Thu, Nov 15, 2012 - Page 18 News List

Fans try to save cash-strapped Spanish team Oviedo

AP, BARCELONA, Spain

Just a week ago the prospects of rescuing the club seemed dim. The club initially restricted the share offer to existing owners and only 194 individuals responded to raise just under 60,000 euros.

After the club opened the scheme on Nov. 3 to all comers, regular fans have bought in for 750,000 euros — blowing away even the most optimistic forecast by the club’s own economic adviser, Jorge Sanchez. Online purchases have been received from as far away as Australia.

“A week ago I wouldn’t have believed we had a chance to reach [2 million euros],” Sanchez said. “I am beginning to see the glass half full.”

The club’s total debt is 12 million euros, mainly in back taxes, but it reached a deal with the government in 2004 to pay it off in annual payments.

“With 2 million we will be satisfied,” Fidalgo, the club president, said.

Fidalgo was asked by Oviedo’s city officials in July to take over the club after former president Alberto Gonzalez was charged with tax evasion. An arrest order has been issued for Gonzalez, who is in hiding, according to media reports.

Spain’s double-dip recession has undermined efforts to encourage local business to participate in share purchases, Fidalgo said. While fans have helped prop the club up, a major investor is the only long-term solution, the president said.

If Oviedo cannot raise the needed cash, it is to join a steady stream of minor clubs that have been dissolved.

In July, Montaneros disbanded after being relegated to the fourth division. In January, Sporting Villanueva and Polideportivo Ejido were both forced to abandon official competition. Villanueva promptly announced it was folding.

Like the rest of Spain, Oviedo is struggling with an economic stagnation that has left one fourth of all workers jobless and the state on the verge of needing an international bailout.

Oviedo’s mayor, Agustin Iglesias, fears not just the psychological blow the loss of the club would mean to his city, but also its economic implications.

“If the club disappears, we lose a large part of our history,” said Iglesias, who has bought shares as a private citizen and committed 600,000 euros of the city’s budget to the upkeep of the team’s stadium and installations.

Oviedo’s Carlos Tartiere Stadium was built in 2000 with seating for 30,500 spectators, making it larger than the stadiums of eight first-division teams.

“These are critical moments in the history of this club,” he said.

Barcelona and Real Madrid’s successes in churning out titles as well as revenue have long masked the precarious and often downright dire state of finances for many clubs in Spain.

“The case of Real Oviedo is representative of the poor management in Spanish football,” said University of Barcelona professor Jose Maria Gay, an expert in soccer finance.

He said that when a club descends to the third division it loses TV revenues, but retains debts from the first division to deal with.

“Clubs enter into a death spiral,” he said.

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