The world of international soccer has been in a frenzy following the April 18 press release by 12 of Europe’s leading football clubs announcing a new Super League. From protests from fans to apologies from billionaire owners to preparations for sanctions from governing bodies such as UEFA and FIFA, football is still dealing with the fallout from the league’s failure.
The controversy of this failed Super League lies in its format. The breakaway league would have consisted of 15 founding clubs — including powerful EPL clubs such as Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool — and five other teams that would qualify to compete in the league every year. The 15 founding clubs would be permanent members, even though some, including Arsenal, did not even qualify for this season’s Champions League.
In the current format of European football, clubs qualify for competition based on their performance in past seasons. The Super League would ensure that these 12 name-brand teams would not be obligated to compete with smaller riffraff clubs for a spot in the Champions League. In short, the League would have profoundly altered European soccer, taking away the remote but fundamental component of competitive chance.
To understand this seemingly random Super League proposal, follow the money. According to a press release from the founding clubs, the new tournament would have provided “greater economic growth.” Translation: 12 of Europe’s biggest – and richest – clubs plotted to break away in an attempt to exponentially increase commercial revenue by centralizing television contracts, merchandise and other branding opportunities.
These financial motivations explain football fans’ angry reactions to the prospect. Chelsea FC, for instance, owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, is already one of the wealthiest soccer teams in the world. In a public statement, the Chelsea Supporters Trust called its push to be in the Super League the “ultimate betrayal.” A resounding number of fans vowed to never attend Super League games if the tournament went forward.
One lifelong Manchester United fan, Jere Virtanen, articulated how the patience of loyal fans is being tested as the influence of billionaire owners grows.
“The Manchester United Football Club I’m supporting would not join this kind of elite circle,” Virtanen said. “I just hope the decision makers would start understanding what football really means to us fans. Our boundaries and tolerance have been constantly stretched as the sport has become more commercialized year after year. I think now we are reaching the limits big time.”
While big-time soccer has had its fair share of drama — scandal is routine, and the Premier League itself was a disruptive act when it was founded — whoever thought the Super League was a good idea was seriously mistaken. Unlike the closed league structure of America’s franchise system, in which there are a set number of teams that compete in the MLS, the excitement of the Champions League is integral to European soccer. The structure allows teams to compete for a spot in the league, which makes lower-level competition more exciting to watch. Beyond that, clubs are built into the history and culture of their cities; fans were never going to shrug and accept the Americanization of their beloved sport.
The Super League’s agreement was also contingent upon securing the UEFA’s blessing — which was never going to happen. In retrospect, given the Super League has been such a spectacular controversy, the drama feels avoidable.
For the American sports fan, this is a foreign event. Americans spend $15 on a stadium drink, watch as the Houston Oilers become the Tennessee Titans and tune into Thursday Night Football. In the U.S., Americans have grown accustomed to money defining sports. If the Super League has taught us anything, it is European football fans are not ready to accept the same status quo. And what a beautiful thing that is.
Demi Pappas is a first-year in the McDonough School of Business. Between the Goalposts appears online every other week.