Viewership and potential for profit set the stage for many of the biggest deals in sports around the world. It should come as no surprise that football, one of the most oft criticized sports for backroom deals and controversy over finances—see the Qatar 2022 World Cup issue—is once again at center stage for the future of the sport in Europe.
Recent news that has swirled around the finances of football has brought to light the potential of a “European Super League,” a proposed replacement of the UEFA Champions League that would keep top-flight clubs in an international competition at all stages, rather than within national boundaries of the Premiership, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A or Ligue 1. Essentially, it would become the most important deal for European football viewership and profits since the formation of the EPL in 1992, which brought £191 million to the league from SkySports (Total Sportek, 2015).
Now, with the rumors of a super league, football is once again in the limelight for the types of profit talks that often plague the sport.
Europe’s top clubs recently met to discuss changes to the UEFA Champions League, which included the possibility of the super league as an “improvement” on the current system. With renewal on the cycle coming in 2018, the issue is increasingly pressing to make a decision about where the future of European soccer resides.
Currently, in the Champions League, 78 teams qualify from 54 member leagues around Europe and after the preliminary qualifying rounds, 32 teams remain to enter the group stage of competition (BBC, “Champions League,” 2016). But with competition in each of the member leagues becoming increasingly boring with waning viewership—see Stephen Kirchner’s blog post for more information on that—it seems increasingly likely that the top European clubs could join together to make competition more attractive—and profitable.
European Club Association chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge suggested “a tournament consisting of 20 teams from Italy, England, Spain, Germany and France,” and senior vice-chairman Umberto Gandini made the following comments:
“We will listen to the main actors of the competition and UEFA itself and find out what is best,” he said. “It may be just a slight change to the access list, it may be many aspects of the competition that can be reviewed and adjusted” (BBC, “Champions League,” 2016).
In the last week, five top clubs in the EPL— Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea—met in London to discuss the issue. According to reports, Manchester United and Arsenal oppose the creation of the super league and Football Association chief executive Martin Glenn said closing the league and getting rid of promotion and relegation for a super league would be wrong for the fans. Glenn also cited that the way that money is currently distributed among Premier League teams equally allows teams like Leicester City to top the table this season, whereas a super league would prevent such an occurrence (BBC, “European,” 2016).
Perhaps Glenn is right; in a recent poll from Mirror, fans think that the move would be a greedy action from top clubs that is purely monetary in nature. In the poll, 76 percent of fans said they believe the super league would be motivated solely by the need to maximize profits for the top European clubs (Corless, 2016). And why blame the fans? It seems as if the biggest clubs are just ensuring that they will not miss out on the big bucks by missing the Champions League.
This is particularly appropriate for English teams, where each club in the EPL earned £50 million last season with TV rights. But in Spain, top clubs Barcelona and Real Madrid earned higher proportions of the TV money than other clubs in La Liga based on the rights of the league. Although next season a new TV deal will stagger the EPL somewhat—the bottom clubs will earn £99 million and the champions will rake in over £150 million in TV money—the need for money and guaranteed profits haunts larger clubs that are currently stuck behind upstart Leicester City (BBC, “European,” 2016).
But despite clubs like Manchester United and Arsenal, as well as Glenn, denying the need or desire for a super league, fans have to wonder what the future of football in Europe will become. Rummenigge, who is also the chief executive of Bayern Munich, consistently discusses that a super league beyond the Champions League will arise, and whether it is led by UEFA or a new entity does not matter—it will happen (BBC, “Champions League,” 2016).
And honestly, with money from TV deals and viewership basically assured for such a league around the globe—both American and Chinese interest in the top European clubs is rising—the league would surely be an international success (Nixon, 2016). If it would bring in the money, whether it upsets fans or not, may be the deciding factor. But outside of the fans, lower level clubs would also face serious problems.
Lower quality teams in the Premiership, Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1 would be placed at a significant disadvantage because of the inability to achieve the same successes or earn the same money as the new super league (BBC,”European,” 2016). Essentially, it would kill the Leicester City phenomenon, and football in Europe would be simplified to a highly magnified focus on a narrow range of clubs.
With that in mind, it will be interesting to see where the talks go from here, and the effect that this will have on the future of European football and the UEFA Champions League.