Originally introduced in 2009, UEFA's concept of financial sustainability has helped to drastically reduce club losses, with new regulations announced in 2023.
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The development, introduction and continued evolution of the financial sustainability system remains as one of UEFA's most ambitious and successful financial projects.
Implemented through the UEFA club monitoring process, it sets a framework to which clubs that play in UEFA men's club competitions agree to abide by. It relies on the cooperation of clubs to declare a complete and genuine financial position.
The system monitors through three key pillars – solvency, stability, and cost control – the financial sustainability of the clubs participating in the Champions League, the Europa League and the Europa Conference League (UCL, UEL and UECL respectively). The monitoring is done throughout the whole UEFA season.
The primary objective of the UEFA club monitoring process is to ensure that all clubs participating at UEFA men's club competitions are financially sustainable, and keep their costs under control.
The system was implemented for the first time in 2010 under the name of Financial Fair Play. Since its implementation, it has continuously evolved, with the last change taking place in 2023, when the UEFA Executive Committee approved the new set of regulations governing the system: the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Sustainability Regulations.
Adapted to the new challenges of football, the new regulations requirements have been significantly strengthened to improve the financial sustainability of European club football.
The regulations introduced a squad cost rule to bring better control in relation to player wages and transfer costs.
At present, one set of regulations governs financial sustainability for UEFA competitions: UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Sustainability Regulations (2023), applicable to UEFA men's football club competitions.
Key differences between club licensing and financial sustainability
The UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Sustainability Regulations provide the legal framework to two tools applicable to UEFA club competitions:
The licence is essentially a certificate confirming that a club fulfils all UEFA's minimum criteria for admission to UEFA club competitions (including: sporting, football social responsibility, infrastructure, personnel and administrative, legal and financial criteria). All clubs that qualify on sporting merit for UEFA club competitions must be granted a licence before they can take part in European ties. The club is assessed by the national licensors against the relevant criteria once per season. If the requirements are met, the club is granted a UEFA licence for the following season. It applies to UEFA men's and women's club competitions.
The UEFA club monitoring process
The UEFA financial sustainability system is applied through a process called club monitoring. It applies to those clubs that participate in UEFA men's club competitions. In total, more than 230 clubs (UCL, UEL, UECL) are monitored throughout the season. The monitoring is focused on financial requirements and it is conducted by the UEFA Club Financial Control Body.
On 28 June 2023, the UEFA Executive Committee approved the latest version of the regulations: the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Sustainability (Edition 2023) that came into force on 1 July 2023. They replaced the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Sustainability Regulations (Edition 2022).
These new regulations were the result of a complete and comprehensive review that considered the experience gained over the past years and the changes of the football industry. In drafting the regulations, UEFA consulted its stakeholders across European football: National Associations, the European Club Association (ECA), European Leagues, FIFPro, supporters, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe.
The evolution of the financial landscape since 2010, the financial effects of the pandemic and a greater globalisation, were aspects taken into consideration in the preparation of the new regulations. These revolve around three key pillars: solvency, stability, and cost control.
The no overdue payments rule promotes the protection of creditors, ensure better solvency, and protect the integrity of competitions. Controls will be performed every quarter and there will be less tolerance towards late payers.
As at 15 July, 15 October and 15 January in the licence season, a club must have no overdue payables to other football clubs, to social/tax authorities, in respect of employees and UEFA, as a result of obligations arising from transfers due to be paid by 30 June, 30 September and 31 December respectively.
Football earnings are the difference between relevant income and relevant expenses. A licensee may have a football earnings surplus or a deficit. A licensee is in compliance with the football earnings rule if for the monitoring period it has (calculated over three reporting periods):
- an aggregate football earnings surplus; or
- an aggregate football earnings deficit that is within the acceptable deviation.
A licensee is not in compliance with the football earnings rule if the licensee has an aggregate football earnings deficit that exceeds the acceptable deviation.
The regulations see clubs subject to squad cost controls for the first time. The cost control rule limits spending on player and coach wages, transfers, and agent fees to 70% of club revenue – the gradual implementation will see the percentage at 90% in 2023/2024, 80% in 2024/2025, and 70% as from 2025/2026. This requirement provides a direct measure between squad costs and income to encourage more performance-related costs. Assessments will be performed on a timely basis and breaches will result in pre-defined financial penalties as well as sporting measures.
The three pillars aim to:
- Improve the economic and financial sustainability of the clubs, increasing their transparency and credibility;
- Place the necessary importance on the protection of creditors;
- Promote better cost control;
- Encourage clubs to operate on the basis of their own revenues;
- Encourage responsible spending for the long-term benefit of football;
- Protect the long-term viability and sustainability of European club football.
The Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) is an Organ for the Administration of Justice and may impose disciplinary measures in the event of non-fulfilment of the requirements set out in the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Sustainability Regulations.
Its final decisions may only be appealed before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne. Importantly, the CFCB is competent to determine whether licensors (national associations or their affiliated league) and licence applicants/licensees (clubs) have fulfilled the licensing criteria or the financial sustainability requirements, and to decide on cases relating to club eligibility for the UEFA club competitions.
The CFCB is made of a First Chamber and an Appeals Chamber, both headed by a chairman and independent from each other. In June 2023, UEFA's Executive Committee elected the CFCB members for the period 1 July 2023 to 30 June 2027.
Since the financial regulations for clubs in UEFA competitions were first introduced in June 2010 there has been an extraordinary improvement in the finances of European clubs at all levels.
Overdue payables (payables to football clubs, employees, social/tax authorities) have been all but wiped out. Club finances have been turned around: in 2009, net losses across Europe's top division clubs stood at €1.6 billion. By 2018, that had been transformed to a profit of €140 million.
However, COVID-19 negatively impacted on clubs' finances given the loss of operating revenues, inflexible wage costs, and a collapse of player transfer profits such that top-division clubs suffered losses of €7 billion.
As a response to the new context and challenges, UEFA approved improved financial solutions in April 2022, with the aim to guarantee the sustainability of European club football.