OUTSIDE the so-called “big five” leagues (England, Spain, Germany, France and Italy), the Netherlands’ Eredivisie appears to be the most successful European domestic competition.
Even in the glory days of Cruyff and co. Dutch football was watched by lower crowds than it is today.
As Football Benchmark says, these countries’ leagues are less visible than the big five, but they do include a number of clubs that have a rich heritage and passionate support. There are five European Cup/UEFA Champions League winners from across these leagues: Ajax Amsterdam, Feyenoord, PSV Eindhoven, Benfica and Porto.
Also consider the attendance figures of some of the clubs: Ajax 49,206; Feyenoord 47,412; PSV 33,594; Benfica 50,322; Sporting 39,988; Porto 32,324; Legia Warsaw 21,209; Fenerbahce 28,589.
However, the declining status of the four leagues and their blue-riband clubs is underlined by the fact that only one – Turkey’s Galatasaray – is placed in Deloitte’s 2016 Money League top 30.
Broadcasting revenues are the decisive factor and Football Benchmark suggests the prominence and relevance of the leagues is, to some extent, determined by the domestic TV appetite. Turkey appears to have the best deal with a reported EUR 360m per year. However, the Turkish Süper Lig recorded the lowest average attendance – 8,427 – and a stadium utilisation figure of 31%. The Turkish game is at odds with itself with problems over a controversial ticketing system which has led to something of “protest vote” from fans. Turkish crowds have almost halved in the past decade.
Polish football is making a comeback at present and crowds rose by more than 9% in 2015-16. Poland’s TV deal is relatively low, around EUR 34m per year until 2018-19, but the league is becoming more international and with a population of 38 million, there is good upside potential.
Portugal’s broadcasting rights are sold on a club-by-club basis, a system that benefits clubs like Benfica, Sporting and Porto, whose attendances dwarf the rest of the Primeira Liga. In fact, these three clubs account for 60% of total Portuguese gates. Each of the big three earns in excess of EUR 40m per season from TV. Football Benchmark comments: “As a result, this liberal market approach arguably decreases the competitiveness of the league and widens the gap between big and small clubs.”
The Netherlands, with its three slightly faded European royalty, signed a 12-year EUR 960m agreement up to 2024-25, equating to EUR 80m per year. This represents a very modest sum for a league that was once the most progressive in Europe.
However, the Dutch are enjoying almost record crowds for their domestic football – an average of 19,387 in 2015-16. Even in the glory days of “total football”, the Eredivisie was only drawing an average of 12,000. Stadium utilitisation in Holland is 88%, a higher rate than the big five although it must be noted that Ajax and Feyenoord aside, Dutch stadiums are generally smaller than in some of their European neighbours.
All four leagues have their challenges in the global market football has become. They are not only competing for commercial opportunities and highly marketed leagues such as the Premier and La Liga, but they also face a battle to retain spectator interest when local supporters can easily tap into big five football. Nevertheless, the really big clubs such as Ajax, Benfica and Feyenoord will surely always retain their local appeal. European football, with all its corporate elitism, certainly needs to preserve that.