Is Brazil’s Football league really worse than European ones?

. Nov 16, 2017
Corinthians secured the 2017 Brazil's Football league Brazil's Football Corinthians secured the 2017 Brazil's Football league title. Photo: Daniel Augusto Jr/Corinthians

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 Brazil’s Football Confederation.

And while all of that might be true, Brazil’s Football League is still an attractive product. Let me explain. (In this article, I will not focus on off-the-field issues, like corruption by CBF executives.)

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 five titles – and while Bayern supporters are certainly not complaining, international spectators perceive the Bundesliga as utterly dull.

</p> <hr /> <p><img class="alignnone size-large wp-image-5071" src="" alt="football champions uefa brazil" width="1024" height="364" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1180w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></p> <hr /> <p>In Brazil, we usually say that the country has <a href="">12 big clubs</a>. While not all of them are title contenders each year, it is fair to argue that the Brazilian League kicks off each year with around eight candidates for the title. In 2002, Brazil adopted its current format &#8211; with teams playing each other twice, home and away. Since then, a total of seven clubs have hoisted the trophy, which is more than any of the Top 4 European leagues &#8211; and matched only by France&#8217;s Ligue 1.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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 gap between good and bad teams is wider in England than it is in Brazil.</p> <p>So why do people perceive the Brazilian League as low-level competition?</p> <hr /> <p><img class="alignnone size-large wp-image-5069" src="" alt="brazilian football league" width="1024" height="642" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1180w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></p> <hr /> <h3>Calendar issues</h3> <p>It is undisputed that the quality of Brazil&#8217;s Football League is seriously hampered by its awful calendar.</p> <p>Obviously, it’s 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. This year, the Brazilian FA technically avoided the overlap, but the solution is not much better: clubs play on the day <em>after</em> international fixtures. The result is that teams will continue to be discouraged from either hiring or keeping international stars.</p> <p>Let&#8217;s analyze the case of Sport. The Recife-based team is fighting against relegation, three points away from the safety zone. It plays Palmeiras tonight, but its best player, Diego Souza, won&#8217;t be available. The midfielder has joined Brazil&#8217;s national team coach for a couple of friendly matches against Japan and England.</p> <p>Unlike most countries, Brazil plays its league between May and December. The main international trade window occurs in June and July, midway through our season. Since our cash-strapped 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.</p> <h3>Instability is a problem</h3> <p>While uncertainty is an asset, instability isn’t. Both fans and <a href="">investors are against competition outcomes being decided in a courtroom</a> rather than on the field. In 2013, after the league’s end, Brazil’s Sports Justice Court chose to punish the São Paulo-based Portuguesa on a technicality. The team lost six points for playing a suspended player. As a consequence, Portuguesa was relegated instead of the better-established Fluminense.</p> <p>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 Justice Court didn&#8217;t accept a similar move by Internacional, a team that failed to remain in the country’s top division.</p> <h3>Teams are also to blame</h3> <p>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 BRL 250 million, the result of both amateur management and poor marketing to promote brands on the international level.</p> <p>Brazilian teams appear to have settled for the massive revenues received from Globo, <a href="">Brazil’s largest TV station</a>. 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).</p> <p>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.</p> <p>During the week, games start at 10 pm (after the primetime telenovela), which translates into lower attendance. 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 10 pm remains the kickoff time.</p> <p>Also, teams 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.</p> <p>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 Brazil&#8217;s Football League into an international brand. It might seem obvious, but Brazilian fans have been waiting for decades to see this dream realized. 

Vitor Sion

A journalist and the author of three books, two of them about the history of Santos FC.

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