Argentine soccer stopped by debt

In June, I wrote about how many of the world’s biggest soccer clubs are facing crippling debt. Over the summer, several individual clubs have faced disbandment over their debts, and now an entire league is facing a season being postponed, as Argentina’s Football Association has been forced to suspend the beginning of its fall season. ...

582631_090805_argentina5.jpg
582631_090805_argentina5.jpg

In June, I wrote about how many of the world's biggest soccer clubs are facing crippling debt. Over the summer, several individual clubs have faced disbandment over their debts, and now an entire league is facing a season being postponed, as Argentina's Football Association has been forced to suspend the beginning of its fall season. Many of the top division's clubs are have very large debts, including its most famous clubs, Buenos Aires-based River Plate and Boca Juniors.

Latin American football is a tenuous financial affair at the best of times; club directors are hired and fired by a club's members (anyone can pay a membership fee), encouraging lavish promises to the membership, and there is little regulation of financial practices. Furthermore, the die-hard fan clubs known as "Barra Bravas" have become more assertive and violent in recent years, leading to falling attendances (the AFA president's office was attacked within two hours of the postponement, with about 100 people throwing stones and breaking windows). With the global recession pushing down revenues even further, all that the AFA can do is try negotiating a larger TV rights payment, and it's unclear at this point how long that will take.

In June, I wrote about how many of the world’s biggest soccer clubs are facing crippling debt. Over the summer, several individual clubs have faced disbandment over their debts, and now an entire league is facing a season being postponed, as Argentina’s Football Association has been forced to suspend the beginning of its fall season. Many of the top division’s clubs are have very large debts, including its most famous clubs, Buenos Aires-based River Plate and Boca Juniors.

Latin American football is a tenuous financial affair at the best of times; club directors are hired and fired by a club’s members (anyone can pay a membership fee), encouraging lavish promises to the membership, and there is little regulation of financial practices. Furthermore, the die-hard fan clubs known as “Barra Bravas” have become more assertive and violent in recent years, leading to falling attendances (the AFA president’s office was attacked within two hours of the postponement, with about 100 people throwing stones and breaking windows). With the global recession pushing down revenues even further, all that the AFA can do is try negotiating a larger TV rights payment, and it’s unclear at this point how long that will take.

If the season is delayed for too long, the damage to the league’s talent level could be critical: while the Argentine league is no longer among the world’s best, like many South American leagues it remains a key breeding ground for top talent (big stars who got their start in Argentina include Diego Milito, Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano, Diego Forlan and Sergio Agüero). But a long delay could lead to many top prospects moving to leagues in Mexico, Brazil, and the United States, where they could continue developing while actually getting paid. Still, those angry supporters shouldn’t worry too much – as a new book points out, 97 percent of the 88 clubs that started England’s football league in 1923 still exist today, whereas less than the world’s biggest companies then have survived that long. 

ALEJANDRO PAGNI/AFP/Getty Images

James Downie is an editorial researcher at FP.

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