Author Archives: Ciarán Quinn

The Financial Fallout Of The European Super League.

Nearing midnight on the 18th of April, a statement was released, announcing that twelve giants of European football had come together to become founding members of a “European Super League”. This breakaway league would be independent of both European and the world’s football governing bodies (UEFA and FIFA). Although the league is essentially dead in the water now, it remains important not only to understand why such a league would wreak havoc upon the most important aspect of football, the supporters and their clubs, but also to understand what financial implications would come to the fore very quickly.

A Game of Greed

Of the league’s inaugural board (and perhaps last), it’s important to note how two members Joel Glazier and Stan Kroenke, are both American business owners with significant stakes in Manchester United and Arsenal F.C., respectively. Both men are despised by their teams supports groups, most notably due to Glazier’s tactic of leveraging United’s free cash flow to fund his takeover, effectively transferring his debt to the club’s balance sheet. Fans feel their owners are distanced from their clubs, with their interests more focused on raising profits rather than keeping the fans as the focus. This perception of the footballing world as a source of cash crops rather than sporting clubs is further reinforced through the financial rewards associated the European League. The league is set to be funded by J.P. Morgan, who will provide over €4.9 billion to get the league up and running. Much of this funding will go to each of the inaugural members in the form of an ‘infrastructure grant’ worth $430 million. This sum of money highlights the importance the boards of these clubs have put on financial gain. For comparison, the winner of the current European championship (The Champions league) receives only $19 million euro for their achievement itself, which when added to previous rewards throughout the competition, can rise to around €80 million euro. This sum is not even a quarter of the potential investment available to clubs for just becoming members of this rogue league.

Ridding Clubs of their fighting Chance

One could be forgiven for appreciating these breakaway teams’ decision, given the huge gains which can be reaped by entering this league. However, by lining their own pockets, these founding members are condemning their domestic competitors to their financial doom. Much of the funds that football clubs are allocated comes from broadcasting coverage revenue. The broadcaster B.T. has already payed £1.5 billion to broadcast the Champions League between 2021 and 2024, with this revenue being shared among the various teams within the competition; the further a team progresses, the more financial support they earn. This gives lifelines to smaller teams who can secure the vital funding needed for their continued existence.  Even just with qualification to the group stages, a team can secure upwards of 16 million euro, along with teams who fall short in the preliminary rounds still being able to avail of investments worth in the hundreds of thousands. Through the formation of an exclusive European Super League, the broadcasting rights will be shared among a much smaller group of cubs, allowing for much higher individual gains and a much lower collective benefit. Dundalk FC, who are only valued at 3 million euro were awarded €280,000 for advancing to the second qualifying round of the competition. For a team as small as this, this allows the club to continue to be a sanctuary where supports can come together to love and support their team, regardless of if they win, lose or draw. Through the introduction of a super league where some members are exempt from relegation, making it essentially impossible for smaller clubs to progress and earn the possibility to secure their future. Not only is this a tragedy, but with the world’s footballing bodies insisting that participants in this league will be unable to compete domestically, these smaller clubs will lose out on the broadcasting rights revenues and footfall stemming from cup draws and league ties against huge clubs. With the possibility of Dundalk F.C. not being able to contest Arsenal F.C. in London during the Europa League (a secondary Europe-wide competition), or Tottenham F.C.’s stare down with Marine F.C. (worth €300,000) in an F.A. Cup tie becoming a distant memory, these giants of European football have forgone their passion for the sport in light of financial gain.

Mistaking a Football Decision for a Business One

What makes this scenario all the more pitiful is the fact that players and managers have been left in the dark completely on the issue, with many players who would theoretically play in this league voicing their disapproval of the proposal. This decision has been taking with the view that football is to be seen as a business rather than a sport, with the very people instrumental to its success being left in the dark. Some large clubs within Europe have rejected the invitation to join this select group, most notably Borussia Dortmund and Bayern München. In the German league there has been a ’50 + 1 rule’ in place since the late 90’s, stating that in order for a club to compete in the German domestic league, the club must hold a majority of its own voting rights. This for the most part has prevented the trend of takeovers of football clubs my millionaires, who in place of a connection or passion for the club, bring their financial muscle.

