By Joshua Eibl
On April 18, 12 of the biggest soccer club teams in Europe announced that they would form an elite league.
This would be like if the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers would suddenly decide to create their own league. It would be a special tournament, which will essentially act as a replacement for the current biggest tournament, the Champions League, and their domestic leagues.
In major U.S. sports like the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLS, franchises and legacy teams have a guaranteed place in elite competitions. In European soccer, participation at the top of the sport depends on results on the field.
Over the decades, the biggest and richest clubs in the world have generally enjoyed the most success. Still, each team competes, because if they perform poorly, they will be excluded from the elite competitions or could even face relegation to lower divisions, such as the Premier League in the U.K.
In the announcement, six English clubs, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur, alongside with three teams from Italy, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus Turin, and three from Spain, Atlético Madrid, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, laid out their plans to form this breakaway competition.
The super league is expected to consist of 20 teams and be overseen by the founding clubs themselves.
Until this point, the Union of European Football Associations, the administrative body for soccer in Europe, ran nation and club competitions and controlled the prize money, regulations, and media rights to those competitions independently. It is one of six continental confederations of world soccer’s governing body FIFA.
There would be no promotion or relegation from the Super League, with only five qualification places given out by the founders each year.
The new structure would make it almost impossible for smaller teams to break into Europe’s elite which would shatter the historic sport’s ethos.
The Super League confirmed that each of the 15 founding members would get a share of at least $4.2 billion to start the league, around $400 million per club. This would be funded by the American Investment bank JPMorgan Chase.
Each team in the European Super League will get a minimum of $130 million each season which is FOUR TIMES more than last year’s Champions League winner, Bayern Munich, received.
The competition would begin with two groups of 10 teams, with the top three from each group advancing to the quarterfinals. The teams finishing fourth and fifth would be involved in a playoff round to complete the last-eight line-up. The knockout phase would not change.
The fact that the 12 teams announced the Super League in a midnight press release instead of a standard press conference underlines that they knew the explosiveness behind this concept.
With the world dealing with several crises, overloaded hospitals, a deep recession, and repetitive lockdowns, this plan created a protest among fans and politicians.
Soccer fans in Europe rely on traditions and see potential sponsor or investor as a threat to sport. In Germany, for example, terraces still exist that support the community spirit. Every attempt of the government to close these terraces because of safety reasons failed due to the fans’ protests.
The clubs competing in the Super League are owned by investors and hedge funds from the United States, an oligarch from Russia, construction and retail magnates from Spain and China, royalty from Abu Dhabi and a tax-exiled currency trader from England.
These teams lost a combined £1.2 billion in 2019-20 before player sales, and that was for a season where COVID-19 impacted only the last three months. It’s getting clear that the owners hope to see the value of team equity and shares soar even if these clubs already have the highest revenues in soccer.
The Super League will create a two-tier salary structure in European soccer, separating the 20 participating clubs from those left behind.
It’s not a competition for the fans.
This is a disaster for all those who typically support their local team from the moment they grow up to watch with family and friends.
These home-based fans cling for their traditions and resist change. Some would lose domestic rivalries that nurtured their generational lives since 1866.
The fans wouldn’t be able to see most of the games anymore. Away games are far more expensive, involving a flight and hotel and they are all played midweek. The usual fan has to take four days a month off, which adds up over a year.
The Super League project is focused on attracting Asian and North American fans and their money.
It’s against everything soccer stands for: a battle of nations and cultures, towns and regions, ideas and systems. It’s an ecosystem with a top and a middle and a bottom. It’s the feeling when a club that fights against the relegation beats the domestic champion. Soccer is something you go out and play as well as sit down and pay for. Many people around the world live for it.
After severe protests by fans, lawful threats by politicians and the UEFA, all six English club teams announced their withdrawal on April 20.
This could lead to the collapse of the Super League, with half of its founders leaving less than 48 hours after signing up.