It has become common in Brazil to say that the football played within our borders is of poor quality. Our teams don’t have players of the same caliber as Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi, or Neymar. The image of Brazilian football has also been hurt by the 7-1 defeat against Germany during the 2014 World Cup, as well as the successive corruption scandals involving CBF, the Brazilian FA.
And while all of that might be true, the Brazilian Football League is still an attractive product. Let me explain.
An Unpredictable League
One of the primary ways to evaluate a league’s market value is its unpredictability. With the case of the Bundesliga, for example, Bayern Munich has won each of the last four titles – and while Bayern supporters are certainly not complaining, international spectators perceive the Bundesliga as utterly boring.
In Brazil, we usually say that the country has 12 big clubs. While not all of them are title contenders each year, it is fair to argue that the Brazilian League kicks off each year with ten candidates for the title. Seven different teams have won the league since 2003 when Brazil adopted its current format – which is more than any of the Top 5 European leagues. All teams play each other twice, at home and away.
The balance between teams also reveals the “uncertainty” of the Brazilian Football League. In a 38-game league, Brazilian clubs need 65 points to finish in the top 4 standings. In the English Premier League, however, it takes 72 points.
On the other hand, Brazilian teams must earn 45 points to avoid relegation. In England, the 16th club in the Premier League usually finishes with just 39 points (but only three teams descend to England’s second division).
This means that the cap between good and bad teams is wider in England than it is in Brazil.
So why do people perceive the Brazilian League as low-level competition?
Obviously, it’s the CBF who should be at fault, as they organize our national league. Until 2016, it scheduled games even during FIFA International dates, when key players join national teams. Next year, the Brazilian FA promises to avoid overlap, but the solution is not much better: clubs will play on the day after international fixtures. The result is that teams will continue to be discouraged from either hiring or keeping international stars.
Unlike most countries, Brazil plays its league between May and December. The main international trade window occurs in June and July, midway through our competition. Since our financially depleted teams sell their players upon receiving good proposals – whether from Europe or emerging markets like the Middle East and China – it means that squads change dramatically during the same competition.
While uncertainty is an asset, instability isn’t. Both fans and investors are against competition outcomes being decided in a courtroom rather than on the field. In 2013, after the league’s end, Brazil’s Sports Justice Court decided to punish the São Paulo-based Portuguesa over a technicality. The team lost six points for playing a suspended player. As a consequence, Portuguesa was relegated instead of the better-established Fluminense.
Such an episode is detrimental not just to Fluminense’s image in Brazil – as they are known as sore losers – but for the Brazilian League as a whole. At least in 2016, the Sports Court has yet to accept a similar move by Internacional, a team that failed to remain in the country’s top division.
Teams Are Also to Blame
In dire financial situations, clubs are also responsible for their own misfortunes. Each of the 12 largest Brazilian teams finished 2015 with debts amounting to over 250 million Brazilian Reals, the result of both amateur management and poor marketing to promote brands on the international level.
Brazilian teams appear to have settled for the large revenues received from Globo, Brazil’s largest TV station. The Globo Group holds the rights for media distribution of the Brazilian League until 2019 (free-to-air-TV, cable, pay-per-view, mobile, and Internet).
While traditional football executives see Globo as the ultimate partner, this financial dependency ultimately puts teams at a disadvantage. The network sets football schedules to fit available broadcasting slots.
During the week, games start at 10 pm (after the primetime telenovela), which translates into lower attendance. Also, they must play in lackluster regional competitions at the beginning of the year. Brazilian teams consequentially play an average of 15 more matches per year than their European counterparts.
Poor management overshadows the qualities and assets of the Brazilian football league. The solution is handing the reigns – of both CBF and the teams – over to professional executives interested in developing the Brazilian Football League into an international brand. It might seem obvious, but Brazilian fans have been waiting for decades to see this dream realized.