European football, as it stands, is at a war on who controls the biggest continental football enterprise. The new UEFA ‘Swiss Model’ was the talk of European football until something surprised them, an elitist approach to football that is somewhat identical to the big three notions in cricket.
On April 18, news broke of a new competition named ‘The European Super League’ or ESL. It is a breakaway midweek league competition of the European ‘elites,’ for the European ‘elites,’ and by the European ‘elites.’ Oddly, something that is so Europe-centric reeks of a profit scheme for the rich.
The ESL has been founded by 12 of Europe’s leading clubs with the idea of having 15 permanent members. The league will consist of 20 teams where five teams will be selected upon performance.
The founding and agreeing 12 clubs comprise the ‘big six’ from the Premier League – Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Tottenham, and Arsenal – along with ‘big three’ from Spanish league – Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid, and Juventus, AC Milan, and Inter Milan from Serie A in Italy.
As the announcement came to light, the 12 founders were expecting three other clubs namely Bayern, Leipzig, and PSG, all of which have disapproved of such a breakaway league.
The ESL is a smart move from a business point of view. Let’s understand why. Teams participating in the ESL are estimated to share 3.5 billion euros amongst 15 teams. Reports have also highlighted that each participating team would get around US$400 million only for participating, which is quadruple of what a UEFA Champions League winner gets.
JP Morgan, the American investment bank, is said to use debt financing to fund the league setting it against future broadcast revenue. The founding clubs know that their brands have a global pool. Hence, pooling together would help them rack up lucrative sponsorship deals and sell the broadcasting rights at an all-time high price.
At the end of the day, the founder may claim that they are catering to the demand for more quality football, but in reality, it is all about money. The founding clubs also need not care about losing sponsorship money over not qualifying for Europe, since they will be in a league of their own, with the elites themselves.
Questions now may arise as to what exactly makes the clubs elite as teams such as Arsenal, which can’t even secure a UCL spot, and Tottenham, which has only two cup trophies in their whole history, have been included. What is common between the six big teams from England is that they need not care about domestic performance at all as the stake of European competition has been made null and void.
The timing of it also can be dubbed genius. The European football economic model has been hit hard with the pandemic. Fans are absent from stadiums and match-day revenues have plummeted. It has affected clubs of all sizes and stature. UEFA revenue has stopped since the pandemic hit and with the proposed model, clubs wanted a bigger bite of the money pie.
Since fans have been absent and the top clubs have had pivoting deals to bring in revenue, the move makes sense. They have the best players, the best facilities, and sparring against the best will only mean more viewers and broadcasting money. These founding clubs have gone to the extent of 23 years of commitment to ensure a 10 billion pound solidarity payment.
By forming a league of their own, the clubs are not only getting richer but hindering any other prospective club in doing so. Take, for example, Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest, two small clubs as of now, which are one and two-time European Cup (UCL) winners respectively with multiple English titles. Had there been a league entirely to the elites of that generation, there would be no Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal domination.
The broadcasting money from the domestic leagues such as Premier League itself trickles down to the lower divisions allowing clubs to develop each year. Now, if the clubs with the biggest pull are suddenly out of domestic and European competitions, a big chunk of that revenue is gone. The elites know this and hence have plotted a move for forming such a league. This can be dubbed as the first step towards establishing an oligopoly.
The UEFA and relevant domestic footballing authorities such as the FA, the Royal Spanish Football Federation, and the Italian Football Federation have announced that the Super League teams will be banned from all domestic and European competitions.
Alexander Ceferin, president of the UEFA, has declared that players of the Super League clubs will not be able to participate in the Euro 2020 and will be banned from representing their nations. So, why is the UEFA taking such a strict decision and how exactly does the ESL damage the football scenario?
First of all, ESL corners broadcasting viewership, meaning fans will either have to choose between watching traditional domestic leagues without the big players or see the ESL ties of the elites.
Secondly, it limits the development of grassroots football. In essence, players only from the academies of these 12 clubs will play in the most elite format of the game. There will be no more stories of a lanky kid in Madeira, making his way onto the very top. Even players from non-ESL teams will face difficulty establishing their worth and calibre as professionals to play for the elites.
Lastly, players, even if they have to play, may need to give up their national team allegiance. It will lead to toxic segregation among players who have followed the money and those who have followed their nationalities.
Grabbing almost the entirety of global viewership, the top 12 founders essentially will be filling their pockets and drying out the lesser-known teams. There will be no point in a top-four battle as an elite team may sit at 10th and still go on to attract better players and better money. So, whatever happens, it will have changed the football world forever. For better or for worse, it is too soon to tell.
Naveed Ashfaque is a student of Marketing at BUP.