Friday, December 23, 2005

Why does Sparta Praha always finish first in the football league?

The short answer is money. Sparta spends more money than any other team. Their annual budget is 300 million crowns. This compares to 100 million for their traditional rival Slavia and far less for some of the smaller teams. Sparta uses this money to buy up players from weaker clubs and from abroad as well as to fund lower-division teams (there is a Sparta B team playing in the second division) and youth organizations from which they recruit players. Whether they also use it to pay off referees continues to be an object of much speculation.

Where does all this money come from? Most of it comes from sponsoring deals. Right now Sparta has a contract with the mobile phone operator Eurotel whose insignia can be seen on the uniforms of Sparta players. Other teams have similar deals – they usually have a general partner whose logo figures most prominently in addition to other minor sponsors – but since Sparta is the most successful and most followed team in the country, Sparta’s sponsoring deal is much sweeter than those of other teams.

As mentioned above, Sparta buys up rising stars from other Czech clubs, but then they also sell them on to clubs in richer European leagues, which constitutes another source of revenue. Of the top ten most expensive transfers in Czech history, Sparta was the beneficiary of seven. For selling superstar midfielder Tomáš Rosický to Dortmund Borussia in Germany, for example, Sparta earned a record 504 million crowns.

Another source of money is the team’s fan base. Sparta has a large number of devoted fans (known as Sparťané) who support the team by attending its matches and buying its merchandise. This large fan base is a consequence of the team’s success and the size and influence of Prague. Finally, because of its success in the domestic league, Sparta frequently gets to play in European cups. Thus, by winning the domestic league last year, Sparta automatically qualified for the European Champions League and will receive hefty bonuses for simply participating and even larger ones if they manage to advance. In all it is a case of success breeding success.

And does Sparta’s inevitable success make soccer less entertaining for Czechs? Perhaps, but it also has its pleasures. One can at one and the same time nourish a passionate hatred for Sparta and root for all of its rivals in the domestic league and also take solace in the fact that by gathering many of the country’s best players in one place, a relatively small country has a better chance of competing with clubs from far better and richer leagues in Europe. Unfortunately, the same thing happens in other national leagues with superclubs like Bayern Munich or Real Madrid dominating their own domestic leagues.


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