A revamp of Turkey's Süper Lig (Super League) will help its debt-laden football clubs boost their income and compete successfully in Europe, with the aim of putting the country among the top footballing nations by 2020, officials said on Friday.
The plan to bring the league's 18 clubs under the umbrella of a company, Superlig A.S., comes as they struggle with low attendance and debts piled up during years of heavy spendings.
Outlined on Friday by the heads of Turkey's football federation and clubs' association, the plan must be approved by parliament but is backed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a semi-professional player in his youth who follows football closely.
"The goal of the project is to boost revenues of our clubs, bringıng their financial balances under control and getting them acting more closely together," federation head Yildirim Demiroren told Reuters at the opening of the association's Istanbul offices.
The plan will transfer control of broadcasting rights to the clubs' association from the federation and will benefit Anatolian teams, which have been overshadowed by the 'big three' Istanbul clubs, Demiroren said.
The federation's focus will, meanwhile, shift to the national team, 13th in the FIFA rankings, and referees, he said, adding that legislation for project was expected to be ready in October.
Clubs face growing pressure to boost their finances after Galatasaray was banned by UEFA from European competition for a year in March for failing to meet financial regulations.
Spending on celebrity players and opaque ownership structures, leaving clubs exempt from much of the oversight of commercial law, have left teams in the league saddled with debts of 4.2 billion lira (1 billion pounds), around half owed to banks.
"SWAMP OF DEBT"
The new deal seeks to increase income as well as oversight and cooperation, with broadcast and commercial agreements helping put clubs on stronger footing, officials said.
"Proper structuring of clubs, institutionalised management will boost the quality and market value of football ... enabling clubs to escape from the swamp of debt," Clubs' Association chairman Goksel Gumusdag told Reuters.
"We want to be one of the biggest four footballing countries globally. Our target is to do that by 2020," he added.
Galatasaray won the UEFA Cup and Super Cup in 2000 but since then Turkish clubs have failed to reach the finals of European competitions.
Another Istanbul club, Besiktas, with a new stadium on the shores of the Bosphorus, are on the verge of being crowned Turkish champions this season, ahead of local rivals Fenerbahce.
Foreign officials attending Friday's opening ceremony backed the plan, with the head of the Association of European Professional Football Leagues saying the cooperation between the federation and association was "very promising".
"I think it should pick and learn from different leagues," Lars-Christer Olsson told Reuters, citing the English Premier League and Germany's Bundesliga as models.
"I think in the long term there are very good opportunities here."