Will Croatian Football Survive Corona? Damir Miskovic of HNK Rijeka Weighs In

Daniela Rogulj

April 10, 2020 – Damir Miskovic, the owner and president of HNK Rijeka, talks about the realities of Croatian football after the coronavirus. 

Nearly one month has passed since almost all sports competitions have stopped around the world. The coronavirus pandemic has changed the world as we know it; it has not only stopped sports, but many other branches, and the real consequences of it are yet to come. Sports will be one of the hardest hit.

This is illustrated by the fact that clubs around the world are laying off, or at least furloughing many employees and reducing player wages. Without matches, there is no income, and without income, there is no money to pay off contractual obligations.

If they are already doing this in some of the world’s biggest and richest clubs, why would it be any different in Croatia?

Damir Mišković, president of HNK Rijeka, who has been pumping his money into the club for years, tried to explain in an interview with Index.hr that this is a narrow view of the current situation and that the consequences of this pandemic will be more far-reaching than what is seen at the moment. 

Why was cutting wages in Rijeka necessary? 

“Cutting is an ugly word; I would say we pulled specific measures in a specific situation. We need to understand that the economy of the world in all segments, including sports, will get other dimensions, whether we like it or not. I’m always optimistic, and when I say something pessimistic, I am realistic. This is just the beginning of a major crisis in the world that will lead to a major crisis in sports, both in Croatia and in the world. Who will think of athletes when people who own businesses have to quit?”

What did the first team players conclude at a recent meeting regarding this situation, when the proposal to reanimate the First Team Association was rejected?

“We will have a lot to change in the next 2-3 years. All the HNL clubs were talking about this 3-4 weeks ago. Maybe some didn’t understand the gravity of the situation, but now they understand it. We come up with common proposals, but then each club has a specific situation. We have come to an agreement that we need to see how much money anyone will need at their financial level to endure a year, because if some fail, we will not have a League. To say the least, in Inter or Varaždin, a salary of 2000 kuna is a lot, with us it is 2000 euros, a maximum of five or seven thousand, depending on the contract. We talked about it. Now Fifa has helped us too, because if we can’t pay the players, we can only give them the papers, because everyone has the right to ask for what the contract should be.”

What consequences will the clubs feel in the long run?

“I find it funny when someone says that football is losing nothing. It loses by not playing, that’s number one. Rijeka has enough fans; we have about 5500 regular spectators. When they come, there are more sponsors. If the players do not play, they cannot even show themselves and thus sell themselves, or they can be sold for less money. And our clubs live on sales and that is 80% of their revenue, in fact, the only normal income.

The crisis is already felt, most of the sponsors, big or small, are gone, and that money has paid some expenses, whether it be the working community, electricity, water, mowing the grass… Well, the sponsor who gives you beer in the stadium no longer works. When a small club comes to Dinamo or Hajduk, they earn a month’s salary. Additionally, if the season continues, say, in June, players will have about three weeks of preparation after doing nothing for two months. My coaches tell me this is impossible. There will certainly be more injuries that will not allow players to be sold again.”

Can the situation in the HNL be compared to that in the stronger leagues?

“We like to watch Barcelona, but we have a lot less to measure. We have to watch our league as it is, and it’s much better than it was eight years ago when I came.

I have contacts with people, presidents or directors of the clubs in the League; they are not even thinking about buying or selling today, as rich as they are, just looking at cutting costs and surviving the next year or two.”

And how to survive?

“If we tighten the belt and hold it for 10 months, things might get better. If not, we will all sit down together, have a drink, have fun, and go our own way. It will be one hell of a year. People won’t have tickets. TV rights? Who will pay for the packages to watch the matches? I’m covered with these measures for the next six months, some clubs will have them in three months, some only for a month, and then what? We all need to survive together, so it will be easy to argue again whether it was offside or not.”

Could Croatian football be helped today by the First League Association, called by some?

“It’s been four years and what have we done? We did not agree on the ball, joint jersey manufacturers, TV rights, sponsors, nothing. We would be in Zagreb, having lunch together and we did nothing.

If you ask me if we need the First League Association, yes, we do. But it’s like the Opatija Initiative, three years ago when we put together a proposal for the systematic financing of sports from TV rights, bookmakers… competition. We would cover 260,000 athletes in Croatia, each sport would have its own representative, and below would be separate bodies, this is how it works. We did the distribution by sports and by clubs, everything was included. To bring together 5-6 trophy sports, so which would be a bigger force in negotiating with sponsors or on TV rights?

But for starters, all football clubs and their representatives, through the HNS Commission with Mr Markulin at the helm, need to talk and come up with models and show that we are able to find sponsors and that we can have an association that produces money for clubs.”

If everything goes back to normal, how can you better sell your Croatian football product in the future?

“There are about 160,000 subscribers to HNL channels in Croatia. And where are those pirating? To regulate this would be three times the number of subscribers. Cafes pay the same subscription as individuals, filling 50 seats during a match and everyone watching football for the price of one. They may not have to pay 50 times more, but five times more would be a major shift.

We also get nothing from bookmakers. If someone is watching us and betting on our matches, where is our share?

Furthermore, how many tourists, visiting fans, come to European matches? How many hotels do they get extra nights? We bring thousands of tourists, yet we still have to pay various taxes and surtaxes.

We need to understand that sport is not a profitable branch. Players earn, managers earn, but clubs do not. Sport should be cultivated for people to do sports instead of nonsense, but there is no income there.”

How would you comment on the government measures taken today to assist sports associations and clubs in the wake of the corona crisis?

“NK Rijeka is not entitled to benefits for the working community because the City of Rijeka has a 30% stake in the club, but I have to praise the Sports Office for having done this, no one has bothered so much, and that is a step.”

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