Let He Who is Free of Sin cast the First Stone

Any hope of this league coming to fruition seems slight at most, with all English clubs and some continental members already turning back on their decision. Florentino Perez, the league’s inaugural chairman has however brushed aside this change of heart, citing the binding implications of membership to the league and the financial reparations which would have to be paid in regard to a departure.  Even with this victory, UEFA’s 2024 plans to revitalize the Champions league has raised a few eyebrows, with teams which would usually not qualify for the league now having the opportunity to sneak in due to their pedigree in the championship from previous campaigns. The new format to be introduced also increases the number of games to be held by over one hundred matches, raising profits from broadcasting on a large scale. While this certainly seems good for supporters, much is to be said of player welfare due to an increase in travel and game time, further raising the issue as to which truly takes priority: the clubs themselves or their coffers?

How Trinity Start-up ‘Locallee’ plans to save shipwrecked SMEs

The waves of restrictions that have been strangling Irish commerce in order to curve the effects of Covid-19 have wreaked havoc upon all levels of business within our domestic market and further afield. One group which has been particularly affected are the 248 small and 344 medium enterprises within Ireland. Many retailers within this group were left without major footfall, and with only 32% of these retailers having a functioning website, their source of sales dried up, starving them of any opportunity to survive Covid-19. This is where 3rd year Computer Science and Business students Seán Larkin, Franklin Ume Obiekwe and Daniel Grace have come together to design a much-needed platform for small retailers, enabling them to be able to connect with their customers online.

The Team

Seán knows firsthand how much of an impact COVID-19 has had on small business in Ireland. His parents are owners of an SME themselves, and while they have been fortunate enough to weather the hardships, many Irish businesses have had to endure during this time; some of their friends and many others in a similar position have not been as lucky. Seán asked himself what he could do to help small firms not only recover but prosper post-pandemic, and quickly identified the potential power of the internet. E-shopping has skyrocketed in light of restrictions cutting off the chance to shop in person, with Amazon alone seeing profits shoot up over 200% over the course of the pandemic.

The team’s efforts have culminated in ‘Locallee’, which hopes to act as an online shopping centre for local businesses. Locallee hopes to address current small retailer’s challenges by allowing businesses to meet their potential demand online, while also providing a host of online resources to allow retailers to perform to the best of their abilities. Locallee’s potential is obvious; with a model reminiscent of Amazon’s and with Ireland’s S.M.E.s forming the backbone of the Irish economy, Seán, Franklin and Dan are confident in their ability to scale their project as traffic rises. Seán and Franklin already have some experience in this field, having been successful in reaching the knock-out stages of a start-up accelerator competition within Tangent with their commerce app, Digitill. This prior knowledge has been instrumental in creating a product with real potential.

Where They Are Now

Locallee’s sign-up process takes less than thirty minutes providing retailers with little to no e-commerce experience the opportunity to benefit from this mode of trade. No technical experience is required by Locallee users, bridging a skill gap which in many instances can be the death of retailers trying to ply their trade online. Seán highlights how the likes of Squarespace, while allowing retailers to establish a website, lacks the marketing and other business functions needed to create monetary value. Locallee hopes to change this.

The team highlighted the trojan effort taken to get their idea off the ground, the platform is currently in its developmental phase, with focus being placed on creating their ‘minimal viable product’, or the first workable version of their business concept. Dan has been handling the technical side of things, while Franklin has been busy establishing platform features needed to add value to the user experience. Even with well north of one hundred hours of individual work put into the project each, the team also wanted to mention all the help they’ve been glad to receive so far regarding their project. In particular, Tangent’s Joe Lanzillotta and Alison Tracey have been a great help to Seán and Franklin’s previous projects and they are glad to have their expertise and support, as well as that of Tangent’s C.E.O. Ken Finnegan, with this new endeavour also.

