Look at the tables of the top European leagues, and something is immediately striking. In the German Bundesliga, Bayern Munich is in first place with 62 points, leading second place Borussia Dortmund by 5 points. In Serie A, Juventus has 61 points for the lead, but only a 3 point advantage on Napoli. The Premiership is even tighter; Leicester City is on top today (3.5.16) but 3 teams are within 7 points. Even in La Liga, where Barcelona is on one of the most incredible runs of all time (see Seth Johnson’s blog post for more on that), they only lead Real Madrid by 8 points, or roughly 3 games. All of these leagues have incredible parity and competition at the top, making every game matter. In Ligue 1? PSG is in first place. By over 20 points.
How does this happen in modern day soccer? We’re used to hearing everyone throw around that competition is better now than ever before, and yet in one of the biggest domestic leagues in the world, the season is essentially over with several months left to go. To give an example of how over the season is, 28 games out of 38 have been played in the Ligue 1 season. That means 30 more points are available. For AS Monaco, down in second trailing by 22 points, to catch PSG, they have to win at least 8 of their 10 games and hope that PSG loses every single one. Considering that PSG has one loss all season that seems unlikely.
Digging into this further, though, perhaps we shouldn’t be terribly surprised by PSG’s dominance this season. While it isn’t always the case (thanks, Leicester City) we can look at team payroll as an indicator of potential success with some degree of aptitude. Real Madrid and Barcelona, arguably the top 2 teams in Europe, respectively have the second and fourth highest average salaries for players in any sport anywhere in the world; Bayern Munich, tops in the Bundesliga, is 7th in the world. But paying their players on average half a million more than Real Madrid? PSG. With an average player salary of over $9million, PSG has the highest average salary in any sport team in the entire world. That translates to a net value of around $634 million dollars for the club (which actually only puts them at 12th in the world in terms of value, proving that player salary and team value don’t always go hand in hand). AS Moinaco, that second place team in Ligue 1? They’re valued at $109 million dollars. Their average contract is worth less than a third of that of PSGs. It’s perhaps no wonder why the Paris team is blowing away the competition with that sort of spending disparity.
All of this raises a question that the French league will have to answer this year: when does one team domination become boring? We’ve actually seen this recently with Munich’s dominance in the Bundesliga; for the past few years, when Bayern has won the league by over 20 points, viewership has suffered. Indeed, the league with the most competition at the top, the Premiership, has viewership (and a corresponding TV deal) that is larger than Bundesliga, Serie A, and La Liga combined. So this year, while total figures have not been published, many people are expecting Ligue 1 viewership to wane. Is dominance by one team a bad thing, then? Sure, PSG is now able to compete at the highest levels of the Champions League and improve France’s image abroad. But when the domestic league becomes unimportant and boring, how long will fans pay attention? It’s a serious problem, and one that Ligue 1 might not have an easy answer for.
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I agree with the potential for waning viewership and interest in Ligue 1 with such a dominant performance by a single team like PSG. Unlike traditional American sports such as basketball and baseball where a playoff system at the end of the season essentially resets the playing field and anything can happen—just ask the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks, who lost to the eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors in the 2007 NBA playoffs—soccer in Europe prides itself on the competition of the regular season leading to promotion and relegation. But for teams in Ligue 1, it is frustrating that one of the three Champions league bids is seemingly locked up for PSG from the start of the season.
One of the biggest problems that could arise from this sort of disparity in the leagues is the creation of a European Super League to keep the top-flight competition in an international competition at all stages, rather than within national boundaries. As money from TV deals and viewership is basically assured for such a league—both American and Chinese interest in the top European clubs is rising—the league would surely be an international success (Nixon, 2016). The problem is that it leaves the lower level clubs in Ligue 1, and for that matter in the Premiership, Bundesliga, La Liga and Serie A, at a significant disadvantage because of the inability to achieve the same successes. But despite the interest in the potential super league, with FA executives claiming it will never happen “because it would kill competition” like that of Leiscester City shocking everyone this season (BBC, 2016), it seems that the Ligue 1 fans will just have to continue to ignore PSG in the regular season until the Champions League rolls around and the competition ramps up.
So yes, your conclusion that Ligue 1 may have many questions to answer, none of which is easy to find, is apt for this disparity in the sport. Let’s just hope the performances of teams like Leiscester City in the EPL prevents a complete divorcing from national competitions across Europe.
BBC. “European Super League.” BBC. March 5, 2016. http://www.bbc.com/sport/football/35730906 (accessed on March 7, 2016).
Nixon, Alan. “Top secret European Super League summit revealed: Man U, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City chiefs in talks to LEAVE Champions League.” The Sun. March 1, 2016. http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/sport/football/6969671/European-Super-League-summit-Manchester-United-Arsenal-Chelsea-Liverpool-and-Manchester-City-chiefs-in-secret-talks-to-leave-Premier-League.html (accessed on March 7, 2016).
Maybe if UEFA hadn’t thought a half-cocked, utter misnomer like “Financial Fair Play” was a good idea, slapping down Monaco when it tried to compete the only way it could, this wouldn’t be an issue.
FFP has succeeded in nothing but entrenching the elite clubs. It has done so by refusing the right of a board to deficit spend short term to improve its standing. Big clubs will now *always* be able to outspend small. And the prime way of small clubs to grow into bigger ones–winning–is rendered statistically miraculous. Because the rule is, and always has been, wage bills are a direct correlation with titles.
That is Platini’s legacy to global soccer. And Juventus, PSG, the duopolies in Spain & Germany, and the Big 4 of the Premiership thank him for their permanent monopoly.