Global sports have come to a standstill in terms of actual live games. But the business side is more important to understand than it arguably ever has been. This has exposed limitations in how most major soccer federations handle player acquisitions.
The huge free agent-style contracts even the smallest teams contend with look different in the absence of steady revenue from live games. As the summer transfer window rapidly approaches, many team owners are calling for this system to change — and they look to the NBA as an example. Could it happen? Let’s explore the status of soccer leagues around the globe to find out.
The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on league soccer
League soccer was met with a wave of suspended play announcements over the past several weeks. Fans around the world held onto hope that the Premier League in particular could get through potentially as few as two games to crown a champion. Unfortunately, the rapid spread of COVID-19 meant the only reasonable decision was to delay the season.
The situation became larger than just the worry of spreading the disease among spectators. Players began testing positive as well, putting at least a temporary end to the idea of playing games without crowds. The situation continues to change daily.
The UEFA targeted a June 30, 2020 restart for the Champions League just two weeks ago. Now, as the curve of the virus still hasn’t leveled off in several European countries, this plan looks increasingly impossible. And the longer the suspension continues, the bigger the lost revenue.
How financial forces could push leagues toward NBA-style trades
Clubs are becoming cash poor in terms of the ability to pay for players on the open market as they traditionally do. The International Center for Sports Studies projects a 28% drop in the total market value of players in the top five soccer leagues. Some clubs are worried about their ability to afford players even with these reduced costs.
One solution is to shorten the transfer window. June 10 is unlikely to be an appropriate time for teams to start spending millions of dollars on player acquisitions. That’s why some executives, like Juventus sporting director Fabio Paratici, are exploring a more radical change. What if leagues took on a system closer to the NBA trade policy than the outright buying and selling currently defining transfer season?
Sportswriters and fans have long explored the idea of implementing a full-on draft system for the Premier League, mainly as a way to improve competitiveness. Paratici’s idea is more utilitarian. He means for transfer fees to be eliminated for direct trades, leaving deals up to each club. “There will be lots of swap deals, a situation that brings football closer to the NBA ,” Paratici said in an interview with Tuttosport.
Potential long-term changes are coming to global soccer as a result of the pandemic
Bringing no cash trades to league soccer will unlikely be the only big change coming. The Professional Footballers Association encouraged members to take pay cuts, showing that the entire financial structure of the sport may change. This is part of an ongoing reaction among players and unions to how precarious team staff and stadium workers are.
Many soccer stars are leveraging esports to continue competition, deepening the ties between the spheres. While that space was rapidly rising largely on its own in recent years, sports video games, in particular, weren’t always at the forefront. Due to the pandemic, sports games are regularly seen on ESPN and FS1, often with top athletes playing.
As for the actual play on the field, the 2019-20 season will see a major change. Video Assistant Referees are being floated for the chopping block if games do return. The idea is to limit the number of people on the field. But, if it goes well, we might not see them return, in favor of keeping decisions with the initial call. However, when soccer returns, whether this year or the next, it is all but guaranteed to look somewhat different.