Globalisation affects and impacts the football industry as a whole, just like any other economic sector. The professional football clubs across Europe have to factor in and deal with various issues to attract the best players to compete in the European Champions’ League and Europa League. 

The reputation and the attractiveness of the major football leagues in Europe may by themselves attract the most valuable players in every country. But sport is not all. The impact of the domestic tax rules and social burden of each major European country may also be an attractive aspect for some players or on the contrary, it may generate severe discrepancies and create competition hurdles for some clubs in certain countries. 

The international law firm Eversheds LLP has recently conducted a survey on behalf of the French Professional Football Clubs Union (Union des Clubs Professionnels de Football – UCPF) to analyse and compare the tax and social burden borne respectively by the professional football players and their clubs in the five major European football leagues: United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Germany and France. 

Portugal was also included in the scope of the study as this country is regularly ranked in the best five countries in Europe according to the UEFA country ranking. 

Russia also deserves to be in the panel as it clearly states as an emerging country (currently ranked 7th in the UEFA country ranking ranging from the 13th rank in 2005 to the 7th rank in 2014) with great potential growth, brand new stadiums and above all for the purpose of the study, a very attractive tax and social package both for the clubs and the players. 

The overall purpose of this study is to compare the basic tax burden borne by any player of any country in the panel but also to compare the global employer costs faced by the clubs in their respective countries. 

The level of taxation and social charges increasingly becomes a competitive issue that UEFA will have to factor in the near future when defining the evolution of the Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules for the clubs to enter into the main European competitions.

Above all, the tax and social burden of each country is by essence an essential topic but its impact may also be counterbalanced by the mobility of the players which may easily deal with the tax and social rules by being transferred from a club A in one country to a club B located in another country offering a more friendly tax and social regime.

On the contrary, such mobility does not apply in the same way for the clubs as they are not, in essence, in a position to relocate their activities in a more friendly jurisdiction if they were to face a significant level of taxes or social charges in their domestic country. 

Football clubs are certainly part of the globalisation in terms of reputation, brand,  turnover and TV rights but are intrinsically not in a position to relocate their clubs, training centres or stadium out of their historical country and should therefore deal with their local and domestic taxation system. 

In this way, no tax and social harmonization will likely ever occur in the European football industry. 

The overall tax and social cost of the football labour price is hence increasingly becoming a competitive topic between the clubs as the country which may offer the most friendly tax and social packages for the player will be more likely to attract the best players. It is therefore crucial to consider the main trends which affect the football players and their clubs on the tax and social aspects across Europe. 

What is the general trend in terms of individual taxation in the country panel for the football players? 

Beside Russia, most of the European countries have similar banding for the marginal tax rates ranging from 45% for France, Germany, United Kingdom, 48% for Portugal and going up to 52% for Spain. 

However, the thresholds for applying the above marginal tax rates significantly differ from one country to another. Potential surtax may also apply in certain countries depending upon their own tax policy or recent histories. 

On the European scene, Russia appears as the leading champion with a very low and attractive unique tax rate of 13% which is simply four times lower than the marginal tax rate applicable in Spain. 

The below table summarizes the current marginal tax rates in the country panel and the applicable thresholds: 

Please click here to view the table.

The overall tax burden borne by the players appears to be the most significant in Portugal (overall global rate above 50% with a low upper threshold), followed by Spain, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. 

Surprisingly, France is not the country with the heaviest tax burden as the marginal tax rate threshold (above 151,956€ annual income) ranks quite favourably compared to Italy or Portugal. Some specific rebates based on the family status (“quotient familial”) of the player may also decrease the final tax bill for the players operating in France.

Specific tax regimes applicable in certain countries such as France or Spain may also significantly reduce the tax bill for the players. 

In Spain, any player receiving a salary not exceeding the annual ceiling of 600,000€ may be subject to a 24% marginal tax rate compared to the standard 52% marginal tax rate. It is however anticipated that this very favourable scheme may be cancelled in the near future. 

France has also implemented a rather similar but even more favourable tax regime applicable to any foreign (or French) player who has not been tax resident in France over the last five civil years (Article 155 A of the French Tax Code, the so-called “Impatriate regime”). If such residence test is met among other conditions, the relevant player may get an automatic 30% rebate on his annual net salary income. This automatic annual 30% rebate may, under conditions, be increased up to 50%. The French Impatriate tax regime applies over a five-year duration as from the arrival of the eligible player in France. It is therefore a very attractive tool for the foreign players being recruited by French clubs which by essence allows to counterbalance the heavy and costly French social system. 

Example

A Brazilian player has played in Italy for the last six years and is transferred into a French club. His annual net salary (after deduction of the social charges) is 1M€. 

If the player elects for the special impatriate tax regime, he will only be taxed on 700,000€, the outstanding balance (300,000€) being totally exempt from French individual income tax. 

The impatriate regime then allows in practice to reduce the French marginal tax rate from 45% down to 31.5%.

Comparative ratio of individual income tax due by the Player vs. gross salary income (annual gross salary ranging from 180 K€ to 600 K€):

Please click here to view the table.

