been of particular interest for him, both personally and professionally.

He produces the authoritative website.  As a result of this work he has been described by the Independent on Sunday newspaper as ‘“One of the country’s leading analysts of Uefa’s Financial Fair Play regulations”.

The following are examples of his most recent commentary on the subject of Financial Fair Play:

Contact details

For further details on this seminar series contact:

Sean Hamil
Department of Management
Birkbeck College
Malet Street

Tel: 020-7631 6763


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