Switching National Football Leagues: General Thoughts

One of the important issues in European football concerns the ability of a football club to participate in a national football league, other than the one of its original registration. This is also an important issue for the practice of sports law. Any analysis, therefore, would encompass a wide variety of different considerations. 

For the sports lawyer, the first consideration would focus on the regulatory framework of UEFA and possibly the one of FIFA. The CAS jurisprudence, where applicable, may also be of great assistance. For the lay person, the primary consideration would be, perhaps, the competitiveness of the league the club is switching to and secondly, the geographical position of the new league.

For the Board of the club, the primary consideration would, perhaps, be the financial viability of the club in the short term and the commercial opportunities in the long term. The financial aspect must not be ignored and, here, we have a clash of the two important sports law principles of 'win-maximisation' and 'profit-maximisation.' These two principles are different in nature, although their application may depend on one another. The Board, would have to make an important decision as to which one would apply to its decision making process in the new league.

There are other important considerations too and they may depend on the name and the history of the club in question. Certain considerations would apply to the situation where the club's following is limited, as opposed to a club whose following is global. The latter would obviously be more attractive in terms of commercial opportunities and the hosting league/association would have to seriously consider the benefits of accepting such club into its league.

There are obviously enormous hurdles against such a possible switch from one national league to another. In the absence of a specific regulatory prohibition, a switch may be possible. However, it is almost certain that UEFA and FIFA may raise concerns against such development, by putting forward the argument that this situation is undesirable, as it may distort competition and create an embarrassing precedence. 

At this juncture we would have, without a doubt, a complicated legal analysis, not so much regarding the ability of a club to move to another national league, but on whether the governing body is within its rights to block such move. We may need to consider several different areas of sports law and other principles, such as the 'sporting exception', issues of competition law, restraint of trade, contract law and employment law.

This is an important aspect of the modern professional game and given the European Commission's unambiguous position on the enlargement of the European Union and the free movement of persons and services within the European Union, it may not be too long before the European Court of Justice is forced to hear similar submissions. 

I, for sure, have my Brief ready....

Dr. Gregory Ioannidis

23 May 2012


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