Full Disclosure – I do not have any inside information or special scoop; this is all just one person’s conjecture.
Let’s begin with two caveats:
- FIFA and UEFA are two of the most corrupt and greedy “legitimate” organizations ever.
- All Football Club Owners (FCOs) are in ownership for two reasons to win games and/or make as much money as possible. Depending on the FCO and their current situation, the order of those goals can change quite often (sometimes multiple times even within a single season).
This super league situation has been building for the last few years due to a myriad of factors that have created this specific environment. Let’s go through the big factors that led to this. Then I will throw out a conspiracy theory for how it all went down.
The first issue is broadcast rights and fees. Over the last few years, broadcasting fees have risen drastically as European football has truly gone global and the technological advances and streaming services have created new markets everywhere. Broadcast fees have injected a ton of extra money into football clubs across Europe, but nowhere has this been more apparent than the English Premier League. The EPL has historically been one of the most democratic in its distribution of money, this has kept it as typically the most competitive league. It has also historically been a very physical league, which has made it a more attractive league to watch for new viewers of the sport. While technical skill, brilliant tactics, and incredible organization are amazing to see for the purist, a newcomer will love just as much the physical and exciting approach of hoofing it forward and watching big bodies battle for the ball and the end to end action that instills.
These have led to the second issue the creation of a whole new class of European Football Clubs exclusive to the EPL – the EPL mid-table spenders. There has always been a “historically elite” class of clubs across Europe that could outbid their local teams and most other European clubs for talent. Then they were joined by some “new money” clubs backed by oil barons or sovereign funds. This upset the apple cart a little, but the “new money” was limited to just a few squads so the historically elite were able to roll with it albeit with a little irritation. However, when the “EPL mid-table spenders” began to outbid them for talent over the last 4-5 years, the fear of a new world massively grew in these historically elite clubs.
Teams like Juventus, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, AC, and Inter were watching teams like Wolves, Everton, West Ham, and Crystal Palace put in bids of 30, 40, and 50 million Euros for players. While they themselves could not afford to compete. Those teams home leagues had always had the table and the money incentives slanted to keep them at the top, but watching the premier league explode in popularity and spending was a frightening situation.
So factor number 1 was broadcast rights exploding. Factor two was the EPL spending boom which led to factor number 3, which scared historically elite clubs. Having a bunch of scared clubs that are used to getting their way led to volatility.
Factor 4, is a problem that has existed for years. FIFA and UEFA are 100% dependent on the European football clubs to create their product. Elite players are built-in academies across Europe. Elite players are paid and trained and taken care of by football clubs across Europe. The World Cup is the incredible moneymaker it is for FIFA because they do not have to pay players or invest in squads at all. The Champions League and the Euros are such huge moneymakers for UEFA because they do not have to pay players or invest in squads. Clubs and FCOs have to pay players. Clubs are then forced to send players to their national teams with very little input on how they are used or how they are trained. Avoiding a national team call-up for any reason (even to settle into your brand new club and try to fight position – a la Joel Matip) is nearly impossible. National teams ask a lot of players and often send them back to their clubs hurt or tired. FCOs and clubs have watched UEFA and FIFA continue to expand tournaments and leagues and competitions to try to earn the most money they possibly can while showing very little regard to what this does to players. FCOs invest a massive amount into their squad and then see FIFA and EUFA reap the benefits while assuming zero risks and often leaving the FCO a shell of a player that returns from national duty. Factor 4 has been a fight for a long time but money grabs like the EUFA Nations League have really exacerbated the issue.
Factor number 5, is a massive influx of American ownership groups in European clubs. This matters because America’s sporting landscape has never had a pyramid structure in any sport. When you own a team in American, you are stuck in the league the team is in for better or worse. This type of model is not intrinsically better or worse than the European model, but it is quite different. American sports team owners are used to consistent and predictable income from their league and team; Europe’s football leagues do not have guaranteed or predictable income. There is also nothing comparable for American team sports to the regular national team call-ups that happen in football. It typically only happens in Olympic years that American team sports are affected by national teams. This is primarily because there are not historically powerful, greedy, and corrupt international organizations in place to force the sports of American Football, Hockey, Baseball or Basketball into making them money at tournaments and leagues on a regular basis (insert comment here about the NFL, MLB, NHL NBA’s historic power and greed).
