Elite football? Elite money? Or both?

By Ahmad Jabr

News of top football teams in Europe forming their own breakaway league has rocked the sports world. The widespread condemnation of the move has led many to question the motives behind it, since most of these teams already participate in the world’s richest football club competition – the Champions League, in addition to domestic tournaments that are followed with much fanfare around the world.

It does not need an expert to understand that this move is primarily motivated by money. Currently, all the revenue that the Champions League and domestic leagues generate from TV right deals, sponsors, ticket sales, etc is distributed among participating teams. The major clubs have always argued that the current system puts them at a disadvantage as the revenues are barely enough to cover their expenses, which are significantly higher than other teams, despite contributing to the majority of the money that is made, since fans around the world pay to watch them play.

Therefore, they must have figured out that they can create an ‘exclusive elite club’ where they are guaranteed to take advantage of all the funds they believe they mainly help generate. And while they haven’t said they’re breaking away from domestic tournaments, their plan could effectively spell doom to the leagues that are already struggling financially and were hit hard by the pandemic.

The idea of creating a super league of top football clubs in Europe has been discussed since the 1990s. Under the Super League proposals for a 20-team competition, the 15 founder members would be protected from relegation, guaranteeing revenue streams from television rights deals and commercial sponsorship from regular matches between the European elite.

This system is very similar to how major sports are run in the United States, and has led many to believe that the owners of the clubs behind the Super League want to create a competition that follows the American sports system under the belief that it is the best model to maximize profit.

In the US, there’s only one major league for each sport, where a maximum of 32 teams compete. This guarantees a high level of competition combined with more revenue for each club. It seems that the owners of the top European football clubs are seeking to follow a similar model with the Super League – a competition where teams compete every year without having to qualify or face relegation, giving certainty to investors and sponsors.

But where does this leave the other clubs? Historically speaking, most major US sports leagues were created from mergers, whereby the ‘elite’ teams ultimately thrived and the less fortunate ones eventually perished. In some sports, mergers to create ‘super leagues’ in America led to the demise of entire leagues that held major status at the time (see the American Basketball Association, or ABA for short). This isn’t good news for domestic leagues, nor is it for fans of smaller clubs whose teams will be left facing an uncertain future.

If it goes ahead as planned, the only real winners would probably be the 20 clubs forming the Super League (and to some extent, their fans). Its success could also determine whether club football finally manages to surpass international competitions in terms of popularity, competitive level, and perhaps more importantly, revenue.

This seems like a wild idea to think about as of now, but considering how a league like the NBA has become the most important and profitable basketball competition not only in its home country but also around the world, there is a possibility that a tournament pitting elite football teams against each other could one day become the most popular in the home of the sport and globally, and surpass the popularity of tournaments like the UEFA European Championship (or who knows, even the World Cup), the way the Champions League never could.

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