Soccer Licenses: How Do They Work?
November 16, 2011 10:09 AM   Subscribe

How do soccer teams in Europe get licensed?

As an American who intermittently follows soccer, one of the more confusing aspects that very occasionally comes up is that the various European leagues seem to require certain licenses for clubs to join. I can understand how the coaching licensure process works, even if it seems a little weird coming from a world where Mike Singletary was allowed to run an NFL team for two years.

The process by which clubs get licenses isn't immediately obvious, though. What are the leagues looking at? Facilities? Support from the fans? Competent ownership? Popularity? Or, as seems entirely possible, is the whole thing just a venue for bribery and kick-backs? UEFA licenses seem to be harder to get. Are they looking at the same basic things with higher standards or do they have their own rubric? Finally, is this something that applies in every country (except probably the US), or just the smaller European leagues whose Wikipedia articles I was reading through earlier today?
posted by Copronymus to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (5 answers total)
Or, as seems entirely possible, is the whole thing just a venue for bribery and kick-backs?

If anything it's considerably less corrupt than the cartel of clubs model in the US. In England, for example, you can set up a club anywhere. You start at the lowest tier of local football, and go through the cycles of promotion and relegation until you get to the upper tiers. Participation in European football is contingent on finishing in the top 6 of the league. That's it.
posted by rodgerd at 10:16 AM on November 16, 2011

What are the leagues looking at? Facilities? Support from the fans?

Licensing is probably not the right word, and it's something I'd associate more with a franchised league. The term that you should look for is "pyramid", and you'll see that for various levels of the pyramid in different countries, there are different criteria for teams to satisfy in order to get promoted into a higher league. Most are either based upon financial viability -- the ability to satisfy the fixture list, which is what put paid to Rushden & Diamonds recently -- or on the facilities: the FA keeps a detailed list of the criteria required for teams promoted out of the Conference National to gain membership of League 2, and the higher thresholds for facilities further up the pyramid.

Now, there have been controversies about the consistency of those judgement calls -- especially higher up the league. In Scotland, where there's a huge gap in support and income between the bigger and smaller clubs, there were accusations of a closed-shop policy over minimum capacity requirements for the SPL that would either force lower-league clubs into ground-shares or deny them promotion. On the continent, situations like the reformation of Fiorentina after bankruptcy, and the subsequent double promotion from Serie C2 to Serie B, certainly smacked of wanting to ease the return of a big club to the top level. But compared to the situation a few decades ago, the barriers between full-time and part-time leagues have come down considerably.
posted by holgate at 10:41 AM on November 16, 2011

F.C. United of Manchester and AFC Wimbledon are interesting examples of founding a new club in the pyramid system holgate mentions. Both clubs were founded by fans in protest against what happened to their original allegiances.

They were established with the implicit ambition of becoming significant clubs in their own right (given the system of promotion open to them) and clubs which served the community of fans better -- especially in AFC Wimbledon's case since their foundation came after the club was moved to another part of the country, something which was (if my memory serves) both unheard of and considered unconscionable in English football.

AFC Wimbledon have already made it into the Football League proper via the promotion mechanisms, whereas it looks like F.C. United have stalled a bit.
posted by galaksit at 11:17 AM on November 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

To make myself a little clearer, I'm familiar with the promotion/relegation system, and what spurred me to ask this was the discussion in this Wikipedia article about the Croatian league issuing "top level licenses". In retrospect, that's probably based on a translation of the Croatian page and might well not be the terminology in Western Europe. I do vaguely remember some English club running into trouble with UEFA recently for some sort of issue along these lines, though.

In the end, the combination of that amazingly detailed Football League criteria pdf (the necessary average lux value of the floodlights!) and finally Googling the right terms so that I came up with what UEFA has to say about it pretty much answered my question, although any further details, especially about non-English league requirements, would be great.
posted by Copronymus at 1:35 PM on November 16, 2011

Yeah, I think that "license" in that piece just roughly means "satisfying the entry criteria of the relevant governing body".

I mentioned Scotland, but many countries' leagues, especially countries that became independent relatively recently, have a big drop-off in strength and income after the top few teams. That's true in Croatia, where you have the big Croatian mainstays of the old Yuglosav league (Dinamo Zagreb, Hadjuk Split) alongside a lot of smaller clubs with 8-10,000-capacity stadiums. (Along similar lines, the Estonian premier league has ten teams but only six are full-time professional.) What national governing bodies have to balance out are the minimum criteria for economic viability and facilities that will allow for a full, competitive season, hence the contraction of the Croatian top league.

I do know that Serie B in Italy has a minimum capacity requirement of 10,000: that's why AlbinoLeffe plays its home matches in Bergamo, and Sassuolo in Modena.
posted by holgate at 3:05 PM on November 16, 2011

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