The president of my former club . . . said I left because I got more money in England, that I didn’t care about the shirt. I said: “Is there one player in the world who signs for a club and says, Oh, I love your shirt?” . . . He doesn’t care. The first thing that you speak about is the money.
Assou-Ekotto’s statement sums up the familiar maxim, money talks. In many contexts, society is largely at ease with this truism. However, there are certain drawbacks to this condition, particularly in the world of sports. Research shows that fans value uncertainty in results, and may lose interest in a sport if one team is too dominant, thus creating predictable outcomes. Teams with less money find it difficult to compete with teams that have relatively more money to spend on the services of top-level athletes. This problem is particularly critical in the Union of European Football Associations (“UEFA”) Champions League because of the way the league is structured. Twenty-eight of the thirty-two teams that have either won or been runner-up of the Champions League between 1997 and 2012 are among the twenty most valuable soccer teams in the world.
In the United States, most popular professional sports have dealt with this issue by implementing salary caps: a maximum amount of money that can be spent on player salaries. Salary caps have a positive effect on competitive balance, and provide leagues with financial stability. In Europe, however, salary caps have not yet been tested in a meaningful way. In 2010, UEFA approved a salary cap that went into effect in 2012, and will be reviewed during the 2013–14 season. In the absence of a salary cap, UEFA teams will continue to pay higher salaries than they can sustain over the long term, which will ultimately lead them to financial ruin.
Part I of this Note details the background of antitrust law in the United States, competition law in the European Union, and their application to sports. In particular, it examines salary cap schemes. Part II discusses the issues regarding the legality of salary caps under both US antitrust law and EU competition law. Part III proposes the course of action that the European Commission should follow in its inevitable confrontation with the salary cap structure recently implemented by UEFA.