Plans For The Future

In the immediate future, the Locallee team will be testing and refining their software and business models in a select group of towns across Ireland. Seán, Frank and Dan are hopeful that before the end of the year, Locallee will be boosting local businesses across Ireland.

During our conversation, the team alluded to the further potential of Localee’s ability to provide not only a platform, but also support to their patrons. They firmly believe that Locallee will also be able to assist businesses using the platform in regard to the fulfilment of orders through the design and provision of an order and delivery model. This scalability is not only restricted to how Locallee can function, but also to where it functions. Small retailers across the globe have all been faced with a lack of customer interaction, and with a meteoric rise in e-commerce, many need to shift the way they operate to stay competitive within the evolving retail climate. Countries within the E.U. and the U.K. are an obvious first choice. In Seán’s view, after expansion throughout Ireland, the allure of the United States economy is not out of the equation further down the line. All of this hope for the platform’s future is validated by the fact that Locallee possesses the ability to enact real positive change to small retailers across the globe.

Get In Touch

You can check out Locallee’s brochure website here, and if you wish to hear more about the project, the team can be contacted at @locallee2021@gmail.com

Cooking Up A Storm: The Importance Of Migrants and Street Food

Upon my arrival in Bavaria as part of my Erasmus programme, I was met with many nuances which were wholly expected. Namely, würst, brezel and plenty of beer from the many breweries dotting Germany’s largest Bundesland. One thing I didn’t expect were the many cultural cuisines scattered across nearly every city in Germany and the rich variety of dishes offered at great prices. Döner and Falafel have become cornerstones of youth culture within Germany and further afield too. In Dublin one is prone to find themselves enjoying a burrito or spicebag among many other dishes, which certainly do not have their routes in traditional Irish cooking. Immigrant workers have long established take outs and restaurants as a means to plant their roots in their new homeland. In appreciating the wealth of food and culture stemming from this practice, it does raise the question as to why immigrants so often turn to this practice, and how important are such businesses to a country’s economy?

A brief history lesson

Street food vending was first legalized in renaissance-era Turkey, with the selling of kebab meat being a long-established practice in the country. With Istanbul acting as a gateway between Europe and Asia, many cultures had the opportunity to try new dishes and furthermore bring tales of these tastes back home. Street food had been long been a central pillar of society within China, the Middle East and African communities. Through the emergence of mass migration across the globe by many populaces, the recipes and pallets brought along with these migrants added further depth to the cultural melting pots beginning to brew.

The backbone of the fast-food industry

Work within the catering industry has long been a source of income for migrants. With work opportunities often limited through a combination of lack of qualifications, language and sadly discrimination, many newcomers find work in the fields picking crops, cleaning dishes in a kitchen, or working as chefs also. In the United States alone, 10% of the catering industry’s workforce consists of foreign-born workers. Often this work is unappealing and lowly paid, but with few chances many migrant workers seize upon the opportunity to establish a foothold on the work ladder. This is best represented with the United States’ agricultural workforce, which consists of over 50% of undocumented immigrants.

Rising above poverty

After gaining experience within the sector, it’s easy to see why migrants would build upon their knowledge and endeavour to establish their own chains and restaurants, specializing in dishes from their homelands. These ventures present a fantastic opportunity through the combination of skills and specific culinary knowledge passed from generation to generation, along with the ability to appeal to niche markets of consumers who can’t often access such tastes within their domestic market. For many people, street food is not only a tasty treat, but also a healthy cheap source of nutrition, helping to reduce poverty in cities such as Bangkok and in turn raise ‘cultural capital’, enabling for easier mobility of people through social classes, allowing for many to escape the clutches of poverty and secure a future for their children.