Factor number 6 the global pandemic. It cost FCOs a LOT of money to have empty stadiums for the last year-plus. When anywhere from 25-50% of your revenue disappears, it makes accounting really hard! When you combine this with factor 3 now you have a bunch of financially stressed and scared FCOs.
There are hundreds of other factors both large and small that have led to the environment where a Super League proposal could get as far as it did, but these are the big ones. Once the environment was in place, this is my guess for how it all went down (again I have no inside knowledge just spitballing here).
The Italian clubs look at how their league has fallen behind based on their TV rights not being in demand thus not making as much money. They see a difficult financial landscape to where they can no longer compete with the historically elite clubs of the other nations for talent or the EPL mid-table spenders. However, these FCOs are leaders of some of the most historically dominant clubs in history. They have massive fan bases and feel the West Hams and Wolvertons of the world should not be threatening them. In their minds, football fans everywhere would rather see AC vs Liverpool and Juventus vs Man United than Man United vs Southampton or Liverpool vs Crystal Palace, but somehow TV rights for those EPL games keep going up and giving Wolves and the Hammers more money to spend. The Italian clubs start talking to the Spanish clubs, who due to some bad business and poor transfer decisions have financially hamstrung themselves. The Spanish Clubs agree that Real vs Man City and Barca vs Chelsea should be more in demand than Chelsea vs Aston Villa or City vs Everton. They start talking about how everyone loves the knockout stages of the Champions League because that is when all the big fish start to play each other. Why not create a new competition where those games happen much more often.
The Italian and Spanish clubs start talking to the English clubs. The FCOs of those teams reach out to the new American FCOs. They say things like,
- Wouldn’t it be great if there were no risk of missing the Champions League each year, just like how the NFL and NBA is always the same teams?
- Isn’t it terrible that even though the “Big Six” have twice as many fans worldwide than all of the 100 plus other English teams combined, you still have to share so much revenue with them. All while you also risk missing out on European money every year because the revenue you are making for the league goes to make those teams even more competitive?
- Doesn’t it make you mad that FIFA and UEFA keep using our players to make massive amounts of money while we get no benefit but assume all the risk of those players getting hurt?
- Don’t you think your fans would love to see Juve or Barca or Real on the schedule every year? Every European Night would be a BIG European Night.
Now as an FCO you have two goals, to win and make money. You look at this and say, you know, it sure would be nice to have stable, predictable income every year to budget on our team and expenses. It would be awesome to have full stadiums every midweek and be making massive amounts of television money. I am also sure our fans would much rather see us playing AC and Atleti rather than Genk or Zagreb. Our fans would also love regular trips to the San Siro and Camp Nou rather than Brugge or Lille.
You as an FCO see this a way to make more money, which in turn gives you a chance to buy more players and win more games. You will also give fans more, better, bigger games. You look at the risks of EUFA and FIFA being mad, but you control the players after all. You invested in your academy. You invested in those players. You pay their salary and medical bills. UEFA and FIFA are profiting off of you, and it is time you took some of that money back. UEFA and FIFA will not dare risk picking a fight with all of us if we have Real, Barca, Juve, United, etc. Especially considering together we account for approximately 90% of the 100 best players in the world and approximately 50% of all football fans. You sign on because it is a no-brainer. What could ever go wrong?
Epilogue: It all went wrong. The fans didn’t like it. The players and managers were upset none of it was communicated with them. FIFA and UEFA still have more control than expected. An FCO’s two goals are to make money and win games; the best way to do that is to back down and exit the Super League. So, they backed down and exited the Super League.
Epilogue to the epilogue: The FCOs were sort of right. UEFA and FIFA want no part of really punishing them by banning them from European competitions or deducting points. That just might make them mad enough to push harder for the breakaway league next time and could end up with their massive fan bases boycotting the competitions.
So how does this story end – like it always had to; like all football stories have ended since FIFA was formed in 1904 and EUFA was formed in 1954. With FIFA and EUFA making money by issuing massive fines to the clubs involved and expanding their competitions to make even more money and put the players in more peril. By FIFA and UEFA taking more money from the clubs and FCOs so that they can pay outrageous salaries and hold back thousands and thousands of tickets at finals for the directors and their friends and families. All in the name of “competition” and “tradition”