For this article, we teamed up with our media friends (VLV, WaterpoloItaly, Vaterpolo Vesti, Dance) and asked clubs to share their views and motivations on their participation in the LEN Champions League.
All 12 clubs involved in this year’s edition received an email with the same questions. Within the five-day deadline, we received responses from seven clubs.
We thank the presidents of the clubs for taking the time to respond to our questions.
How satisfied are you with the conditions in the “bubble” and do you think that the conditions are adequate for the price you pay (120 euros per person for accommodation)?
FTC Budapest: We are in the bubble in Budapest and we are satisfied with the conditions. The accommodation, the meals and the arrangement are all also excellent.
Waspo Hannover: High level in all points, we have no criticism. In summary, this season is cheaper than the last.
Jug Dubrovnik: The conditions at the first tournament in Ostia were not ideal. We as a club objected, and the second tournament was held in much better conditions. We also expressed our disappointment with the price, as we had discovered that there are cheaper hotels in Rome. It is possible that the organization’s expenses are increasing as a result of the “bubble”, but it’s difficult for us to comment further since we don’t have all the necessary information.
Spandau Berlin: In Corona times all clubs are under financial pressure. In Germany, the situation is even more unfortunate due to closed indoor swimming facilities for our club members. We have lost 500 out of 4000 of them in the last 12 months. I think we should consider all options that minimize the costs in the Champions League. 120€ per person per day is not adequate for accommodation in Ostia. Maybe LEN can find other solutions for other hotels, which are able to ensure the Corona rules.
Brescia: Our experience in Budapest was positive for both the bubble and the level of attention. For the price, it is certainly out of the usual fees for travel, but we must also consider the number of tampons that were made in that week and therefore we consider it adequate.
Jadran Herceg Novi: Our team played both tournaments in Budapest this season. They were organized at the highest level in terms of hotels and hotel services, transport and the conditions at the pool. Although the price is high, considering the current economic environment, it should be noted that organizing a “bubble” tournament is much more difficult and costly for the organizer. What was lacking at the start of the season, when the “bubble” framework was agreed upon, was an invitation for all participants to apply to organize the tournament. Maybe that would create a chance to get better financial conditions for participating clubs.
Pro Recco: The Ostia “bubble” represents the best solution to try to end the tournament in the current pandemic situation.
Considering the costs and revenues offered by the organizer (LEN) for participation in the Champions League, the competition is unprofitable for any club regardless of the final placement. Do you think this is okay and what are your motives to participate in this competition?
FTC Budapest: Profitability has been a hot topic for years. Regardless of the final results, clubs lose a lot of money. On the other hand, players can develop themselves during the Champions League because we play against teams of similar high-quality level here. Additionally, prestige is also important to the club as well as the athletes.
Waspo Hannover: These are the rules. The general conditions are known to everyone. The aim should be to improve the general conditions for the clubs. If we want to play at a higher level, that’s only possible internationally. So that’s ok.
Jug Dubrovnik: Our motive is always to perform in the most elite competition.
Spandau Berlin: Yes it is very unprofitable, but we need to help LEN keep the Champions League alive in the well-known format of 16 clubs. This is especially necessary for our players as a motivation to return playing our sport at a high level. We need to organize home and away games again to actively promote our sport in our city and country.
Brescia: Participating in the Champions League is a luxury. Between the official’s fees, transport, and accommodation expenses, it is purely a burden that the clubs must bear. The motivations for the clubs come from the ambitions that all the teams have; to play with the European teams of the water polo elite.
Jadran Herceg Novi: The fact is that the financial profitability of playing in the Champions League is questionable and unfavorable for clubs. Water polo is, unfortunately, an incredibly unprofitable sport, and as such, it is unprofitable in all competitions. European club competitions within LEN have no alternative. Simply put, if you want to make an impact in the world of water polo as a team, you must compete in these events. This is particularly true for those of us who come from a small national league, where these competitions are critical for the growth of the club, our athletes, and, eventually, the national team. What we should ask ourselves right now is how to make it less unprofitable day by day, not how to make it profitable.
Pro Recco: Champions League is the maximum sporting competition for water polo clubs, every match is a challenge that allows us to grow and to compete with the best that our sport can express. It is fundamental for the players as well because, unfortunately, the national leagues are not so stimulating on a technical level: Champions League, in this sense, allows you to compensate for the gap that affects most of the matches in your country. From an economic point of view, it is certainly at a loss for the clubs which, together with Len, in recent years have generated an enormous effort to improve the product.
Following the previous question, can you suggest three concrete changes that would improve the (financial) conditions for the clubs which are participating? (within the realistic framework of the current state of our sport)
FTC Budapest: LEN should design the CL to be a better salable competition and more sponsors should be involved. This is probably the only team sport where clubs pay for TV broadcasts, this should change. We think that it is good that more and more teams can join the tournament, but a change in the execution of the Finals should be considered. A good solution could be to run semifinals and Final4 instead of Final8.
Waspo Hannover: transparency, one voice of the clubs on the framework
Jug Dubrovnik: Most important of all would be to get a general sponsor of the competition. LEN is working on it, but still without success. If they could get a general sponsor with a couple of even smaller stronger sponsors, we could certainly have access to a larger prize pool.
Spandau Berlin: We need European TV partners and global sponsors to reduce the costs for all clubs, and also for the production and broadcast on TV. Maybe our Federations can also support the Champions League and the European clubs. This support would significantly improve the development of national team players, and also their performance in the national team.