Creating a springboard

All of these factors combined with the convergence effects of globalization have allowed for many of these once street vendors to establish themselves as restaurateurs and even go as far as to establish food chains. In Berlin alone there are over four thousand Döner sellers. This large density of competitors is a result of a labour agreement with the Turkish republic in 1961, allowing workers into West Germany. These numbers rose in 1974-1978, with worker’s families allowed to follow their breadwinners to the DDR (West Germany). The proximity of California to its southern neighbour, Mexico, allowed for a large influx of immigrants. The introduction of the residents of Los Angeles to foods such as Tacos as early as the 1890’s highlights how foreign food can become synonymous with a new city, with Mexican food being a core element of Los Angeles’ food culture. The introduction of the hibachi restaurant concept to New York in 1964 by Hiroaki Aoki sparked a thirst for Japanese cuisine within the United States. The restaurant grew in popularity before expanding due to increased demand. This has culminated in the Benihana franchise, with over one hundred franchised restaurants around the world.

Breaking bread with strangers

While many of these operations are still small family owned operations, operating on street corners or out of kiosks in busy train stations, they play a massive role collectively. Over 20,000 people are employed within German Döner shops, helping to support thousands of families and livelihoods. Their success also stands as a testament to the integration of the Turkish people into German culture, with the love for great street-food being a unifying factor. As globalization continues to induce effects around the world, different cuisine can often act as a bridge in allowing for a start in a new country, so too can it help to create a wider and more diverse society in the world we live in.

The Murky Business Of Territorial Waters

The thought of international waters conjures images of shady dealings, pirate radio and lawless seas, but the claimed areas of water bordering these oceans have questionable origins, too. Territorial waters appear straight-forward on the surface, but peering into their depths often leads to a sea of murkiness surrounding politics, natural resources and importantly, trade. In a world where natural resources are becoming ever-more depleted and in conjunction with the departure of Britain from the European Union, these waters will become even more important.

Defining Territorial Waters

In international law, territorial waters are defined as the areas of water directly adjacent to a state, and are subsequently subject to the jurisdiction of that state. This means that the adjacent state has sovereignty to the water, the seabed below, and the airspace above. Other states may only enter this body of water for “innocent passage”, with foreign aircraft or submarines not permitted to pass through. Due to this, fishing rights are not extended to the trawlers and fishermen of foreign nations, although the Common Fisheries Policy of the E.U. is an exception to this.

While this is perfectly reasonable regarding a nation’s immediate borders, the laws can and have been bent to meet a nation’s needs in a variety of ways. For example, Chile and Peru claim their territorial waters reach as far as their continental shelf: an area of submerged land still connected to the continent with relatively shallow waters, which lies directly before the much deeper ocean floor- much like the steps leading to a deeper swimming pool. This gives these nations an additional 370 kilometers of offshore territory, and more importantly, access and ownership to natural resources such as oil and gas.

Similarly, Russia has made claims that an ocean ridge on its northern coast stretches into the Arctic circle, allowing them to lay claim to the huge reserves of oil and gas estimated at $2 billion, which for millennia had been protected from mankind due to the difficulty in its extraction due to harsh weather conditions in the Arctic. With global warming melting these obstacles to harvesting, Russia has staked its claim to the Arctic seafloor, in the form of a Russian flag being planted by a miniature submarine on the North Pole seabed. This region of the world is very susceptible to ecological harm and any type of oil extraction poses as a serious threat to the climate and wildlife of the region. The indigenous Saami tribe of the area are threatened from the potential claim, with their culture and livelihoods at stake.

Colonial Claims

France’s territorial waters are the largest of any nation with nearly 10,760,500 km2 under the 5th republic’s governance. This initially seems odd, given the size of France (643,801 km2), but taking a look at the country’s colonial history gives an explanation. The embers of a once great French Empire lay scattered across the globe in the form of small inhabited islands, archipelagos and atolls stretching from la France métropolitaine to Réunion Island in the Indian Ocean, further still to Antarctica and across to the Caribbean islands of the French West Indies.  While many of these once subjugated islands were granted independence, many still belong to France, leading to a situation where France’s longest land border lies not with Belgium or Germany, but rather between French Guiana and Brazil, 7,216 kilometers from Paris. These satellite dominions give France a global presence in terms of military activity and natural resource exploitation. The huge swathes of ocean associated with these areas also gives great opportunity to the French fishing industry.

