Money matters – fair pay for play in Russia

“The salary a player gets should be entirely dependent on the quality of his game,” he said, and the world shook. When a lickspittle beneficiary of gross nepotism makes, usually the nation reverberates with laughter.

Yet I almost felt there was merit in his typical “look at me” quest for relevance and paternal acceptance.

Football and sport in Russia is largely immune to any form of market economics, so maybe Mr. Lebedev’s Yentl-like cry for attention can kickstart a national debate on fair pay in sports.

 

Money for nothing

Most Russian football clubs are in dire straits financially with not a single one solvent. The value of sponsoring a club in Russia, when using even the most basic criteria will make you think.

Everywhere, even in ISIL-backer backed Barcelona, shirt sponsorship is the most basic deal. In Germany my former company calculated the following when approaching a Telecom provider for a deal, including:

  • Volume of media coverage
  • Number of club fans
  • Attendances at matches (home and away)
  • Chances of European football
  • Access to players, coaches and club “legends”
  • Cross-marketing event impact

 

We had put together hard figures on each and come up with a number we thought was fair.  In the end we agreed 25% less than the original sum for three years.

In reality we overvalued ourselves by 30% and were authorised by the late-President to go to 50% of our offer.

It was the first time the club had used such a rubric to create a value for sponsoring the club and owed thanks to the bookkeeper of a Junior A hockey club in Canada.

She’d come up with an idea of how to prove to a business how valuable your product is.

I tried this in Eastern Europe and it didn’t stick.  Reality bits hard and fair pay doesn’t enter the equation.

In 2012/13, we looked at how Spartak Moscow could grow commercially. The club had some real talents in the commercial department and they were very progressive and open to new ideas.

However, the roadblock came when “soft” money had to be brought in to boost the coffers. Mr. Fedun’s funding would otherwise have fallen way, way outside UEFA’s Financial Fair Play.

As I’d found previously with FC Krasnodar, what was being asked for from non-connected businesses and reality were poles apart. Fair pay for sponsorship didn’t quite matter.

Fair pay – sponsors

I spoke this week with a friend who works in the UK with a number of clubs. He’s a sponsorship specialist and has done deals with from SPL/EPL to Conference.

He uses a version of the “Rubric 2000” and we compared Russia and England. Your business can put their name on the front of a League One shirt and get almost 200% more bang for your buck than with a non-Europe qualified team in Russia.

Yet, you will pay 20 times less!  A team who finished mid-table last year had a shirt sponsor pay €600,000, the League One side €30,000.

The Russian club was sponsored by the regional government, which saw a drop in inward investment and a round of government employee layoffs.

In addition to a budget deficit, the company who sponsored the League One side saw their social media followers quadruple and sales almost triple.

Who got the better deal?

 

With zero responsibility towards the majority of sponsors, Russian clubs are unable to comprehend how to make commercial successes of themselves.

Accustomed to not having real control of their clubs futures, they don’t think beyond the end of the season. The latest oligarch and/or politician pours in money and when his tax credits dry up, he pulls the plug.

I once asked a Division Two club, who averaged 500 for home games, what would it take to get prime spot on their shirts. Sitting back in his chair, but not too far as it had a habit of collapsing, the well-educated businessman said, “$300,000, it’s what the Governor will pay us.”

In a city with a population of less than 200,000 where unemployment was at 35% and the average salary a mere $200 a month, our client declined.

There is no fair pay for sponsors in Russia, therefore money coming into the game is government or government related.

With this consistently inconsistent safety net, there is no motivation for clubs to do anything.

Fair pay – players

Forget the insanity of the Russian League system. Forget the inability of a single Russian club to support their wage bill through balanced means.

Forget the horrible youth development system that leaves a majority of senior players unable to fulfill their talents.And forget the inability of the FIFPro affiliated footballers union to protect even the most basic rights of players.

