How Super Is the Super League?

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Issue 5, Volume 111

By Vernon Hughes 

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The Super Bowl is easily the most-watched sporting event in the United States. That statement does not hold true when applied to a world stage; with a mere 100 million viewers worldwide, it does not even come close to the estimated 380 million worldwide viewers who watched the 2018 UEFA Champions League Final. The UEFA Champions League, formerly known as the European Cup, has served as European club soccer’s most prestigious competition since its inception in 1955. Yet it might soon be entirely replaced as talk of a reformed Champions League has been in the air for a couple of years now. Recently, reports have surfaced over a plan for a “European Super League,” which would see fewer, more selective teams compete in a completely revamped format. But, what does this plan entail, and how has it been received by various parties?

The European Super League is set to bring the biggest and best clubs to play each other in an American-style format (a regular, round-robin season with playoffs). JPMorgan Chase & Co. plans to fund the competition by investing around six billion dollars. English Premier League teams Liverpool FC and Manchester United have been heavily involved in discussions to start the Super League after their recent proposal to shrink the Premier League to 18 teams failed. They have set their sights on starting the competition in 2022. The proposed plan suggests that either 16 or 18 teams will be given entry to the competition. These would include the top sides from Spain, England, Germany, Italy, and France, such as FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, FC Bayern Munich, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain, and others. The teams will play against each other in a round-robin format, playing home and away games against each side. The eight teams with the most points (three for a win, one for a tie, and zero for a loss) would then compete in the playoffs, inspired by the US sports model for basketball, football, and soccer.

One problem with the plan thus far is managing scheduling between the Super League and other competitions. With 18 teams, each squad would play 34 games before the playoffs even start. To put this in perspective, teams that go all the way to the Champions League Final must only play 13 games. This could spell trouble for domestic leagues and cup competitions, as most leagues range between 34 and 38 games. Domestic cup competitions—the FA Cup in England, Copa del Rey in Spain, DFB-Pokal in Germany, and others—might also be entirely scrapped to avoid over-scheduling.

Though the European Super League is widely anticipated among fans who would love to see heavyweight clubs compete more often, the news has not been as well-received by officials. The UEFA, which governs European soccer, has publicly criticized the competition, and its lack of approval has stalled talks. According to Goal, the world’s largest online soccer publication, UEFA president Aleksandar Ceferin has openly called it “one of the most boring projects in the world.” He also said, “It’s not a serious discussion. [T]hese kinds of ideas would kill football.”

One reason for the competition would be the massive financial gains clubs would get from viewership and a base fee provided by JP Morgan. However, Javier Tebas, the head of La Liga, has offered an alternative view. Goal reports him saying, “a project of this type will mean serious economic damage to the organizers themselves and to those entities that finance it, if they exist because they’re never official. These ‘underground’ projects only look good when drafted at a bar at five in the morning.” On the other hand, FIFA may be backing the competition, even if UEFA is fully skeptical.

Club presidents and managers have also voiced their opinions on the league—the most revealing coming from former Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu. Bartomeu resigned from the Barcelona presidency on October 28, 2020 and was subsequently open to answering questions about the league. Regarding Barcelona’s involvement in the competition, CNN reports that he said, “The Board of Directors approved the acceptance of the requirements to participate in a future European Super League, a project promoted by the big clubs in Europe.” Barcelona has agreed to participate if plans proceed, indicating that the team is further in agreement than previously thought.

There are two sharply contrasting views on the European Super League. Some believe the prospect of seeing the best clubs compete and the profits resulting from the league are great reasons to promote it. Meanwhile, others think it will not be an improvement compared to the current Champions League format and will decrease the rarity of big clubs facing each other, thus making the games less exciting. Plans and reports will continue to surface in the coming weeks, and definitive decisions will be made eventually, likely through a vote. For now, with no general consensus thus far, people can only continue to imagine what a new European Super League would look like—and if it’s even worth it.