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?