New RFU president seeks to improve Russian football finances

Alexander Dyukov, chief executive of Gazprom Neft, has pledged to improve the financial fortunes of Russian football after being elected as the new president of the sport’s national governing body.

Dyukov has been elected unopposed as the new head of the Russian Football Union (RFU), replacing Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, who stepped down in December.

Along with his role at the oil production subsidiary of energy giant Gazprom, an existing Uefa Champions League sponsor, Dyukov has strong ties to football having served as president of Gazprom-owned Premier League club Zenit St. Petersburg from 2008 to 2017.

Russian Premier League clubs reported losses of RUB 1.7bn(€22.9m/$26m) at the end of 2017. While Dyukov said the RFU is in a stable position financially, he added that he plans to engage in talks with sponsors, potentially including Gazprom Neft, as well as making club football more sustainable.

Dyukov said: “There are problems with the (RFU) budget for 2019, as the pool of sponsors has not yet been formed. As I understand it, companies were waiting for certainty about the position of president, now this question is closed. I think that in the near future we will begin negotiations on the extension of contracts with existing sponsors, and we will also look for new partners.

“To make the professional leagues commercially successful, complex work is needed. Ticket sales and catering are important here. Now many clubs have a good infrastructure, so there need to be positive changes in this direction. We will work on occupancy of arenas, stadiums should become centres of attraction, fans should come to them several hours before the start of the match and not leave immediately after the game.

“This is happening in Europe and here we need to consider selling beer in stadiums. We are well aware that on a Saturday, people may want to drink beer. If a person understands that he cannot do this at the stadium, he goes to another place, postponing the arrival to the stadium until the last (possible minute). After the match, he will immediately leave the arena.

“I’m not saying that selling beer will immediately solve all our problems, we need to work in other areas…broadcasting on pay-TV channels, occupancy of arenas. It is very important that viewers see full stands. A person who is not a football fan will not be interested in a match on TV if he sees that there is no one at the stadium. In addition, football clubs need to work more creatively with sponsors, this will increase the size of contracts.”

Russia staged last year’s Fifa World Cup, but there remain legacy questions over the stadia developed for the tournament. Dyukov said it is within the RFU’s power to bring the stadia “at least to self-sufficiency” in the shortest possible time.

He added: “Now a decision has been made on transferring these arenas to the regions, then everything will depend on how the regional authorities make use of them. I consider the optimal (solution) the transfer of stadiums to professional clubs. You can hold concerts and other events as much as you like, but without football it will be almost impossible to ensure their use.”