World football is about to change forever, and the consequences will impact billions in revenue, the Champions League, and even the World Cup.
UPDATE 4/20: Following widespread backlash, the Super League has been suspended.
Today, the sporting world stands at a crossroads. The most popular clubs in the planet’s most popular game are poised to forge a new world order: The European Super League, a new club soccer competition whose impact on the Beautiful Game promises to land somewhere between disruption and destruction.
A dozen clubs from England, Italy, and Spain have agreed to serve as founding members in the creation of the Super League, including Manchester United, Liverpool, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus, and AC Milan. The plan is to add three more Founding Clubs and five non-founders to begin play in a 20-team ESL campaign soon as 2022.
Given the UEFA Champions League’s singular status as the richest, most prestigious club competition in world football, the Super League comes with far-reaching consequences in both sporting and economic terms — but the club game isn’t the only one that stands to be affected.
With that in mind, let’s establish the four biggest details fans should take away from the weekend’s seismic news.
4. It’s All About the Billions
From brand sponsorships to gate receipts to television contracts reaching every corner of the world, the UEFA Champions League is the biggest club competition in global sports. Even one year of revenue-sharing among qualifying clubs is a game-changer for any bottom line — such is the power of a tournament whose final boasts TV ratings that make the Super Bowl’s look quaint.
The Super League aims to concentrate the wealth even more exclusively. And to hear one Premier League executive tell it, that’s the whole point:
With JP Morgan financing the liftoff of this stunning experiment, the Founding Clubs stand to benefit in short order. In their official statement, they suggested that they’ll share upwards of $12 billion in “solidarity payments” over the league’s initial commitment period, with about $4 billion dedicated specifically to “infrastructure investment plans and to offset the impact of the COVID pandemic.”
Small and mid-level clubs will be under immediate threat with no access to even the tiniest piece of the Super League pie. But even big clubs that aren’t invited into the competition, including some of the very best, most historically successful, and widely supported in the world, will be left with few options at a time in which soccer still has a long way to go to recover from the setbacks and shortfalls of the coronavirus era.
3. Bayern Munich and PSG Aren’t Coming to the Party
Last year’s Champions League winner? That would be Bayern Munich, arguably the single best club side in the world year in, year out. And they reportedly rejected the Super League’s invitation altogether, a sentiment supported and shared by the rest of Germany’s Bundesliga.
The same goes for Paris Saint-Germain, far and away the best team in France and one of the last four remaining in the current 2020-21 UEFA Champions League field. Sporting two of the most talented, most popular players in the world in Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, it’s hard to fathom crowning any manner of European champion without PSG involved.
2. Fans, Players, and Pundits Don’t Want it
Take it away, Gary Neville.
A former Manchester United and England fullback, Gary Neville’s impassioned words on Sky Sports over the weekend captured the disappointment and anger countless fans, commentators, and former players felt upon the official confirmation of the European Super League plans.
Think about what it means for a Manchester United icon to call out his own club.
And then think about the fact that he’s far from the only one to do so without hesitation.
A joke. An embarrassment. Disgusting. A disgrace. So many of those with the most profound kind of love for the game are shocked to the core about what this parting of the ways could mean for world football. They see a cash grab at the expense of all other considerations, and whether or not this ends up being the correct reading of the breakaway Super League’s formulation in the long term, mending fences and reestablishing good faith could take a generation or more.
1. Players Will Face Massive Consequences
So, what does this mean for active players? Well, suffice to say that both FIFA and UEFA are not happy about a renegade competition that stands to make billions upon billions without their help. And with that in mind, the two most powerful governing bodies for the global game are prepared to lay down the law.
The early world from FIFA and UEFA is that they absolutely intend to ban any player or team from their own competitions that participates in the European Super League. That means the Champions League, Club World Cup, the European Championship, and the FIFA World Cup, the biggest sporting event on planet earth.
Players will literally be forced to choose between club and country.
With the men’s FIFA World Cup still more than a year away, the timing could perhaps be worse for this ESL bombshell. But the rescheduled EURO 2020 tournament is coming this summer, and given the revenue shortfalls of the COVID era, a rip-roaringly successful event is a must.
To say nothing of the fact that it’s almost certainly the last European Championship slated to feature Cristiano Ronaldo, who will be 39 by the time EURO 2024 rolls around.
Given soccer’s unmatched global scale and the rogue’s gallery of stakeholders that inevitably comes with it, the far-reaching impact of the Super League announcement is not yet readily comprehensible. But we know loud and clear even at this earliest of stages that the game will never be the same again.
And whatever form world football ends up taking in the years to come, it’s increasingly less likely that it does so in a way that places the fans and the players first.