Clubs, players and lawyers have activated all the mechanisms to protect themselves from the impact of the UK’s departure from Europe, which puts the world’s most powerful football league at risk.
The UK Premier League, favoured for its ability to generate income and attract the best talent in the world with the highest salaries, now hangs on Brexit, which could make its business very difficult. Clubs, players and offices are working hard to lessen the impact, though without yet knowing the rules of the future.
What is clear is that the UK could leave the territory of the European Economic Area. And that the FA (English Football Association) wants to take advantage of the possible end to the free movement of people to favour local players by tightening up the criteria for obtaining work permits in football. This is a serious problem for the UK, which has built its success on buying the best stars from around the world, attracted by the generous salaries. Thanks to its EU membership, it has filled its clubs with Europeans (including South American or African internationals with dual nationality), who can play without restrictions or work permits. In fact, the ever-declining proportion of UK and Irish footballers now represents only 41% of the Premier. Those from the rest of the EU, who would need the same work permit as foreigners, account for another 41%, while the share of non-EU players is 18%. In short: with the Brexit, 59% would become foreigners. What will happen now? How will the Brexit affect them?
Harvard University provides a conclusive figure: 591 of the 1,022 player transfers (almost 58%) that have taken place to the Premier League since its beginnings in 1992 would not have qualified for a work permit at the time of their transfers if the UK had been outside the EU. The rules are tough to obtain such a work permit. For instance, non-EU players must have played between 30% and 75% of their respective national team’s matches in the two years prior to their transfer. The percentage varies depending on the country and its position in the FIFA ranking.
“The elimination of the concept of free movement would require finding a model so that EU citizens can participate as foreigners in the English league,” concludes Alberto Palomar, a partner of Broseta. And vice versa, “it forces a reformulation of national regulations because the English will become foreigners. Mario Resino, Sports director of KPMG, understands that “whatever the final terms of the agreement, there will be a transitional period to adapt the new conditions applicable to players who had been enjoying the status of the EU, so they do not have to meet immediately the requirements applicable to non-EU.”
If the UK does not remain in the European Economic Area, the Premier will not be able to sign 16-year-old players, as is allowed between EU clubs. They will have to wait until they turn 18, which will also influence the junior players, which includes players (even if they are not British) who have been with a club for at least three years before they turn 21.
The FA wants clubs to have a minimum of eight of the 25 players in their squads, thus limiting the options for non-British players. At the same time, to benefit its national team, it intends to reduce the number of players trained outside the United Kingdom from 17 to 12, allowing foreigners to be signed freely in return.
Its devaluation against the euro in the face of Brexit’s uncertainty has already taken a toll on transfers to clubs, which must spend more to sign the same talent. Havard fears that this expense will be passed on to the user, increasing tickets and television rights. An immediate effect of the pound is already being felt at United, for years the richest club in the world, which has now been overtaken by Barça and Real Madrid, according to Deloitte and KPMG. The solution for those staying in England? Negotiate clauses in other currencies, especially in euros, to shield themselves from possible devaluations and ensure their wages.
Outside the EU, the Premier will not be obliged to offer different lots to multiple operators, which would revolutionize the market. In the event of a monopoly in favour of British telcos, the prices of television subscriptions would also be affected. At the same time, if less talent signs up, it will lose its audiovisual appeal.
Problems for fans
British citizens have so far travelled without any problem across EU territory to watch Champions’ or Europa League matches. The ease of travel ends with Brexit and could raise the price of visas.
The Premier is the priority in the negotiations, but many more sports are affected such as Formula 1, cricket, rugby, golf, athletics or horse racing.