April 22, 2021

Super League

On Sunday, “International soccer was rocked by the announcement that 12 of the world’s biggest teams were breaking away from the UEFA Champions League structure to form their own super league, designed to run in direct competition with the sport’s biggest international competition outside of the World Cup… The new league [would] manage its own finances, pay clubs drastically more than they are currently making in the Champions League, and give them more autonomy over their direction.” SB Nation

The European Super League collapsed on Wednesday as eight of the 12 founding members from England, Italy and Spain abandoned the breakaway project under massive pressure from fans, politicians, soccer officials and even the British royals.” Reuters

See past issues

From the Left

The left celebrates the league’s failure and criticizes the power of billionaire owners over European soccer.

“How did such an idea spark so much passion and backlash? After all, who wouldn’t want to see the most prominent clubs play each other regularly? And how did the Super League fall apart so quickly? Consider this admittedly imperfect analogy: Imagine if the 12 richest NBA teams decided to form their own playoffs, regardless of how they performed during the regular season and without the league’s approval. That wouldn’t be fair to poorer teams who might’ve earned a playoff spot, and also goes against how NBA fans expect things to run. That’s kind of what happened here.”
Alex Ward, Vox

“This venal, self-serving plan has not come out of the blue. Ever since England’s Premier League was formed in 1992 – itself the result of an elite breakaway – laissez-faire ownership rules, spiralling player salaries and booming broadcasting fees have distorted competition and corrupted the values of the game. The top clubs have become rapacious, profiteering institutions. From inconvenient kick-off times to ramped-up ticket prices, supporters have paid the price, their interests often being treated with flagrant disregard…

“In a way that the promoters of this schism failed to take into account, the year of Covid has foregrounded the protective obligations of national authorities and fostered a sense of civic solidarity at odds with unfettered market values. In plotting a way forward, the [British] culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, should learn from the example of Germany, where elite clubs are majority-controlled by their fans and thus protected from exploitative owners. Not one German team has signed up to the new Super League…

“After decades of money-grabbing at the top of the game, a new settlement for football is indeed required. But it is not the one envisaged by [Manchester United owner] Joel Glazer and his unscrupulous allies.”
Editorial Board, The Guardian

“Today almost every English Premier League club is controlled or co-owned by as many as 19 billionaires from 10 countries. In Italy, AC Milan is controlled by Elliot Management, a U.S. hedge fund best known for buying distressed sovereign debt. In France, Paris Saint-Germain is controlled by an investment vehicle owned by Qatar. Each has his own reason to buy a club, whether that’s reputation laundering or, in the case of soccer’s American billionaire owners, the pursuit of profit…

“Whichever country an owner comes from, all now agree that an American-style rationalization of the business — and the European Super League is the biggest manifestation of their approach so far — would yield the best returns. The fans, of course, come last in all this.”
James Montague, New York Times

“[This] must be an opening salvo in a movement to wrest control of football out of the hands of greedy suits and back into those of the fans. Without real change, those cheering for the collapse of the Super League are toasting a return to a grim status quo where fans are priced out of matches, rich clubs hoard resources at the expense of both smaller ones and competitive integrity, and football is largely a marketing mechanism and means for billionaires and oil states to launder money…

“This is an opportunity to demonstrate that not only is the brazen greed of a proposal like the ESL unacceptable, but the conditions that created it must be destroyed… Fan ownership would certainly be a start… But it cannot alone hold back commercialization. Instead, fan ownership should be seen as a framework in which bottom-up, democratic soccer can flourish.”
Dave Braneck, Jacobin Magazine

From the Right

The right generally celebrates the league’s failure and highlights the symbolic value of European soccer teams.

The right generally celebrates the league’s failure and highlights the symbolic value of European soccer teams.

“As brazen as the Super League plans may have been, they were totally in line with the globalizing trajectory of the world economy. The systematic replacement of local, regional, and national businesses with huge multinational conglomerates has been proceeding apace for some time. Local bookshops and regional chains unnumbered have fallen before the Bezos blitzkrieg of Amazon packages, landing on doorsteps around the globe with unmatched speed, efficiency, and affordability; countless diners and mom-and-pop restaurants have been laid low by the newest Panera or Applebee’s franchise; and thousands of local newspapers have foundered on the rocks of the digital age…

“As consumers, we seem to be fine with all of this. No one forced us to forsake our local bookseller, the café on the corner, the morning paper in the driveway. We’ve been happy to sacrifice our old allegiances. Fascinatingly, public reaction to the Super League has bucked this trend spectacularly…

“This should teach us a lot about the way that globalization works. Many of a localist or nationalist anti-globalization bent want to use state power to arrest the deracinating effects of the modern economy. But if the Super League saga teaches us anything, it’s that we are quite able to turn the tide of economic globalization whenever we please without any assistance from the government. That we choose not to is a testament to the fact that most businesses we patronize have no symbolic value for us. They simply meet our particular needs, and we’re happy to patronize others if they meet our needs more effectively.”
Cameron Hilditch, National Review

Unlike in American sports, European soccer clubs are “rooted in neighborhoods and communities rather than cities. They are often the descendants of sporting clubs that served local factory workers as outlets for them to blow off some steam. Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen, for example, began with workers of the world-famous Bayer. Even today, fans must become dues-paying members of the club to buy tickets. History ties European teams to a specific set of people much more closely than any U.S. arrangement (other than the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, which is the only major U.S. sports team owned by the fans rather than a rich person or corporation)…

Owners are often seen as ‘trustees’ of the club and owe some duty to the fan base — especially to the dues-paying fan base. This is akin to a ‘stakeholder capitalism’ model, which argues that decisions about a firm’s management must consider the interests of all investors, not just the owners… The rich owners of the proposed European league wanted to do away with this.”
Henry Olsen, Washington Post

Some argue, “The collective gasp of outrage – led by [British] Prime Minister Boris Johnson – at the decision of a few wealthy clubs around Europe to announce the creation of a European Super League is either naive or hypocritical… The idea that professional football is some kind of social enterprise owned and run by fans and communities might have been true 100 years ago, but in recent decades it has been a rapacious, commercial enterprise motivated mostly by money…

“As someone who has spent almost 40 years chronicling the onward march of corporate capitalism, it is quite difficult to see why the cartelisation of football should be what jolts our political leaders to man the barricades, when they have shown themselves unwilling in any serious way to challenge the far more economically and socially significant cartels in the digital economy and global finance.”
Robert Peston, Spectator USA

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