Chinese Island Construction

China has come under fire recently due to its decision to engage in “island-building” in the south China sea in order to bolster its territorial claims. China has built on sandbanks and small uninhabited islands in the region, transforming them from scraps of land into military installations, strengthening its presence in the area. While China isn’t the first to engage in such practices in the region, the rate at which it is aggressively pursuing this course is a cause of concern for many parties. A third of the word’s trade flows through the South China Sea. With China having the potential to effectively control this trade route, many states fear that sanctions may be imposed, and restricted movements enforced by the Chinese government. The actions would cripple industry and business within their respective economies.

How A Small Island Can Play A Huge Role

While the points above highlight the role these island outcrops can play, one could still be forgiven for questioning how important a small island may be on a world-wide scale. One can look toward the small island chain of French Polynesia. The micro-state only possesses a population of 270,000. With the main industries consisting of agriculture and handicrafts, it’s clear that it is far from an industrial powerhouse. However, the importance of French Polynesia is best highlighted in terms of its waters, whose combined area exceeds 4.7 million kilometers2. For context, this is comparable to the entire landmass of the European union.

This ability for small plots of land to hold huge strategic importance can be highlighted a lot closer to home. The basalt outcrop of Rockall has long been a source of contention between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. The uninhabited rock lies 370 kilometers north of the Donegal coast and 300 kilometers west of the Scottish island of St. Kilda. Officially incorporated into the United Kingdom through an act of Westminster in 1972, following its annexation by the British navy in 1955, Britain’s claim to the island is still yet to be recognized by the Irish government. Presently the fishing rights around Rockall belong to Scotland, and with Britain’s departure from the European Union, the tension surrounding the Rock is bound to escalate further. This is best highlighted in the Scottish Secretary for Economy’s threat to deploy naval vessels to the area to enforce Scotland’s exclusive fishing rights to the waters surrounding Rockall. The fishing industry is vital to County Donegal and many of its fishermen risk being wiped out if they are denied access to fishing in Rockall’s waters, highlighting how large an influence a now-extinct volcanic island can possess.

Übung macht den Meister: How Germany Perfected Quality.

Germany is synonymous with product quality. Ranging from its renowned software companies such as SAP to the automobile powerhouses of BMW, Porsche and Volkswagen, it is not difficult to understand how the “made in Germany” label became the most respected in the world. It is not only fascinating how the country’s industries can produce consistently superior products, but also to consider how a country’s culture, education system and approach to industrial relations blend seamlessly to produce an industrial equilibrium. To believe however, that this was always the case would be wrong. German quality was not always respected as it is now, and there a variety of factors which have simultaneously been of detriment to the country, but also have been of benefit to the nation, igniting the flame of innovation and change.

19th Century Germany: The Setting of a Movement in Motion

The advent of the steam engine launched the British and French empires into industrial superiority within Europe. Germany too benefited from the industrial possibilities allowed through rail, but even with its already established educated workforce and strong work-ethic, the country couldn’t keep up with its neighbours. One factor however led to the country’s eventual position as an economic powerhouse by the turn of the 20th century: copyright law.