This is the end result of decades long willful neglect by the RFU, Kremlin and citizens of this country. Football is in the third minute of cardiac arrest, soon the lack of oxygen in the brain will cause cells there to die off.

The re-introduction of alcohol advertising by stealth was hoped to be a form of CPR, though alcohol not known as an effective remedy for patients having a heart attack.

Some science, physical effort and importantly intelligence is needed to rescue the body on the footpath.

Russian footballers are some of the most abused and disrespected workers in the country.

When the fans read of big salaries and transfer fees, or see pictures on social media, it is understandable that they are jealous.

Yet the fantasy exists in the minds of the masses that all players are the same. How many players were not paid chunks of salaries or bonuses and just had to agree to forego them?

Many agreed to forego them due to pride, threats or actual beatings.

 

There was no glamour when one of our former clients, then with a First Division team, had to borrow $20 for a train ticket home at the Winter break as he’d not received salary for five months.

Yet even though he was a quality left back capable of at least 2. Bundesliga in Germany, his $3000 a week salary with a team who averaged under 1000 fans per home game was out of whack.

This is the point where the RFU, the real Footballers Union and the clubs can come together and lay down a marker to ensure that players will have fair pay and actually receive it.

A salary cap remains a dream so long as clubs are run as virtual clearinghouses for companies and government bodies.

Once reality bites and clubs are run as community-based businesses, then there will be fair pay for footballers.

A Second Division club today told me that their clean budget available for player salaries is just under $55,000.

With a fully amateur reserve team, they can offer a maximum wage of $3500 for a 12 month contract to players as they plan to have 20 pros on their books.

With today’s exchange rate (01.07.16) this max. avg. translates to 18,000 rbs a month; the local Industrial wage for the town is 8,000 rbs a month.

This is fair pay for players who will receive their salaries, living accommodation AND insurance.

And now it’s okay?

Deputy Lebedev also commented on the limit on foreigner players is unproductive and he’s right.

The limit on foreigners, especially foreign coaches, below the FNL zombieland is killing the game.

In cities and towns across Russia foreigners are prevented from playing or coaching Division Two and below because of their nationality.

In 2013, a very talented German student arrived for a study year in Voronezh. She also delivered classes at the local Medical University on nutrition and fitness.

She asked the locals Division Two team for an opportunity to work with them to fill out her C.V..

They saw the effects of her work and yet could not have her on the staff, officially.  It was a juggling act that was needless. She was not receiving a salary, just doing it for experience.

Across Russia there are foreigners studying and working yet their talents and input is prevented from helping their local clubs.

 

In Moscow, Oblast, a Division Three (amateur) club, asked for dispensation from this debilitating rule so that two students from a local third level college could join them.

One, a recent Moroccan U-21 international, and the other a US student who played NCAA Division I and two seasons USL, were both denied the chance to play. Instead they played for the college team.

Rules on foreigners are fine, but they need to have a long term vision.

Guaranteeing fair pay for footballers in Russia is the final stage of a complete overhaul that is needed in the country.

With the excessive number of professional clubs, inefficient league system and lack of youth development, ensuring that players receive salaries and insurance seems a distant pipe dream.

Yet it doesn’t have to be so.

Last year I penned a series of two articles on the state of the Russian game, that it was the “Last call” (part 1, part 2).

Right now I’ve the feeling that, keeping the pub analogy going, the lounge staff are clearing glasses as the disheveled, shambling wreck of a once proud football system staggers to the counter to beg the barman for just one last glass.

Last call is now last chance for Russian football.

Author Details

Alan Moore
Alan Moore

A Russia-based Sports Journalist and Consultant, worked with major sports clubs including:- Spartak Moscow, Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt. Boxed Internationally, played semi-pro football and I worked full-time in sports management/consultancy from 2003-13.

First published professionally on football in 1990, first Russian league match in 1991, now hosting Capital Sports on Capital FM, Moscow and writing the odd article.

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