- Apollon Bairaktaridis
The Short-Lived new European "Super League“ Reveals the Current Disparity in the Sport of Football
The announcement of the formation of a "Super League" of Europe's best football clubs drew criticism from players and fans alike and ultimately the plan was abandoned. But it's consequences will far outlive the few days the League existed.
The creation of an elite league heralded the end of the old era of European football. The sport of football in Europe experienced almost unlimited success in the past years. Through its increasing popularity the sport’s market value is growing constantly. The cases of Ronaldo and Neymar indicate a good example of that change. As one of the best football players of his time, international superstar Ronaldo’s transfer from Inter Milan to Real Madrid in the year 2006 was priced at 45 million Euros. Neymar, one of the best players in the world, left Barcelona in the year 2017 to join PSG for 222 million Euros. What led to this massive increase in the price for the world’s best footballers?
The biggest competitions within Europe are the English Premier League (EPL) and the European Champions League, a yearly competition featuring the champions of Europe’s domestic leagues. Without underestimating the importance of the EPL, the Champions League is the competition which provides the biggest recognition for a football club in Europe. Big names like AC Milan or Real Madrid are more recognized through their achievements in the Champions League than the achievements they had in their home league. Their football club DNA and their history were written through a competition where the possibility for even great clubs to lose in the knock-out phase made it attractive for many fans. It also provided the opportunity for smaller teams to have their own fairy tale by playing against the bigger teams in the competition.
The Champions League became popular outside of Europe as well. According infogram.com 380 million people watched in the 2015 the Champions League Final. In comparison, Super Bowl XLIX between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks had only 114.4. million viewers. But just like every booming business, it was just a matter of time before it would decline. The coronavirus hit Europe in the year 2020 and that effected European clubs bottom lines, because their stadiums have had to remain empty for over a year.
That lead to the declaration of 12 of the biggest clubs in Europe on 18th April 2021 to find a new elite league where no knock-out games would exist. The founders would have a guaranteed permanent seat in that new league. Three teams from Italy (Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan), three teams from Spain (Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, and Barcelona) and six teams from England (Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur) decided that this would boost their income and provide an opportunity to overcome the current financial crisis. The president of the new league Florentino Perez stated the new league would provide matches between the big clubs and that this is much more interesting for the people to watch than a match against a small club. His statement was based on the marketing strategy to make football more attractive for the market outside Europe, where the big teams are much more popular than the small ones. The Chinese market alone can provide four times more television viewers than the entire European market and indeed theoretically from an economic point of view that would make sense. But by announcing this step the founders caused problematic factors that in the end were more important than the economic ones.
First of all, a closed league would kill every kind of real competition as the teams have nothing to lose. That would eliminate one of the most important factors that brought success to European football in the first place, with its unique system of relegation and promotion of the worst and best teams, respectively. Secondly, UEFA (Union of European Football Associations, the governing body of European football) would continue to organize the Champions League without these clubs. The problem here is that the participants in the Champions League are defined through the first ranks of every national league of the last-played season. As the 12 founders announced not to leave their own league, that would create a problem that would remain unsolved. Another scenario where the 12 founders would finally agree to play just for the new league would reduce quality of their domestic leagues rapidly. That is also the reason why UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson officially declared to do everything possible to stop the new Super League. Furthermore, the players of these clubs, like the fans rejected the Super League directly. For the players that would mean to play more matches in a period where they are already overwhelmed with full match schedules. The elimination of the club’s DNA was reason enough for the fans to reject that project.
They mobilized themselves against the club owners, demanding to stop pursuing this plan. In the end, the majority of the 12 founders announced to quit their ambition to form a Super League. Nonetheless, thousands of fans felt betrayed by the clubs’ owners and demanded them to sell their stocks as is currently the case against the Glazer family that holds the most stocks of Manchester United. Many other clubs demanded from UEFA a punishment against the 12 founders for their selfish activities, but UEFA announced not to punish them as they remain important figures within European football. The Premier League announced that a second attempt of a similar activity would lead to the direct exclusion from the EPL. The rumor of already closed contracts that is already forcing the founders to participate in the Super League is also interesting as quitting would lead to pay a fee of several million euros. The relationship of JP Morgan, who would finance the Super League through a $4 billion loan is also interesting as it holds important relationships to most owners of the 12 founders and is also involved in other sports. JP Morgan apologized publicly for that business plan but the consequences of this attempt to form a Super League will surely have far-reaching consequences for the future of European football.