Ronán Daly examines the potential fall-out of the proposed European Super League which has the FIFA and financial backing to change the landscape of European football immeasurably.
In October it was revealed that both Manchester United and Liverpool had shown interest in being involved in a new European Super League which would change the world of football as we know it. With the backing of Wall Street bankers, JP Morgan, and interest shown from a number of teams across Europe’s 5 biggest leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France), a project that has been speculated about for years looks closer to happening than ever before, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Talk of a European Super League isn’t something new, it’s an idea that has been around since the ’80s and was part of the reason the European Cup was rebranded and reformatted as the Champions League in 1992. The change to European football in the ’90s was also met with much scepticism, yet it fails to compare to the proposed changes and disruption that this new Super League would cause. The Champions League itself would most likely be replaced by this new European Cup and plays into a fear that football fans have had for years, that clubs from countries of lesser football pedigree are being squeezed out of Europe’s elite competition. Just 2 years ago UEFA changed the qualifying system so that the topped 4 ranked leagues in Europe (England, Spain, Italy and Germany) all got 4 automatic qualification spots, taking up exactly half of the spots in the competition. Of the 32 teams that currently qualify for the champions league only 6 qualify via the play-off route, the other 26 spots are automatic spots given to Europe’s best performing and wealthiest leagues.
For the wealthy owners of these clubs, this new competition makes sense from a profit standpoint, as to showcase the best of European football you want the best playing against the best. But a new Super League would exclude smaller sides even further in a system where making it to Europe’s elite is already a nigh-on-impossible task. It would also be a move which would hurt fans of these clubs, particularly in the Premier League where season ticket prices are already extortionately high, and many fans are from working-class backgrounds. It would be inconceivable for the fans to be able to afford to follow their side in the way they currently do with this proposed increase in the number of games being played abroad.
In terms of structure, the new Super League would consist of 18 teams in a round-robin that would proceed to playoffs. With both the Glazers and FSG, the owners of Man United and Liverpool, being American it isn’t surprising that this new format takes influence from American associations such as the NFL and the NBA, who decide the title in a similar fashion. This also plays into the idea of these clubs putting profit before fans. Both these clubs have previously had to make changes to ticket pricing structures as a result of reactions from fans and faced backlash because of their spending and investment policies. Not only does this new format try to create exclusivity in Europe’s elite, but it is also doing this solely for profits from advertising rather than cultivating the spectacle of European football.
In the last decade viewership of the premier league has grown 74% in the USA and the number of people playing soccer in the USA is growing an average 1.75% a year. When you see how American fans interact with sports, with the mass consumerism and sponsorships that NBA and NFL players get and the grand spectacle of the Super Bowl which acts as a shrine to advertisement, it’s clear that in trying to make the change to a European Super League these clubs are trying to emulate the profit models of American sport.
England’s so-called ‘Big 6’, (Liverpool, Man United, Man City, Arsenal, Spurs and Chelsea), already own the lion’s share of the wealth in England making it extremely hard for teams outside the Big 6 to get a coveted top 4 spot and avail of the riches of the Champions League. When Leicester won the league in 2016, they were the first team outside the Big 6 in England to qualify for the champions league group stages since Newcastle in 2002-2003. The news of Liverpool and United supporting the European Super League came only days after their proposal for ‘Project Big Picture’, which would have seen the Premier League reduced to 18 teams and would have given the Big 6 all the voting power for any proposed changes to the league.
We shouldn’t be surprised by the greed of the wealthiest member of the football family - every year football becomes more and more about the money, but these changes represent a new danger of completely killing the game for fans in favour of a more marketable product for TV audiences. Talk of a European Super League has been about for decades and they won’t go away any time soon but hopefully these proposals don’t come to fruition and match attending fans don’t lose the game they adore.