Brescia: It would be sufficient for the clubs to bear only the travel costs. So no contribution for televisions and officials.
Jadran Herceg Novi: Changing the format of the competition would also bring financial benefits to the clubs. The format of 14 matches in the preliminary phase is very extensive, especially for clubs that come from qualifications. The final stages of the competition for 8 clubs, should be played according to the system of playing home and away matches. That would give the possibility of attracting a larger number of sponsors because the matches are also played at home. The organization of TV production, as in other sports, must be taken away from clubs as an operational and financial burden. Technical costs of per diems for judges and delegates appointed by LEN should also be an expense handled by competition organizers.
Pro Recco: Compatibly with the pandemic evolution, we should try to allow every club and their fans to experience the most exciting phase of the Champions League, not just the groups. Therefore the main reasoning, in my opinion, is to be done on the format, setting aside the Final 8 in favor of quarter-finals and semi-finals with home and away matches, in order to involve your fans; this would also bring all the well-known economic and marketing benefits. Then, as already happens for example in the football Champions League, we could think about a final to be played in a neutral pool in a big European city.
Do you think there are clubs that consciously deny these facts because they fear that criticism could affect the result of their team or perhaps lead to more severe sanctions?
FTC Budapest: We don’t think that and we don’t want to speak on behalf of others.
Waspo Hannover: We hope, this is not the case…
Jug Dubrovnik: We do not know of any club that denies the facts because it is afraid of some retaliation. Before each season, meetings are organized where club representatives openly present their suggestions and comments.
Spandau Berlin: Spandau is a long-standing partner of LEN, it is quite normal that all possible changes are discussed in a friendly manner. Fair conditions are the basis for all partnerships.
Brescia: We do not know in detail the opinions of the other clubs, but I tend to think that we are all in line.
Jadran Herceg Novi: We do not need to criticize anything as competition participants because we are participating voluntarily. We need to suggest improvements and innovations that will make everyone better. When you are a participant in something (in this case a league), the good proposals you see for the improvement of the entire competition must be made; no one should be afraid to make a good proposal. All of us need to dig harder and together we can make it better for everyone (clubs, audience, LEN …).
We deeply believe that someone’s criticism or suggestion would not provoke reactions that would affect the result or the sanctions of that club, if that happened, everyone would have to leave the competition in solidarity.
Pro Recco: Honestly, I am not able to intercept any retro-thoughts of other presidents.
If a competition appears on the market that would offer a better financial condition to your club with approximately the same quality, would you be ready to leave the LEN Champions League?
FTC Budapest: Needless to talk about this. This is currently not relevant.
Waspo Hannover: We are not the Trendsetter, we want to play with the best. The best clubs are playing in the Champions League.
Jug Dubrovnik: As we have already pointed out, we would not leave the most elite European competition.
Spandau Berlin: I think at the moment it is not realistic to discuss this. I would like to help LEN to become more attractive for the clubs and therefore more successful with the current Champions League format, after this weird time of the pandemic is history.
Brescia: I don’t believe that alternative competition is a possibility. Our club is part of the Italian Federation, just as the other clubs are members of their national federations. National federations are members of the LEN. I find it very hard to get out of this circuit.
Jadran Herceg Novi: It is natural that European clubs play European competitions within LEN. This is the case in almost all sports, and the strength of the continental aquatic sports association should be used. We believe that clubs need to be more actively involved in improving the conditions in the league. Maybe after the crisis caused by the Covid virus pandemic, the time will be right to make things better. If we all give our maximum efforts and don’t manage to provide improvements, then we should think about alternatives.
Pro Recco: It’s my habit to express myself on concrete facts, not on fanciful hypothesis.
Related to the organization FINAL8. One of the items that the organizer pays directly to LEN is a registration fee of 200,000 EUR.
What exactly does the club organizer get within that amount?
What are the approximate total costs of the organization and what do they include?
What are your motives (apart from playing at home) for the organization of FINAL 8?
This last question was only sent to clubs who organized FINAL8 or were offered to organize it.
FTC Budapest: This should be asked from LEN. Ferencváros has not organized it yet.
Waspo Hannover: These are difficult questions. From our point of view, a Final8 in Europe costs between € 750,000 and € 1 million, everything is included. Since all of them lack sponsors, the registration fee of €200,000 is too high these days. Since there is not enough transparency regarding the sponsorship income of the LEN for the water polo division, it will be difficult to find organizers in the future. On the other hand, the structures are such that the clubs cannot act alone. At the moment they are integrated into the association system, the order is, LEN – national association – and lastly the clubs
Jug Dubrovnik: The last time we hosted the final tournament was back in 2006 and since then we have not been in negotiations to organize it, so we cannot give an answer to your question.
Brescia: Organizing a Final Eight is very expensive for the host club. We do not know what is the motivation that pushes a club to organize a Final 8 tournament, because these costs are very difficult to cover (if they are not borne by the local or government authorities).
Pro Recco: The agreements between Len and the organizing Club are governed by a contract bound by a confidential nature. As already mentioned above, the organization of a Final 8, borne by a single club, implies an almost unsustainable logistical, organizational and economic effort. Playing at home can bring an advantage from the point of view of the ”home factor”, but the main motivation that prompted us in the past to organize the Final 8 is the social one, with the involvement of the younger sections of the population; a similar result could be obtained with quarter-finals and semi-finals played on rounds of home and away.