Championship play-off final: The richest game in football

It’s the final weekend of the domestic football season across Europe, and for once the real drama will be in Germany, where Borussia Dortmund are on the brink of ending Bayern Munich’s iron grip on the league title. An exciting final day is just what the Bundesliga needs, days after clubs voted down plans to bring in new investment.

In Spain, the title was settled a couple of weeks ago, but Sunday brings with it an emotional moment for Barcelona fans. The Spanish champions face Mallorca in what will be the Nou Camp’s last game until at least late 2024. The Catalan club is closing its legendary home ground for a major overhaul, and will play home matches next season a few miles away in Barcelona’s Olympic stadium instead.

Of course the most important match this weekend takes place in Wembley Stadium, where an unlikely duo will battle for the biggest financial prize in football. We’ll have a look at the underlying numbers, and we explore La Liga’s painful week. Do read on — Josh Noble, sports editor

Why football’s biggest prize comes with risks

The Championship play-off final is known as the biggest financial prize in world football for a reason. It’s a ticket straight into the Premier League and a revenue uplift of at least £170mn over three years.

Coventry City and Luton Town have made it to today’s lucrative match by spending far less than what’s usually required to reach this stage. You can read more about their journey from the depths of English football to the play-off final here.

“It’s the greatest day of our lives,” Luton’s chief executive Gary Sweet told Scoreboard. “Potentially,” he added quickly.

Of course, it’s not just about the money but the prestige of playing against Premier League champions Manchester City and runners-up Arsenal.

But making the play-off final is only part of the battle. The outcomes can be extreme.

On one hand, Crystal Palace have remained in the Premier League since winning the play-off final in 2013. Three of the subsequent winners were relegated and still haven’t made it back.

Losing is even worse. Derby County lost the 2019 final and now plays in League One, the third tier, after surviving administration and a change of ownership.

What’s indisputable is that getting into the Premier League is like investment. Past performance does not guarantee future results.

Leicester City won the Premier League title in 2016 just two years after winning the Championship. The Foxes topped their Champions League group and made it to the quarterfinals the following season.

And yet, tomorrow, Leicester will fight relegation from the top flight.

For Coventry or Luton, the battle is only just beginning.

A moment of reckoning for Spanish football

Spanish football has had a week of introspection. Last Sunday, Real Madrid forward Vinícius Júnior was subjected to racist chanting during an away match a Valencia. The Brazilian reported the abuse to the referee and attempted to confront one of the fans in the crowd. He was later sent off after a scuffle with opposition players.

Hours later, he accused La Liga of being soft on racism, and called on sponsors and broadcasters to apply pressure. Javier Tebas, La Liga’s bombastic chief executive, responded by telling the 22-year old to “educate himself”, prompting complaints from around the globe, including from the Brazilian government. He apologised a few days later.

The Spanish football federation has leapt into action, punished Valencia, criticising Tebas, and launching a new anti-racism campaign. La Liga has called for new laws to help it combat the problem.

In some ways, the episode highlights La Liga’s success in building a global brand. Football is one of Spain’s most important cultural assets, generating nearly €900mn a year from international broadcast revenue — more than three times what either the Bundesliga or Serie A can get.

Barcelona and Real Madrid have enormous followings on social media, and can attract sell-outs crowds when they play exhibition matches overseas.

But global brands must operate in a certain way if they wish to keep an international fan base onside. Ricardo Fort, former head of sponsorship at Visa and Coca-Cola, said that commercial partners need confidence that such issues will be handled quickly and competently, and certainly not be made worse by those in positions of power.

“The other leagues in Europe are likely to start talking about how they offer a ‘no racism environment’ as a competitive advantage when they approach new potential sponsors,” he said.

That message appears to have filtered through quickly. Tebas chose to make his initial apology on Brazilian TV, followed by an appearance on the BBC and then a press conference streamed on YouTube. The focus has been on repairing La Liga’s international image first of all.

Spanish football is in the midst of change and modernisation, as shown by the major stadium upgrades now under way at Real Madrid and soon in Barcelona. Taking a firm stand on racism — something prevalent in football everywhere — is part of that process.


  • We have our Business of Formula One special report out today, including interviews with Susie Wolff and Zhou Guanyu, plus features on growing the sport in Asia, Ford’s F1 plans, and plenty more.

  • Newcastle United are closing in on a new shirt sponsor with Saudi events company Sela. If agreed, the deal could pose an early test of the Premier League’s rules on related party transactions. Both the club and the sponsor count Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund as shareholders.

  • The organisers of next year’s Paris Olympic Games have hit back at complaints that tickets have been priced too high. Officials said the pricing was fair and necessary for countering the costs of hosting the games.

  • Manchester City look unstoppable. We run through the data to judge how dominant they have become, and what lies beneath their success.

  • Napoli owner Aurelio Di Laurentiis says it is time for Serie A to ditch the traditional broadcast model and take control of its media content. He told the FT that Italy’s top league should produce its own match broadcasts and stream them direct to fans.

Chequered flag

Ferrari racing driver Charles Leclerc and Spanish teammate Carlos Sainz prepared for the Monaco Grand Prix this weekend with a charity football match.

But neither Formula 1 driver emerged unscathed from the kickabout.

Leclerc saw the funny side of a tumble that saw him land headfirst in the turf, while Sainz injured his thigh.

And when the Spaniard set up Leclerc with a clear shot at goal . . . let’s just say the Monégasque driver should stick to steering wheels.

With F1 championship leaders Red Bull looking ominous, the Ferrari duo will be hoping to navigate the tight corners in Monaco more adroitly.

This post was originally published on Financial Times

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