German newspaper, Der Spiegel recently broke the news of plans for a European Super League. Eleven of Europe’s biggest clubs have allegedly been in discussions over a proposed breakaway from their own domestic leagues, and the two UEFA club competitions.
It is claimed, they will set up the inaugural League where none of the original members will suffer relegation for the first twenty years. In addition, there will be five initial “guest clubs” to make the total up to sixteen teams. The season will last for thirty-four weeks, with matches played on Saturday, Tuesday and Wednesday. There may also be the possibility of a knockout section at the end.
The initial founding members are rumoured to be, five English clubs, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea. Two Spanish clubs, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Two Italian clubs, Juventus and Milan. One German club, Bayern Munich and one French, Paris Saint-Germain. The five initial guests would be Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Marseille, Inter and Roma.
The news has sent reverberations throughout the continent leaving many clubs, who weren’t involved in the discussions, wondering why they’ve been left out.
At this stage, it is unclear the timescale for this planned breakaway, but it would seem certain membership of this exclusive competition would result in each club leaving its national FA as well as UEFA. Participation in FIFA competitions could also be at risk for players involved. Given this, it is uncertain what would become of the ‘guests’ once they are no longer welcome. Or indeed what relegation would mean for a club. Would they just go back to their domestic league? Will the domestic league want them back? Will the breakaway league continue to recruit new members and then gradually build a Second Division?
This is nothing new and there have been rumours of this for many years. UEFA had to completely revamp their flagship tournament, The European Champions Cup, into the Champions League we now know today. This was as a result of pressure put on them by Europe’s top clubs. They argued the previous format guaranteed them just two matches, whereas a league format would make sure they made more money from the competition.
UEFA relented and so the Champions League was born. Recently the same clubs returned to demand further concessions. UEFA has made some changes to the current format. There are more guaranteed places available and staggered kick-off times, but whether this will be enough to stave off a revolution remains to be seen. The documents suggest talks were at an advanced stage before these changes were announced. Seeing as most of the teams involved have little trouble qualifying for the Champions League, then it’s hard to see them appeased simply for more clubs from their own country getting in.
PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES
What this does bring up is the subject of football clubs pushing the boundaries even further. It’s not the first instance of the game testing the consumer to see what they’ll accept.
I don’t remember when the maximum wage was abolished back in the sixties but there were calls this would lead to clubs going bankrupt as a result. They didn’t.
When Trevor Francis became the first million pound footballer in 1979, there were many calls this would lead to clubs paying over the odds for players and this would be unsustainable. They did, yet it wasn’t.
LIVE FOOTBALL – THE WORST DECISION
When the clamour for live football was at its loudest, mainly from the television companies, clubs argued fans would not turn up to the grounds if they could watch from the comfort of their own armchairs. Live football came in and although attendances fell, it was more the product on offer and facilities within grounds which was putting the punters off.
In July 1983, the FA announced league football would be broadcast live for the first time. Initially, ten matches were screened for the grand total of £2.6m. £300,000 was retained to compensate teams whose gates were affected by live transmission. One of the loudest dissenting voices against these plans was none other than Brian Clough. “To allow live television is the worst decision I have heard in years,” He said after the announcement, Nottingham Forest’s game at Tottenham Hotspur would be the first live game. Spurs manager, Keith Burkinshaw was not a supporter of the plans either. The attendance for that match was largely unchanged from the season before, but it was suggested the watching audience at home had been over five million. That’s more than the average viewing figures for Sky’s Super Sunday matches. How times have changed.
Sky has just announced they will be showing forty live matches on their channels in December alone. Football pushed and pushed, yet still, they couldn’t find where the boundary was.
We didn’t see football on a Sunday in this country until the early eighties, with again the suggestion people won’t turn up at the ground to watch, as the reason. Now attendances can be at their highest on a Sunday. Once wages went above £150k per week, similar warnings of unsustainability were voiced. It’s not clear how sustainable wages are as many clubs are struggling to find the money. They’re paying way more out in wages than most businesses would. There are players on £300k per week, and still, there is no sign of any let-up. Still, football pushes on, certain this is the way to go.
In England, ticket prices for many fans have become beyond their reach. But instead of empty stadiums, their places have been taken by ‘tourist fans’. In many of the grounds of the top clubs in this country can be found supporters who have travelled from other countries to attend. Football has gradually attracted a different type of supporter since the late eighties.
A recent study showed many clubs’ balance sheets would be unaffected if they had not charged an entrance fee. For clubs such as Manchester United, they can afford to pay huge salaries to players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Radamel Falcao or Alexis Sanchez knowing they’ll recoup this money in shirt sales.
