MADRID - The Spanish professional football league (LFP) has defended clubs with high and rising levels of debt, saying borrowing is a legitimate form of financing expansion widely used in other corporate sectors. A study by a professor at the University of Barcelona published last week showed the combined debt of the 20 clubs in Spain's top league rose by more than 650 million euros to at least 3.5 billion in the year through June 2008.
Jose Maria Gay, the study's author, has warned that Spanish football faces financial collapse and urged authorities to force clubs to stop spending and borrowing in excess of what they can afford.
An LFP source, who asked not to be identified by name, told Reuters the organisation was unaware of Gay's report but noted that an increase in debt to finance expansion was not necessarily a cause for concern.
"Debt is an instrument of financial and economic management that all companies in all corporate sectors make use of," the source said.
"It's rather shocking that the concept of debt, when applied to soccer clubs, has such extremely negative connotations, something that is not the case in any other sector."
Many Spanish clubs have been forced deeper into the red as they struggle to cope with surging wage and transfer costs for the top players they need to compete.
The sharp global downturn and the deep recession in Spain will cause more pain as income from TV rights, sponsorship, merchandising and ticket sales dwindles, analysts say.
Gay based his latest study on official 2007/08 accounts. They showed Real Madrid had the largest debt with 563 million euros, followed by city rivals Atletico with 511 million and Valencia with 502 million. Barcelona was 438 million in the red.
Valencia, league champions in 2002 and 2004, recently said they might have to sell players to ease their financial difficulties and the club has been forced to delay wage payments and halt construction on a new stadium.
The LFP source said it would be "prudent and advisable" in the current economic climate for clubs to rein in borrowing, particularly as the credit crunch had pushed up financing costs.
"The clubs in the league are aware of the situation and are taking the appropriate steps," the source said.
The biggest problem for clubs was relegation and this was the main reason some had gone into insolvency, the source said, adding that the LFP was looking at ways to ease the burden of the drop.
"Relegation is the key to the issue. Relegation means a very significant loss of earning capacity, while still having the same obligations in terms of paying players.
"Easing the burden of relegation is one of the ways of solving this problem and the league is working on measures that go in this direction."
Gay at the University of Barcelona said it was a "tremendous handicap" for clubs to be so deeply in debt with the nation experiencing its worst recession in at least half a century.
He called on the LFP to act but said it was "sitting on its hands". The Spanish soccer federation (RFEF) appeared to be "missing in action" so it was up to the national government or UEFA to step in, he said.
"We have to force the clubs, via a supervisory body, to live within their means, only buy players they can afford based on their financial situation and assets and to limit their debt.
"The bubble is being inflated with ever larger amounts of air and at some point it's going to explode."comments