Business, Finance & Economics

Economic crisis pushes sports leagues to the edge

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FC Barcelona soccer players (Image by Flickr user m.caimary)

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The Italian soccer season has been delayed this year, as a bitter dispute between team owners and players drags on into the regular season. American football narrowly avoided the same fate recently, as did the Spanish soccer league -- one of the most high-profile sports leagues in the world.

The crisis in every league centers around money. In Spain, many soccer clubs don't have enough cash to pay their players. About 200 Spanish players have gone without pay in recent months. Some $70 million in back wages are now owed by Spain's professional soccer league. One player reportedly had to sell his car for cash.

After a marathon negotiation session, Spain's players union and the league struck a deal. Luis Rubiales, who represents the athletes, triumphantly stated, "the problem of the 200 players has been resolved." The deal ensures that the players will get their back pay, and the fans will get their games.

Some wonder, however, if the deal will be enough to solve Spanish soccer's problems. Like American football, Spanish football is financed mainly through sponsorships and broadcast rights. And in Spain, as in other leagues, two teams have come to dominate the sport.

Spanish soccer generates about 800 million in revenues each year, but half of that goes directly to Barcelona and Real Madrid. And while those two teams have their own sponsorship and broadcast deals that allow them to pay tens of millions of dollars for players, today, about 1/2 of Spain's 40 pro teams are in bankruptcy.

The deal will be enough to let the games continue, but some still wonder for how long.

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