With France announcing it was bringing in some form of salary cap for LNB from next season, Emmet Ryan on why such a format is a challenge on the continent in near any form
France has announced it is bringing in a salary cap, understandably drawing the odd comparison to the NBA, but France is not the US nor indeed is Europe and that’s an issue that goes far beyond its borders. Let’s dive into it.
This is the biggest issue for a salary cap in any sport anywhere in Europe. FIBA Europe has 50 full members, of whom 26 are in the European Union and 24 are not and that’s the first big barrier.
The US federal law set-up is nowhere near as complicated, and it’s pretty darn complicated, than that confluence of EU and non EU states within FIBA. Straight away, the UK and Turkey are in no way incentivised to act along the same lines as those within the union because even if the EU based leagues opted to enforce one, they will want to enforce their own rules as they see fit.
Crossover in legislation and the like is going to be an issue, repeatedly, especially when it comes to any effort to ensure nobody tries to circumvent the rules and people would definitely try to circumvent the rules. It could be as blatant as a top player doing endorsements for a team owner’s business to clubs ensuring there are absolutely zero costs for the players (think all food, power, entertainment, other bills covered).
There is an exception…
…but there’s a reason it’s an exception. The Top 14 in France has a salary cap. That’s the top rugby competition in France and it gets circumvented on occasion but is largely successful. Problem solved?
Wait a minute buddy. This league has one huge advantage when it comes to implementing a salary cap, namely that it is the highest paying league in rugby in the world. This means that French teams that play in Europe don’t have to worry about being at a competitive disadvantage in pan-European competitions because none of their opponents are going to outspend them.
It certainly doesn’t hurt France that the number of nations that are relevant competitively at rugby is lower worldwide compared to the number that are relevant just within Europe. For context, in the whole history of the Rugby World Cup, there have been 13 different quarter finalists. That’s nowhere near as complicated a market as basketball, despite being quite successful in terms of revenue. While we’re discussing France, you should check out what my buddy Aris Barkas wrote about this for Eurohoops.
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The NBA is able to engage in a salary cap set-up for a couple of reasons. We’ve mentioned the more manageable government situation but it’s also got that same edge as rugby in France, only to a greater degree. Nobody else in basketball is going to overpower the NBA, the best salaries for the overwhelming majority of players will be there.
That knock on impact in Europe would be hilarious, if only we could imagine it. Well the reality is that we already do as we see what happens when a player gets good, they tend to move to another team that is richer. The only difference a salary cap in most leagues in Europe is that, a hard cap especially, would see it going from exodus from clubs (many clubs) in isolation through clear leagues en masse losing their best in annual chunks.
…and you know what walks
But what if we got the big teams to lead it in order to make the fiscal aspects more manageable. Well, the heart is in the right place there but it’s not going to get it done. Financial fair play (FFP) as we know it in football is based around the revenues of an individual club, so it entrenches the existing strength while putting some form of curb on spending.
This is meant to keep spending down but also keep the richest clubs happy yet there are still rampant examples of these same clubs seeking to circumvent it. FFP, at least as we currently know it, isn’t fit for purpose. Oh, that also becomes FFP when you abbreviate it. Fun.
Then there are the players. Pan-European unions exist in various forms but the individual league unions alone will be enough for someone to cough, not even that loudly, and go “ahem, no.” Places where salary caps are established are cash rich and can deliver deals that make the players happy or at least ensure there’s no better alternative for the players. Players in Europe would automatically have better options.
That’s what it comes down to. The players, who may question how much power they ever have, are in a rare position where they clearly own the dominant hand and would end up with allies from the richest places in the sport locally.
A functional pan-European salary cap would be a good thing, if anyone could afford it because the only way it happens is with an awful lot more money to share about.