The plaything called Sparta Football Club has already cost its owners around a Kč 1 billion with such expense for poor results on the field surely calling for solutions which could create uproar from its die-hard fans.
Sparta Prague football club have a reputation for being the Czech league’s big spenders, often opening a checkbook and attracting top players and the trophies that followed.
This year though, once again, the on-field results have disappointed. The top game of the Czech football league this Saturday will pit Slovan Liberec against league title holders Viktoria Plzeň, with Plzeň needing a thumping win to retain the top the league for the second year in succession.
Sparta, the long-time league leaders who at one stage seemed destined for a clear run at the title, already slipped up in the previous week with a 1:1 draw against Dukla Prague putting them in third place.
Snatching an also ran position from the jaws of victory will surely leave a bitter taste in the mouths of the wealthy Czech financiers from the Czech-Slovak J&T Group that have bankrolled the biggest Czech football club in recent years. The bottom line conclusion for them must surely be that the investment in the big Prague club has not paid off on the field or off.
J&T brought control of Sparta in 2004 for what was rumored at the time to be more than Kč 500 million. Eight years later and the combined losses from that move have mounted to more than Kč 700 million.
That would take the overall bill for what amounts to an expensive toy to more than Kč1 billion — quite a tidy sum even for the likes of Czech and Slovak billionaires. And if the club continues with its current lack of success on the pitch for another season or two and Sparta fans can expect some unpleasant changes from the relatively patient owners.
For J&T, Sparta’s unsatisfying results and long term financial losses have already proved an unsupportable burden to carry on its own. That is why it has given the group’s top manager Daniel Křetínský the task of running the club and in the spring was offered, or forced, to buy a 40 percent stake in AC Sparta Praha fotbal.
That meant at least for J&T that they recouped some of the money they have splashed out on the football club and that from that moment Křetínský had a real stake in the club which he is attempting to turn around. Given the overall financial situation, it can be taken as read that for 2012 at least Křetínský will have to dip deep into his pocket to cover some of the club’s losses.
Křetínský now surely needs to consider how to consolidate Sparta’s finances.
For all their strategy pronouncements about what they would like to do with the club, it would appear that the core of the problem has been that neither J&T nor Křetínský have an understanding of the “beautiful game,” or at least its not so always attractive Czech variation. For Křetínský at least, he seems to enjoy the role of football entrepreneur as a distraction from his normal role in charge of the ambitious and lucrative energy group Energetický a Průmyslový Holding (EPH), which has expressed the goal of becoming the second biggest power company in the Czech Republic after state-controlled ČEZ.
Even so, Křetínský now surely needs to consider how to consolidate Sparta’s finances. Given the current economic crisis that has hit sport advertising and sponsorship, will he be able to come up with solutions that will satisfy both the owners and the restless fans? That would seem pretty unlikely. Since Sparta does not seem an attractive prospect or plaything for a Russian oligarch or Arab Sheik, and another Czech savior of the likes of Slavia Prague’s Aleš Řebíček does not appear, then the football club’s owners have just two options.
The way forward
The first is that J&T and Křetínský continue to do what they have done in recent times and at the end of each financial year tot up the financial losses and cover them from their pockets as part of the seemingly inevitable cost of being football club owners. While that keeps the fans happy, it could be a transfer fee that the owners could soon find too onerous to bear long-term. In that case, the owners will be forced to consider steps that will begin to show a clear gulf between their interests and those of the fans.
That brings us to the second possibility will not be stomached too happily by the fans. The owners could seek to cash in on the ground on which the Sparta stadium stands and that surrounding it. Property prices in Prague’s Letná district are pretty lucrative and if an office complex and luxury flats which picturesque views of the capital were to rise up on the former football stadium the club could easily pay off its debts and have a few hundred million crowns in hand. Is this some fantasy football scenario? Far from it, J&T doesn’t have as close relations with the club as Křetínský and such a scenario must surely be contemplated.
The owners could seek to cash in on the ground on which the Sparta stadium stands and that surrounding it.
That brings up to the question where a stadiumless Sparta would play its home games. We’ll try to answer with a question. How many modern stadiums are there in Prague? Clearly, the most modern one is that of Eden, the home of Sparta’s biggest rivals Slavia Prague. It would clearly be a lot to ask of Sparta fans to contemplate home games at what they regard as the Slavia ground, but they should understand that the important thing is the club itself not the geographical venue where matches are played. Stadium sharing is common in the rest of Europe. Slavia doesn’t own the club where it plays and a sharing scenario would be good for the balance sheets of both Prague clubs.
What might appear to be an impossible scenario is already the subject of gossip in the Czech capital. And there is even speculation that Sparta fans will be offered two year’s entrance to games at Eden for free to make the apparently unacceptable goal reality.
— Chris Johnstone contributed to this article