sports blog by andy shenk

Showdown Looming Over Proposed Gazprom League

In Russian Football on March 2, 2013 at 10:08 AM

My latest for The False Nine, in which I explore the controversies and implications of the proposed United Championship to Russian and Ukrainian football. To read the entire piece click here or at the bottom of this excerpt.

Gazprom chairman Aleksey Miller’s confirmation last month that a potential Russian-Ukrainian football league would feature a $1 billion prize fund, backed with a Gazprom guarantee, set the stage for a far-reaching confrontation within Russian football.

The seeds were planted months earlier, when Gazprom-owned Zenit general director Maksim Mitrofanov warned his club “might decide to not participate in the Russian championship.” His statement came after harsh sanctions were imposed on Zenit for the flare thrown at Dynamo goalie Anton Shunin during a meeting between the two clubs in mid-November.

Mostly everyone riduculed Mitrofanov’s threat because at the time it made absolutely no sense. The love affair between St. Petersburg and Zenit is unrivaled in Russian football; where could the club possibly go?

Early reports even stated that Zenit’s board was considering a move to Sevastopol, a town of 350,000 in Ukraine’s picturesque Crimea.

Soon, however, Russian football got its answer. Why go to Ukraine on your own when you can bring half the Russian league with you?

In a bizarre alliance so far as club supporters are concerned, Zenit, CSKA, and Anzhi executives announced in late November they would begin exploring the feasability of a Russian-Ukrainian United Football Championship. In their first press conference, held in mid-December, Anzhi chairman Konstantin Remchukov floated an initial revenue estimate: “This is a product that could conditionally be sold for a billion dollars.”

Like Mitrofanov before him, Remchukov, owner and editor of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, was met with incredulity. Certainly matches between Dynamo Kiev and Spartak Moscow would draw increased interest, but where, many wondered, would they dig up $1 billion? At present, the Russian and Ukrainian leagues earn less than $100 million per year in TV money combined.

Continue reading at The False Nine.

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