Last call for Russian football – Part 1

I returned to Voronezh with Timur in tow, which was quite a task. An overnight train ride with a five-year-old who somehow got his hands (and mouth) into a large packet of Skittles makes for interesting viewing and even more interesting parenting.

When he eventually got down to sleep I chatted with a neighbour who was wearing a Glasgow Celtic shirt. Turned out that he has begun playing Gaelic Football in Moscow and was returning to the regional town of Ryazan for the holiday weekend.

We chatted football (Both Gaelic and the more common version), and try as I might, he wouldn’t turn to the Russian leagues. For him it wasn’t even worth watching on TV. His attitude is common here.

 

Comparatively less people attend Russian Premier League matches than the Airtricity Premier version. Comparing the top two leagues in Russia with the top two in Ireland and again Ireland wins out. It has been so for at least four years, which makes it grating to hear or read some slagging off “small” leagues.

Because there is not one club in the three professional tiers of Russian football that even approaches the self-sustainability of most Irish clubs and very few who have the volunteers who keep Irish sport alive. I gave these examples in a previous article, but I have some updated info thanks to an investigative journalist with whom I’m working.

All these figures were accurate on 30/04/2015, with research and investigation from the preceding three years accounts and the full 2013-14 season figures. We currently have had access to 15 professional clubs in Russia. I’ve selected one from each of the professional tiers of Russian football.

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Merchandise – 0.5%; Tickets – 1.25%; Domestic prize money (from ’13-’14) 0.15%; Commercial (Advertising, Events) – 2.1%; Domestic TV – 0.3%.

From UEFA results we could place that c. 7% of their Income was from European football. Just over 11% came from clean income. Their wage bill compares with a top five English club.

Top four FNL club – income streams

Merchandise – 0.02%; Tickets – 0.4%; Domestic prize money (from ’13-’14) 0.01%; Commercial (Advertising, Events) – 4%; Domestic TV – 0.05%.

Since they had just come up from a lower division the prize money, TV and commercial would be lower. Yet their spending on wages, travel and training expenses would have them in the top ten of the RFPL.

Top two Div. 2 centre club  – income streams

Merchandise – 0.3%; Tickets – 1.2%; Domestic Prizemoney (from ’13-’14) 0.01%; Commercial (Advertising, Events) – 3.4%. Their wages for that season was comparable to the fifth placed team in the FNL and fourteenth in the Premier.

How can a Second Division club pay out millions of dollars in wages and expenses when only less than 5% of their income is from clean sources? The city chipped in 50%, 25% came from the Oblast (Administrative region) and the remainder came as soft sponsorship from Government companies or local businessmen who got various concessions or debt write-offs.

The FNL club had more than 85% from a single commercial sponsor, the difference being made up from the town and Oblast governments.

The Premier club had just under 70% from their owner, another lump from a company doing business with their owner, a premium so that he will do business with them.

This club were hit by UEFA’s FFP rule, yet if it is applied properly they, like Manchester City and many other clubs across Europe, would be sitting watching the Champions or Europa League in the pub like the rest of us.

Another Second Division club were within minutes, actual minutes, from having no bus to travel to a vital league match, only for a club official to run into the office with an envelope stuffed with cash for the driver.

He’d withdrawn 84,000 roubles (over €1,200) from his own account to keep the club alive. This same man makes 30,000 roubles a month, needless to say his wife wanted to divorce him for draining their new car fund.

 

There is a crash coming in at least a dozen pro clubs in Russia, half will be bailed out by their cities/regions, the other half will hope that a businessman will look to clean some cash and help them out, but a few will declare bankruptcy, reform and drop down a league or two. A large problem lies in the fact that the same clowns who led them into this situation will still be in control.

However the greater problem is the number of clubs allowed into the professional ranks. Being ambitious is great, but doing a Bournemouth/Portsmouth/Tosno is so insane that it makes us pretend we were fooled all along. Only for, when the house of sand crumbles into the sea of debt, everyone to say “See, I told you. Now let’s never speak of this again.”

At the start of this article I mentioned the interest in football here being comparative to the League of Ireland. Only a tiny percentage of Muscovites bother visiting their local clubs, indeed many supporters of Spartak, CSKA and Lokomotiv travel from further afield to get their fix.

A friend of mine travels to every home game of CSKA and as many “near” away games as he can. To Moscow alone he does a round trip in excess of 1000 kilometres, this season he’s been to Kazan (over 1100 kilometres), Italy and Tula amongst other venues. There is the interest here, and the loyalty, the passion, and the cash in supporters pockets.

There is decent ‘product’ on the field, enough local rivalry to make derbies massive, but the authorities and clubs fail their public every time and in every way. Yet there is a way forward and it’s been proposed three times in seven years at the highest levels of Russian Football, it will come again in September, maybe it will be heard this time.

Coming in Part 2 – The last chance to make a sustainable league and get the crowds in, Capello’s plea to clubs and what the Russian football union wanted to do but were stopped by the Premier League clubs.

The Author

Alan Moore

Russian based sports journalist and consultant, working with major clubs including Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt, Lokomotiv and Spartak Moscow. Current host of Capital Sports FM in Moscow, former international boxer and semi-professional footballer and commentated at the FIFA World Cup 2018.

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