Signings such as Ji-Sung Park and Shinji Kagawa have been used to tap into the lucrative Asian market as clubs defy predictions of spending beyond their means. Through all these instances the game has defied the odds. Always finding a way of generating more revenue. There is a distinct feeling of envy from many of Europe’s elite towards English clubs who are able to bring in more revenue than some who win the Champions League. This is because of the television deal they’ve been able to negotiate. Perhaps this Super League is Europe’s hopes of getting a piece of the financial action in this country. It would certainly explain the existence of five English clubs in the discussions.
It has been suggested it is hardly a coincidence the plans which seem to mirror much of US team sports, are being discussed when three of the top six richest clubs are owned by American individuals and their investment vehicles. The NFL has long been used as a comparison, particularly when there are complaints around wages and transfer fees. No relegation smacks very much of NFL. It remains unknown whether they’re trying to also add in some sort of draft system or salary cap, but I seriously doubt the EU would sanction the latter. Or would they? They’re soon going to need to replace Britain’s contribution to its coffers, so who knows?
In many industries, there are mergers, acquisitions and structural changes with poorly performing companies being swallowed up by larger ones. This just doesn’t happen in football, yet you can sense a desire for that to change amongst the major stakeholders of European football. If we can fill our stadiums when the big teams visit, why do we have to put up with fewer customers when the lesser teams arrive? You can imagine them wondering.
NO MORE DERBIES
Assuming the participating clubs are forced to leave their respective governing body, some of English football’s biggest derbies would be no more. The Merseyside and North London derbies would disappear, although the Manchester derby would be retained. Of course, Liverpool v Manchester United would remain too. The Turin derby would be shelved, but the Milan derby would remain. Plus, the Real v Barca clash would stay. Perhaps new ‘derbies’ would emerge?
METHINKS HE DOTH PROTEST TOO MUCH
Several of the clubs have refused to comment. Bayern’s Chairman, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, has tried to pour water on the whole idea. He suggested it wouldn’t happen as long as he was at the club. Which doesn’t exactly deny the whole thing is being planned.
Other clubs have said they have “no plans to leave their national governing body”. But again this does not deny the existence of plans, or indeed whether there have been talks. It simply put the onus on the ruling bodies to kick the clubs out. These plans are not new, either. As mentioned earlier Europe’s elite clubs have been threatening UEFA with this for years.
In September 2016, Financial Times reported China’s richest man was considering launching a new competition to do away with the two UEFA competitions. At the time it was reported La Liga was favourable to this, as they have long been envious of English clubs ability to generate revenue.
By December 2016 a breakaway was reported as “inevitable”. By May 2018 Arsene Wenger was of the opinion it was also inevitable.
If these plans were to come to fruition it would have huge ramifications for the game as we know it. FIFA and UEFA have already talked about players from the breakaway leagues being ineligible for international tournaments. Of course, some of the players may not be concerned but it would certainly affect the quality them. Presumably, this could also jeopardise the attractiveness for sponsors.
This league has the potential to attract some of the finest talents in world football. This would be irresistible for sponsors and investors. Could easily be the richest league in the world. Players would find it difficult to resist, as the organisers could not afford the project to fail. Huge sums are likely to ploughed in, with little regard for the rest of the game around the world.
So what future for clubs not included?
Going back to the point about clubs losing a significant core of support they enjoyed twenty or thirty years ago, well there are likely to be more people who prefer to watch a less than perfect fare. Supporters of these clubs are going to need to travel far more than they currently do. For Champions League qualifiers you have at least three away games, depending on how far you progress. This breakaway league will be fifteen away games.
Would it encourage people to support clubs not from your country? Of course, if the organisers were to be more competitive as regards ticket prices then you could well see people support ‘foreign’ clubs as following them may not be too expensive. That would be a coup.
For example, what if Tottenham fans begin to feel disaffected with their club, the new stadium and lack of transfers? They’re unlikely to stomach supporting Arsenal or any other English club. So maybe, Paris SG or Juve could be more attractive?
Alternatively, you could see more support for Championship clubs if people feel more connected with them. What would the Premier League look like? What of the Champions League? These will need to compete for the same consumers as the breakaway league.
What will the tv companies do? We also don’t know how other clubs who haven’t been named in these documents feel about them. How does Daniel Levy at Tottenham feel? The club has been lauded for it’s playing squad and plans for the new stadium. Yet, they could find they’ve spent shedloads of money only to discover they can’t fill it without games against Liverpool, Arsenal, Man Utd, Man City or Chelsea. This “European Super League” is clearly nothing other than an idea purely to make money. Why else would clubs who have never won the Champions League be included? Will the watching public ‘buy’ into this? They might have to. They might be forced to.