Football's Secret Trade Leverages TV Rights.


Football's Secret Trade: How the Player Transfer Market was Infiltrated (232 pgs., Wiley & Sons, 2017, $27.95) is an expose of the increasingly complex financial transactions conducted by football (i.e., soccer) clubs worldwide.

As it would seem, there is some complicated plumbing involved in the world of football, which might not live up to the sport's moniker of "The Beautiful Game." As more and more financial resources are needed to remain competitive at football's highest levels, an increasing number of clubs have turned to creative financial vehicles in order to stay afloat.

Although these vehicles are most commonly tied to the future value of players' contracts, clubs are becoming ever more creative when it comes to "securitizing" their cash flow, even selling off their future television revenue.

Predictably, serious issues can arise when clubs are unable to secure sufficiently lucrative transfers for players whose expected value has been used to secure financing, or when missing qualifications for a prestigious international competition eliminates a valuable source of broadcast time.

The authors, Alex Duff and Tariq Panja, have set themselves on the task of examining this increasingly convoluted financial wizardry. The authors are two British journalists who have worked for Bloomberg News and the Associated Press, among other outlets, covering the business that surrounds a multitude of sports, including football.

The authors approach their book with a cynical, highly investigative eye, giving ample space to several points of view on every aspect of the issue. FIFA, football's governing body, would like to reduce the influence of third parties like financial institutions, while players, their agents, and some of the clubs they play for have a vested interest in allowing the practice to continue and grow.

The authors find that football's unique financial instruments originated not at the highest levels of the game, where clubs spend tens of millions in order to poach each other's players, but instead were first conceived in the lower leagues of South America.

As in many other football-loving countries, very few of the thousands of young players competing in both football academies and the lower divisions of the national league system will ever find their way to a top club. However, this hasn't stopped players from securitizing their potential future value: many young players enter contracts supplying them with a cash windfall in...

To continue reading