Friday, February 17, 2006

Did Euro 2004 wreck Portuguese Soccer?

Portugal spent $1 billion on building or improving 10 stadiums in preparation for Euro 2004. These stadiums are amazing, but they are also becoming huge financial strains on the countries soccer league.

Five teams folded this season and four-fifths of clubs are late with salary payments. Last weekend, the nine top-flight games attracted 80,000 fans to stadiums that hold a combined 278,000, according to national league statistics.

``It's the worst I've seen in 18 years living in Portugal,'' Edilson Pagani, the Brazilian technical director of third-division Louletano, said in an interview. The team gets attendance as low as 1,500 for a 30,000-seat arena. ``I've never seen so few fans,'' Pagani said.

A lot of the problem of filling seats is due to Portugal's overall economy, which is the second-worst in the European Union, but that is not the only problem teams face as these new stadiums have large maintenance bills.

In addition, Portugal has a problem with the best three teams taking an overwhelming portion of the profits and, oddly enough, almost always winning the top prize in the league.

Portugal's biggest teams, Benfica, Porto and Sporting Lisbon, hog 70 percent of the combined 278 million-euro ($330 million) turnover of the top 40 teams, according to Deloitte & Touche. The trio has won all the domestic league titles bar one since 1947.

A lack of competition combined with had financial times equals trouble for any league. Sadly, it does not look like either of these matters will change quickly. This should stand as a warning for leagues the world over as well as countries that want to host major events.


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