Our media partner SportsPro caught up with Emmanuel Petit at the Sportel convention in Monaco this week to get his take on European soccer's commercial landscape. Petit was promoting the work of his digital sports media company Netco Sports. The Paris-based company creates apps and digital solutions for sports properties across Europe. Key clients include the LFP, Canal+, Sportfive, Manchester United, and BMC Racing. Petit is a former player with Monaco, Arsenal, Barcelona and Chelsea.
SP: What is your current involvement in the commercial side of sport?
EP: I have been a shareholder with Kentaro since five years ago, but since a few years now, I’m not really linked with the Kentaro business – unfortunately for me. I’m still a shareholder but nothing’s happening. We still have rights. We lost [the rights to friendly games played by] Brazil but we still have a good portfolio – not only on football. But it’s like the modern world – things move very quickly.
At] Netco Sport we create applications for clubs and sporting organisations, not only in France; we are with Manchester United, we’re in the Middle East, in Brazil, everywhere. We are very happy with what we’re doing. We’re a young team; we are all passionate about new technology. I’m a geek; I spend hours every day on my different devices. I’ve got an iPhone; I’ve got an iPad and a Mac – everything.
That’s why I’m very happy to stay connected to the football world, not only on TV rights, but through apps as well.
SP: How do you watch football usually?
EP: It depends where I am. If I’m home of course I watch through my TV subscription, but if I’m not at home, if I’m at a hotel and I cannot watch a game then I will go through the internet and sometimes through streaming.
SP: Illegal streaming?
What can I do? It’s impossible sometimes when you’re in different countries and the game you want is not available. You have no choice.
"In some ways it looks like a disaster. It’s like the whole house of cards is falling down"
SP: What do you feel about the financial situation that European football finds itself in?
EP: It’s a big, big, big crisis. In some ways it looks like a disaster. It’s like the whole house of cards is falling down. The modern system in football is based on projecting more money for the biggest clubs in Europe. These clubs have the most debt. We cannot keep on doing what we’re doing. Uefa keeps giving them more money from the Champions League but at the end of the day they spend more then they get. For me it’s frightening because when you see clubs like Barcelona, Manchester United – their debts are huge. It’s incredible; it’s dreadful; it’s money that they don’t have. Of course they are big clubs, they’ve got big assets but at the end of the day if they keep on doing what they’re doing then for sure we will all be in big trouble.
SP: Uefa has its Financial Fair Play (FFP) plan. What’s your take on that?
EP: Do you think that could be done? I’ll ask you a question: if, for example, Barcelona, Real Madrid or Manchester United doesn’t respect FFP, do Uefa have the power to punish them on the pitch but outside the pitch as well? I don’t think so. Even if they did have the power to do it, what do you think is going to happen? All those big clubs will threaten Uefa like they did a couple of years ago when they were going to create the super league. It’s not realistic. Some of the biggest clubs in Europe are already trying to go round FFP by signing good marketing deals. You cannot compete on the same level when a club’s shareholders are so rich; they can do whatever they want all of the time.
SP: Do you think that’s the biggest challenge that European football has at the moment?
EP: I think we have created a system that for me cannot work anymore. We can’t put it back to the way it was before because that’s impossible. We need to really think about it because actually we are killing football. I think everybody knows that we are doing the wrong thing. That’s why we should think about it, and stop thinking about money, only money. We need to protect football before we kill it.
SP: Do you think the American salary cap model should be introduced to European football?
EP: That means it would be a closed league. Twenty years ago selling tickets was the most important revenue for the clubs. When you see the feed for the TV now accounts for 60 per cent of a club’s budget, that’s ridiculous. It means nothing to me to see a club finish fourth in the table and then play in the Champions League – for me that’s ridiculous. It just helps this situation go on and on. I don’t have the power to do that though. Hopefully there is a clever person here today who can.
SP: Would you consider going into football politics?
EP: I am trying to do that now. There are some things I really don’t like here in France and that business has been going on for ages and it’s not right. I've had the experience on the pitch for the last ten years; now I have the experience outside the pitch – marketing, sponsoring, everything. I just have to complete all that with some points of view and then I will decide if I want to have a role in football.
"It means nothing to me to see a club finish fourth in the table and then play in the Champions League – for me that’s ridiculous"
SP: What do you think of Arsenal’s situation at the moment?
The problem with Arsenal has been the same for the last few years. They have money. Look at the shareholders; they’re rich. The problem is they don’t win the title anymore because they sell the best player every summer. They still have a competitive team. They still have the power to win something, but it’s been a long time since they did win something. In the players’ mentality – if I was an Arsenal player now – actually I would think ‘what’s the ambition of the club?’ Every year we’re going step by step and then you sell the best players every time so it’s quite difficult to understand sometimes. I do understand the transfer policy of Arsenal. They don’t want to do what some European clubs are doing because they want to make sure they are breaking even, so with Financial Fair Play, who knows, maybe they will be right and they will have more power to win something.
SP: Do you see it as a change in policy when Robin Van Persie left to a direct rival this year, whereas players have tended to go abroad, or for fantastic amounts of money at Manchester City, before?
It was quite surprising. Especially when you consider Van Persie’s own son is playing for Arsenal, you would have thought that he would stay with Arsenal and sign his last contract there. He was brilliant last year, magnificent. But probably Arsene and the shareholders thought that that was the best time to sell him, to make more money. I’m quite disappointed with that.