The most inspiring duo in Brazilian football in the 1980s was formed by Socrates and Casagrande. On the field, they made a habit of winning, and both were selected for the 1986 World Cup. Off the field, they led the most impressive movement in Brazilian football, the Corinthian Democracy: with their help, players from Corinthians, the country’s second most popular team, demanded to be an integral part of the franchise’s decision-making process, from tactics to the hiring of new talent. They were also a front against the military dictatorship. Socrates and Casagrande were rebels, political actors, and best friends – that is, until the day when Casagrande became a pundit for Globo, Brazil’s leading TV channel. “[Socrates] accused me of selling out and stopped talking to me for years,” says Casagrande.
Globo is too big, too powerful. It has been Brazil’s largest media outlet since the 1960s, partially due to its connections with governments (including the military dictatorship). Conspiracy theorists believe that Globo is responsible for the results in presidential elections. While it is is highly debatable whether or not Globo has enough influence to choose the country’s president, there’s no doubt that when it comes to football, they’re the station that calls all the shots. Want an example? “Matches only start after Globo’s soap operas end,” says Alex, a former international midfielder. Alex is one of the founders of the Bom Senso association, an initiative from players to change the rules of the game in Brazil.
Indeed, on Wednesday nights when the primetime games air, the ball kicks off at 10pm after Globo’s main TV shows have come to an end. This schedule doesn’t suit many people since Brazil’s public transportation becomes dicey after midnight, when the referee blows the final whistle. For decades, many people – including the athletes themselves – have complained about this, and yet 10pm remains the kickoff time.
According to Alex, this happens in large part because Brazilian football teams are hostages of Globo. TV revenues by far make up the biggest portion of their income. According to a study from the audit firm BDO RCS, broadcasting rights to television accounted for 36% of teams’ revenues in 2014.
This historic dependency grew worse in 2012, when Globo adopted a new policy and paid more for clubs with a larger fan base. This further increased the gap between middle- and top-tier clubs. A few clubs became more powerful and richer, while others fight to break even. With time, this will cause competition in our national league to become more and more predicable, as the playing field will not be even with other clubs.
“Flamengo and Corinthians [the country’s two most popular franchises] are by no means dominant like Barcelona and Real Madrid are in Spain. We have around 10-12 teams every year with real changes of hoisting our trophy, and that should be preserved,” says sports management consultant Amir Somoggi.
Between 2016 and 2019, Corinthians and Flamengo will receive three times as much money as other traditional franchises with solid fan bases. In a few years, we could have a league such as the one in Spain, in which two teams receive most of the money – and only those two, Real Madrid and Barcelona, have a real shot of winning the title, year in, year out.
Competition in sight
Negotiations for TV shares for the 2019-2024 period are already taking place. And for the first time Globo faces serious competition. Esporte Interativo (EI), a company owned by Turner Broadcasting System, is putting serious money on the table. Three first division teams, Santos, Bahia and Atlético Paranaense have already agreed to terms with EI. Others are considering following them. This bidding war between Globo and EI could help avoid a repetition of the Spanish model.
But EI is still a relatively small player. Globo is a historic partner of CBF, the Brazilian FA, and broadcasts almost 400 national league matches each year. Between free-to-air TV, cable, and pay-per-view services, Globo makes around $750 million annually with football – three times as much as it pays for broadcasting rights.
We agree that football makes good money. But there is still room to increase revenue if Brazilian football could become a better product. No other country buys the rights to the Brazilian Football league. At the same time, U.S. Major League Soccer is distributed to nearly 140 countries. Not long ago, football was not taken very seriously in the States. Now, with money and professionalism, it has become a product people are willing to buy.
But short-sighted managers – from both franchises and Globo – want to continue doing things as they always have. It is safe to say that the Brazilian public will keep blaming the TV station for problems on the field, and they have a point.