Football is the most popular sport in the whole world, hands down. This is certainly true in our country: we have a lot of well-known clubs with long traditions and thousands of passionate supporters. But the world of football is changing. It is becoming increasingly international and competitive. Our football clubs must therefore transform into football companies. Law professor Robby Houben helps them with this transformation.
Tackling scientific questions
'Belgium is a small country with a medium-sized football market,' Houben explains. 'The budgets of our professional clubs are much more limited than those of, say, English, Spanish, German or Saudi teams. So our football clubs need to find clever and efficient strategies in order to play a significant role internationally.'
Since 2019, Belgian clubs have been getting help from the University of Antwerp to do just that. Our researchers tackle all kinds of legal, financial and commercial questions together with them, to shine a light on the Belgian football company of the future.
Belgium is a small country with a medium-sized football market. Our football clubs need to find clever and efficient strategies in order to play a significant role internationally.
For one thing, the organisational structure of (European) professional football is examined from the perspective of good governance. 'Is sufficient attention paid to the interests of all stakeholders, including clubs and players?', Houben asks. 'Is UEFA's monopoly when it comes to organising European football sustainable? And, on the operational side of things, are clubs liable for supporters who misbehave in the stadium?'
Other relevant issues and current events are also touched upon, such as the growing importance of compliance and the data revolution in football. The transfer system and transfer contracts are also discussed, with the intervention of brokers. In short: interesting issues with attention to their legal, economic, social and international context.
Pro League Business School
In February 2023, the kick-off was given for the Pro League Business School. Over the course of this programme, organised at the University of Antwerp in collaboration with the Pro League, more than 70 club managers of professional football teams attended training courses and lectures. This is a great way to put academic knowledge into actual practice. The group consisted of delegates from all the Belgian professional clubs, as well as big international names like Real Madrid and Juventus.
'We try to discuss the very essence of running a professional club, with an eye on current affairs,' Houben says of the Business School. 'Disruptive league formats like the Super League and the rise of the Saudi Pro League are good examples of this, but we're also trying to show how football teams can leverage the potential of women's football, and what we can learn from the Americans.'
Football is good for everyone
Sharing best practices is essential, so that all of Belgian football can move forward. Because ultimately, everyone benefits if our Belgian football clubs are managed better. Even people who have nothing at all to do with football.
After all, well-run clubs not only provide better football in better stadiums, but they also contribute more to our economy. Successful football clubs are also in a better position to really focus on their social responsibility.
Football is an engine for all of society. In Belgium, that engine may never be as big as in some other countries, but with our accumulated expertise and smart strategies, we can certainly rev it up to get the most out of it. Let's do this together. Tous ensemble, all together!