It Was Over Before It Began

It Was Over Before It Began

Ryan Lally

Much to the delight of most soccer fans in Europe, it was announced on Tuesday that the idea of the Super League had collapsed. What was this idea, and what did it potentially mean for the future of professional soccer? While it did not end up changing the landscape of European sports, the mere idea of the Super League could have an impact on the industry in years to come.  

In recent weeks, it was announced that 12 European professional soccer clubs had agreed to separate from their respective leagues, which are all part of the Union of European Football Associations, and to form their own league: The Super League. This group was composed of some of the wealthiest and most profitable clubs in the world, and its separation from the organization which has held a monopoly on regulation of professional European soccer since 1954 posed a severe threat to the profitability of soccer everywhere. The separatist clubs included Spanish superpowers Real Madrid and Barcelona, Italian club AC Milan, Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, and perhaps most significantly, all 6 of the 6 major clubs of the English Premier League. Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Tottenham Hotspur have historically accounted for nearly 60% of the revenue of the EPL, the most profitable league in the world. So, their separation and collaboration with the other giants of European soccer would be catastrophic for the financial future of sports. Interestingly enough, teams such as Paris Saint-Germain and FC Bayern Munich were not included in the proposal, and have expressed their dissent towards the formation of such a league. Nasser Al-Khelafi, head of Qatar Sports, which owns PSG, said “We believe that any proposal without the support of UEFA — an organization that has been working to progress the interests of European football for nearly 70 years — does not resolve the issues currently facing the football community, but is instead driven by self-interest.”  

Aside from the financial ramifications of separating from UEFA, the potential of a Super League posed a threat to the enjoyment of fans everywhere. UEFA declared that any players agreeing to play in the Super League would be banned from international competition, as well as any UEFA competition in the future. This means that the biggest stars in the world of soccer would not be allowed to participate in events such as the 2022 World Cup, which brings the entire world together every four years in mutual enjoyment. The quality of soccer would decline somewhat, but fans’ engagement in such soccer would plummet, just as it did for hockey fans  when the Olympic teams were not allowed to use professional players.  

The proposal sparked outrage among fans for the above reasons. Fans would lose the chance to see their heroes represent their respective countries. Fans would lose much of the traditional pride of cheering for the best team in their nation. Loyal fans of smaller clubs would not only eventually lose some of the quality of soccer due to financial decline, but they would also lose the chance to see the world’s most historic teams travel to their hometowns and to cheer on their beloved underdog team against the world powers. Not to mention, the UEFA Champions League already exists. In this tournament, the best teams from each European league square off for the chance to gain worldwide respect and recognition. Therefore, the formation of a Super League could not be motivated by a desire for fierce competition or recognition, for all of the involved teams already have that opportunity. The proposal could only have been motivated by the financial interests of the clubs, at the expense of the enjoyment of many.

But luckily, democracy seems to have prevailed. Fans of every kind took to the streets of Europe in protest of the Super League. Their voices were heard, and the owners of each of the 12 clubs got cold feet and backed out of the deal. Principal owner of Liverpool John W. Henry had this to say in an online address: “I want to apologize to all the fans and supporters of Liverpool Football Club for the disruption I caused over the past 48 hours. It goes without saying but should be said that the project put forward was never going to stand without the support of the fans. No-one ever thought differently in England. Over these 48 hours, you were very clear that it would not stand. We heard you. I heard you.”  So, effectively, nothing happened. All is normal in the world of soccer due to the heard demands of thousands of fans. But perhaps this should serve as a warning, and inspire organizations such as UEFA to take preventative measures against such separation, thus ensuring that the integrity of a sport is minimally compromised by financial motives.