Copyright law had been established in Britain since the early 1700’s, whereas the Germans had yet to enact legislation to dissuade potential plagiarizers from taking works to print and distribute in their thousands. This led to a situation where swathes of literature, mainly academic, flooded all corners of Germany, allowing for a population who previously were unable to afford such books to possess small re-printed libraries. The vast amount of readership allowed academics to publish their scientific results to the vast readership, and in doing so disseminate knowledge in an unprecedented way. With on average 14,000 papers being published a year in Germany, a scientific movement was set in motion allowing for the “Gründerzeit” (foundation time). Industrialists such as Alfred Krupp, carrying on the practice of appropriation, conducted espionage on British steel mills before taking his findings back to Germany and establishing his own steel manufacturing plants. This copycat practice coupled with his introduction of sickness insurance and housing for workers in return for their company loyalty propelled Germany into being a true competitor against its international rivals. Even when laws whereby products had to state their origin (e.g. made in label) were introduced in order to highlight the inferior copycat Germany products, the Germans instead focused on utilizing their exceptional production capabilities borne from widespread academic readership and an educated yet cheap labour force to create competitive products at lower prices.

The War Years

By the turn of the century German products of high quality were prevalent across Europe’s economies, until the outbreak of two world wars would once again strip away any German advancements in their industrial reputation. Both conflicts left Germany hurting. By 1945 Germany was a shell of a nation, left scarred by constant bombing and harsh years of war, not to mention that the nation was divided between two opposing forces, making any sense of industrial or economic cohesion impossible. Germany’s reputation was in ruin and this was reflected in its produce, with the brand “made in Germany” becoming associated with that of a loser, yet there remained a phoenix to be born from the ashes of a ruined Germany.

The Miracle on the Rhine

With the war over, a huge number of scientists who previously been working in the war effort were left without an option but to enter their respective fields within the consumer industry. While Germany’s infrastructure was left incapacitated, there remained a hard-educating, workforce eager to pick up the pieces and begin anew.  Sanctions on the Axis forces to engage in military research also allowed for an even greater emphasis to be placed on R & D within civilian economy. Clever economic decision making by then Chancellor Konrad Adenauer and his economic minister, Ludwig Erhard utilized this technological expertise and workforce and ignited the flame of the “Wirtschaftswunder” (economic wonder). This homegrown innovation, aided by the Marshall Plan and introduction of a new currency allowed once again for West Germany at least, to flourish. This strength within West Germany’s industrial capabilities helped to raise East Germany’s industrial prowess post re-unification.

Experience in Quality and innovation in Education

While much of Germany’s current economic success can be owed to the decisions made in the wake of WW2, there are also a variety of long-established factors which played a vital role in its success. An emphasis on quality was important in Germany as far back as the 19th century, with the introduction of a “craftsman’s code” by Emperor Wilhelm I. This practice of protecting and supporting craftsmanship is carried on to this day, with heavy regulation imposed on trades within Germany, with a ‘master craftsman’s license’ being mandatory in many fields. The propensity of Germans to meet their own quality criteria is borne from their “dual vocational training system”, whereby young adults can enter a trade-training course that lasts between 2-3 years with a high degree of education within their respective field. Due to the high skill level associated with such training, there is little distinction in the quality between learning a trade and obtaining a degree. This sentiment is echoed in the partition of tertiary education between universities and “Fachhochschüle” (an equivalent of an institute of technology). Understandably more focus is placed on specific fields such as engineering within these Institutes. The lack of educational snobbery allows for equality and a better educated pool entering the workforce.

The Little Guys on the World Stage: Germany’s local heroes

The “Mittelstand” within Germany, referring to the vast amount of small and medium enterprises (SME’s) within Germany also plays a huge role in strengthening company culture and loyalty, allowing for exception quality to be produced by a motivated workforce. 37% of corporate turnover within Germany can be attributed to these SME’s, along with employing over 11 million people. Due to these homely roots and integration with both the local community and economy, the firms of the Mittelstand are naturally more predisposed to care for their workers better than a transnational corporation which lacks a relationship with the areas in which they operate . This results in superior industrial relations and exceptionally good sick and maternity leave allowances (such as receiving 100% of one’s salary for up to 6 weeks while on sick leave).

 This loyalty to their community, coupled with a vast number of firms sharpening their expertise in a specific field leads to a situation where the German economy can provide the world with an array of superior products at better prices than that of the international market.

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