As a general summary on the taxation field, within the country panel, Russia offers the most tax-friendly environment for the players in relation with the tax package with a unique and very low tax rate (13%) followed by the French and Spanish impatriate regimes.

How do the social charges affect the European football scene? 

In most countries of the panel, the annual social cost for hiring a player is very limited and cannot be seen as a competitive advantage vis-à-vis the other countries. 

France does however face an absolute reverse situation as it should deal with (i) high social contributions rates and (ii) uncapped thresholds for the computation of the social charges due by the player (employee social charges) or by the club (employer social charges).

The table herebelow offers a comparative view on the social charges borne by the player (employee) on its salary income: 

Please click here to view the table.

Again, Russia appears as an Eldorado in terms of social charges as the salary income earned by the players is simply exempt from any employee social charges.

Other countries (Italy and Portugal) have implemented specific and dedicated social charges schemes for the football players which by nature are specific and different from their respective domestic social regimes.

In any case, except for France, the annual and overall social costs for the players are very limited as they range from 2,740 € per year in Spain to 12,423 € in Germany and are limited to 14,773 € per year in Italy.

No such annual ceiling may however apply in France resulting in a very high cost for the football workforce in France and the pressure for the players in France resulting from the employee social charges ranges from 9.55% (annual gross salary of 3M€) to 19% (annual gross salary of 180 K€). 

As a matter of example, a player receiving an annual salary income of 180,000 € will get a net salary in pocket (before tax) of 180,000 € in Russia (no social charges) compared to a net in pocket (before tax) of 146,000 € resulting in an immediate 20% negative loss for the French player … 

The below chart summarizes the level of social charges borne by the players across Europe by comparison to their gross remuneration:

Please click here to view the table.

Source: UCPF – Eversheds, November 2014

The burden of the social charges in France is therefore higher than anywhere else in the country panel as it is:

  • 5 times higher than in the United Kingdom or Portugal,
  • 12 times higher than in Italy,
  • 15 times higher than in Germany,
  • 66 times higher than in Spain.  

What about the social costs borne by the clubs?

In the same way as for the social charges applicable to the players, the general trend for the social charges applicable to the European football clubs consists in (i) low rates and (ii) reduced annual caps.

As a matter of example, the annual employer social charges are very low in Germany and Spain as they are capped respectively at an annual amount of circa 12,000 € or 14,000 €, irrespective of the income salary paid to the player.

France again deserves a red card as it clearly ranks last by applying global employer social contribution rates ranging from 27% to 40% on top of the salary paid to the player and without any cap.

France has also recently increased its competitive deficit by applying over 2013 and 2014 an additional 50% tax due by the clubs on any annual salary income paid over 1M€.

Example:

A French club pays a 1,500,000 € gross annual salary income to the player A and a 3,000,000 € gross annual salary income to the player B in 2014.

The French club will have to pay, on top of the regular employer social charges, an additional surtax of 1,250,000 € [(500,000 + 2,000,000 X 50%)] to the French Treasury.

It is anticipated that the French football clubs would have paid a global amount of 80M€ as a result of this special and temporary tax. This specific 50% surtax will not apply beyond 2015.

The below table summarizes the annual social charges borne by the European football clubs: 

Please click here to view the table.

The annual ceiling applicable for example in Spain or Germany demonstrates that the German and Spanish clubs benefit from a powerful financial tool to attract the most valuable players as the local social cost for their football workforce is very limited and respectively capped at 14,000 € for each Spanish player or 12,000 € for each German player.

By comparison, a UK club willing to pay an annual 180,000 K€ salary to any given player will have to bear an annual additional cost of 247,000 € as employer social contributions whereas Portugal or Italy will only bear a respective annual amount of 77,000 € or 34,000 € (see below chart).

Please click here to view the table.

Conclusion 

Tax and social burdens are far from applying harmonically across the major European Football Leagues. 

Some countries have implemented specific and attractive tax or social regimes which may apply to football players but the majority apply their standard rules and rates to their football industry. 

The net/net income in pocket for the player (after social charges and tax) and the global cost for the club (salary + social charges) however remain the only criteria to achieve a fair comparison. 

On this basis, Russia appears to be the friendliest country for the player, whereas the Spanish and German clubs benefit from a very attractive environment as they bear very limited and capped social charges on their football workforce. 

France has a competitive tax regime for the players but remains by far the most expensive country to hire a football player due to its costly social model. 

Based on these major discrepancies, it is certainly an utopia to achieve in the near future any harmonization as the respective tax and social regimes offer different social benefits and are often guided by historical and political reasons across the various countries. 

It is therefore essential that UEFA recognizes the major differences which may apply across the different countries and includes in the scope of its current Financial Fair Play rules some adjustments which would allow to counterbalance and, where possible, neutralize the potential major differences the clubs may face on their labor force. 

If not, the expected fairness of the Financial Fair Play rules would not be respected and this may cause potential inequality that some clubs may try to take advantage of to challenge the overall Financial Fair Play regime.