Soccer Teams Speculate More on Player Transfers, Study Finds

European soccer teams are speculating more on the player transfer market as other revenue including sponsorship and ticket sales is stretched by a sluggish economy, according to a research group backed by soccer ruling body FIFA.

Some 500 teams surveyed signed 8 percent more players over the last six months compared to the year-earlier period, with the number of club-trained players dropping 1 percent, according to the International Center for Sports Studies. The teams signed an average of 10 players in the last half of 2011, research found.

The upward trend is being accelerated by investors, including player agents and team officials, buying up transfer rights of players themselves as they seek a profit, Raffaele Poli, one of the study’s three authors, said. The other authors are Roger Besson and Loic Ravenel.

“The best way to make money in soccer is in the transfer market,” Poli said in a phone interview from Neuchatel. “It’s a short term perspective. It’s much easier than investing in facilities and coaches.”

Zurich-based FIFA allows investors to buy the transfer rights of players, in return for any profit when they are re-sold, provided they don’t interfere with trades. The practice is banned in the English Premier League, the biggest soccer championship by sales.

The International Center for Sports Studies was created in 1995 as a joint venture between FIFA, the University of Neuchatel and Swiss authorities.

Rise in Value

There were $2.2 billion of trades in the biggest European leagues in the last offseason, a 30 percent rise in value compared to a year earlier, according to a Sept. 8 report by Barcelona-based Prime Time Sport.

Speculating on the transfer market is most common in Portugal, Italy, Cyprus and Turkey where on average less than eight percent of current players graduated from the youth teams of the clubs they play for, Poli said.

Separate research found 20 percent of 300 player agents surveyed have stakes in transfer rights, risking a conflict of interest, Poli said. Several club owners are also involved in the practice, according to Poli.

The transfer rights of as many as 1,000 players, or 15 percent of all squads in Europe, may be owned by third parties, according to Poli.

“It’s very difficult to control,” Poli said. European soccer ruling body UEFA “should investigate this issue and integrate it in financial fair-play rules but they will probably be opposed by many clubs that depend on it.”

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