Looking a Gift-Horse in the Mouth: UEFA gives to landmine victims

Before the kick-off of the UEFA (the Union of European Football Associations) Champions League match between Manchester United and Real Madrid at Old Trafford Stadium on February 13, Real Madrid and Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo presented a 100,000 Euro check from UEFA to the International Committee for the Red Cross to support the rehabilitation of landmine victims in Afghanistan (UEFA).  On the surface, this is a great story: raises profile of the landmine issue, funds go to persons who are in great need, etc., but just beneath the surface is the reality.  This was a naked ploy to buy goodwill for a stupefyingly rich segment of society.

First, the raw numbers: Ronaldo’s annual salary is 12 million Euros.  100,000 Euros is three days’ wages for him and he did not even contribute to the check, he just carried it and smiled for the cameras.  For the 2012-2013 Champion League season, UEFA’s estimated gross commercial revenue from all sources is 1.34 billion Euros (more than the GDP of Liberia).  According to UEFA:

Some 75% of the total revenue from media rights and commercial contracts concluded by UEFA, up to a maximum of €530m, will go to the clubs, while the remaining 25% will be reserved for European football and remain with UEFA to cover organisational and administrative costs and solidarity payments to associations, clubs and leagues.

A total of 82% of any revenue received from the same stream in excess of €530m will be allocated to the clubs, with the other 18% allotted to European football and remaining with UEFA for the purposes listed above.

Or, 1.06 billion Euros will be distributed to the participating teams and UEFA will retain 278 million Euros for “organizational and administrative costs and solidarity payments.”  The 100,000 Euro check Ronaldo held came from that 278 million Euro pool and represented 0.036% of UEFA’s share of the Champions League revenues and 0.007% of the total revenues produced by the Champions League.  In addition, any team that participates in the one of the Champions League’s qualifying stages was guaranteed a payout of 140,000 Euros, win or lose so even the worst team in the competition (San Marino’s Tre Penne) received more money from UEFA than landmine victims did.  And there are a damn sight more landmine victims in Afghanistan than there are players on all the Champions League teams put together.  In fact, there might be enough landmine victims in Afghanistan to fill Wembley Stadium where this year’s Champions League final will be held.

I don’t for a moment begrudge the Red Cross taking this money: they will put it to good use and the opportunity for some free advertising and awareness-raising is welcome.  I question UEFA’s intentions.  For UEFA, 100,000 Euros is meaningless, but it makes them (and Ronaldo who holds the check) look like good corporate citizens.  If UEFA were serious about giving money to landmine victims there are other options.

First, within the UEFA membership are several mine-affected countries with large landmine victim populations that would benefit from UEFA funds: Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Macedonia, Georgia, Greece, Israel, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, Turkey and Ukraine.  Second, instead of having Ronaldo give a check to the Red Cross’s director of human resources, he could give the check to an actual landmine survivor, in Afghanistan.  Third, UEFA could give more.  0.007% is such a small amount as to be negligible; it’s a rounding error, not a contribution.  Last, UEFA could give the check on a more important date.

In 2012, 300 million people tuned in to watch the Champions League final.  That’s more than watch the Super Bowl and the value of the free advertising such a showcase would offer to landmine survivors and the Red Cross is far higher than that of the first leg of a quarter-final match.  Yes, the Real Madrid-Manchester United game probably got a lot of eyeballs, but not as many as the Final would, and the alternative quarterfinal matches included the far lower profile games, Malaga-Porto and Shakhtar Donetsk-Borussia Dortmund.  Had the check ceremony been held at one of those games, the attention would have been far less.  A quarterfinal is not the Final and by placing the ceremony at the Final, UEFA would be demonstrating a greater commitment to the cause in terms of profile and lost revenue.

So, come on, UEFA.  Show us how much you really care.

Michael P. Moore

February 20, 2013

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