UEFA talks about the chances and trends of teams with multiple owners in a $28 billion report. Europe's soccer business
In $28BN, UEFA talks about the trend and risks of teams owned by groups of more than one club. European soccer business

UEFA said Thursday that more than 300 soccer clubs were part of ownership groups with other teams. This is a trend that was sparked by American investors and could threaten the fairness of European games.

In its annual report on the European soccer economy, which it says will bring in about 26 billion euros ($27.9 billion) for teams in 2023, UEFA talked about how “multi-club ownership” is becoming more popular with investors but not always with fans.

“Increased risk of seeing two clubs with the same owner or investor facing each other in the same competition, creating potential integrity risks at the European level,” UEFA head of research Andrea Traverso said in the 118-page report.

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The story came out at a time when two of the 13 teams in the Abu Dhabi-backed City Football Group network—Manchester City and Girona—were tied for second place in the English Premier League and are in good shape to make it to the Champions League next season.

Before the European games this season, UEFA already used rules from 25 years ago to stop two American multi-club groups and one English owner from entering.

“US-based investors have largely driven the multi-club investment trend,” UEFA said. “44 multi-club investment groups have their roots in the US.”

UEFA said that investors are drawn to clubs in Europe “where access to players and business fundamentals is deemed to be better than elsewhere.”

In 2012, UEFA said that there were less than 40 teams in ownership networks around the world. Now it was found that 105 European top-division teams have a “cross-investment relationship” with at least one other club. Eleven hundred and twelve more European clubs from lower-level leagues took part.

The UEFA report said that American investor groups owned most of 37 top-level European teams, for a total of 65 clubs. This is almost five times as many as the next highest number of clubs, which were owned by Italian groups and came in at 14.

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American management groups like RedBird, whose prized asset is AC Milan, Eagle Football, whose prized asset is Lyon, and 777 Partners, whose goal is to buy an English club When it comes to its companies in the U.S., Everton is paying more attention to legal problems.

A team put together by UEFA last year looked into RedBird and another American-backed group, V Sports, which owns Aston Villa. The Italian team Milan, its French sister Toulouse, as well as the Portuguese teams Villa and Vitória Guimarães, all made it to the European tournaments.

UEFA said the owners of more than one club had “decisive influence” over both teams. As a result, board members were removed, investment stakes were cut or sold, transfer bans were put in place for one year, and the use of shared scouting databases was stopped.

UEFA said in July of last year that these changes would make it much harder for owners to have a big impact on and make decisions about more than one club.

Different UEFA officials ruled in 2017 that Red Bull’s links to Leipzig and Salzburg could be broken, which let both teams enter the Champions League. These actions were seen as stricter than that decision. In the 2018–19 Europa League season, these two teams played each other twice. Salzburg won both games, while Leipzig failed to make it out of their group.

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When asked last week if there would be a review into the match between Man City and Girona, UEFA’s general secretary Theodore Theodoridis said it was too early to say anything.

UEFA has said that clubs with shared ownership can work together in the transfer market, but its most recent study suggests that this is “perhaps not the main (driver of multi-club purchases), as most people tend to think.”

Also, UEFA said that its club monitoring rules, which used to be called Financial Fair Play, will “prevent advantages from related-party loans or transfers.”

Girona has been happy to be part of a multi-club network. However, fans in England, Belgium, and France have recently protested against American managers.

Fans of Crystal Palace and Molenbeek have been upset with Eagle, and fans of Strasbourg have complained that they are not seen as important by BlueCo, the owner of Chelsea and a company that has invested a lot of money in the team.

Thursday, UEFA said that the trend of clubs owning more than one “marks a significant shift in traditional ownership structures, with far-reaching implications for the interconnected relationships between clubs, sponsors, and fans.”

The Football Supporters Europe group, which is recognized by UEFA, has asked soccer governing bodies to “adopt firm regulations before the whole game is (irredeemably) compromised.”

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