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Sports | Brazil: football clubs open to foreign capital

Sao Paulo – The new legal statutes of Brazilian football clubs now allow the arrival of foreign investors. A breath of financial air for those who are in difficulty, even if not all have taken the plunge to imitate the European economic model.

For now, only the clubs of Botafogo and Vasco de Gama, both in Rio de Janeiro, have non-Brazilian investors in their capital, from the United States.

Former Brazilian star Ronaldo, double Ballon d’Or (1997, 2002) and double world champion (1994 and 2002), has invested in the club of his debut, the Cruzeiro de Belo Horizonte.

The opening to foreign capital was enabled by the adoption in August 2021 by the Brazilian Parliament of a change in the legal status of football clubs.

From a non-profit association, they can become a football joint-stock company (SAF), the equivalent in France of professional sports limited companies (SASP), very close to the classic limited company which makes it possible to bring in the capital investors, to pay dividends, to remunerate the directors, and even to list the club on the stock exchange.

These investments will contribute to the “improvement of the management” of the clubs and will offer them “greater competitive capacity”, estimates with AFP Cesar Grafietti, partner of the consulting firm Convocados and adviser for this type of operation.

– “Win to be profitable” –

The game is worth the candle because of the depreciation of the real against the dollar and the euro, and the pool of talent in Brazil, the main exporting country of footballers, agree to say the experts.

Other income is possible, with the possibility of commercially exploiting the enthusiasm of supporters in a country where 110 of the 213 million inhabitants say they are fans of a local team, according to the firm Ibope Repucom.

For Cesar Grafietti, there is no doubt that football in Brazil is a “very high potential” market.

For Vasco and Cruzeiro, both in the second division, and Botafogo, which moved up to first this year, this new money to their capital is a real lifeline in the face of the economic crisis which is also shaking local football.

Between them, according to consulting firm Sports Value, they were in debt in 2020 to the tune of $442 million.

But before investors distribute dividends to each other, the law stipulates that the debts must first be paid out of the profits generated by the new commercial structure.

The American John Textor, co-owner of the English club Crystal Palace and the Belgian club Molenbeek, concluded in March the purchase of 90% of the shares of Botafogo for 77 million dollars invested over three years.

“Football is no different from any other business. You have to win to be profitable,” he told CNN in March, before signing Portugal coach Luis Castro and a dozen players.

For an undisclosed sum, Ronaldo, who already owns Real Valladolid (Spanish 2nd division), acquired 90% of Cruzeiro, two-time champion of the Copa Libertadores, the European equivalent of the Champions League .

The American group 777 Partners, owner of the Italian club Genoa, part of the Spanish club Seville and which is in the process of taking over the Parisian team of Red Star, is awaiting the validation by the Board of Directors of Vasco of its acquisition of 70% of the shares for 135 million dollars.

– “Getting closer to Europe” –

Rafael Zanette, sports marketing specialist, believes that “the urgency for financial reasons” led the pioneering trio to accelerate operations, but their experience will be useful to those who also intend to open their capital, such as Coritiba, Atlético Goianiense or Athletico Paranaense, champions of the Sudamericana-2021 (equivalent to the Europa League).

According to him, “clubs wishing to become SAF will be more demanding when it comes to accepting offers”.

Bahia, in the second division, is currently negotiating with City Group, owners of Manchester City and nine other clubs, according to local media.

The Brasileirao-2021 champion, Atlético Mineiro, does not rule out opting for SAF. But other big clubs like Flamengo, Corinthians and Palmeiras haven’t taken the plunge.

“They can opt for alternatives that don’t necessarily involve dealing with a single owner” to retain some control, says Grafietti.

According to Mr. Zanette, the Brazilian clubs, winners of four of the last five Libertadores, will further widen the gap with their South American counterparts.

“Latin America must consider the Brazilian market as a reference. This is the way to develop to get closer to Europe” where huge budgets attract the best Brazilian players.

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