Super League: Economic, Political, and Human Aspects

The announcement of the intention by twelve clubs to create the Super League, a new European competition with very different criteria from the current ones, has caused a great tumult in the world of football, and very hard clashes between the governing bodies and the teams that want to found an autonomous tournament. Insiders, analysts and fans are engaged in one of the most heated football debates in years now, but the outlines of the project have not yet been exactly defined, and a series of side issues remain pending on which we will probably know more in the next days. However, some of the most relevant and widespread questions that have arisen in the last few hours can be answered.

Why do clubs need more money?
The coronavirus pandemic has worsened a situation that for many teams, both large and small, was already becoming unsustainable. For some time now, the European football system has been based on a busted mechanism: to increase revenues and make their business sustainable, each team must make substantial investments to finish in the top positions of the national championship and thus access the European cups, the most profitable competitions. of the system. In the face of certain investments, however, sustainability remains linked to the sporting result and extremely virtuous financial management: two elements typical of a very small number of teams.

Furthermore, even before the pandemic, the rich contracts for TV rights and sports sponsorships had begun to contract: in fact, all sector studies say that football is a sport especially appreciated by adults and the elderly, and unwelcome to the youngest at least in its current form. The new generations have developed new tastes and habits that are not very compatible with the models to which football was accustomed, due to a long series of factors: because the pool of spectators has expanded to countries of the world with different sports cultures, because the video games of football have concentrated the sporting sympathies of new fans towards a few teams and at the same time they have shifted support from clubs to individual champions, but also because the ever higher prices of subscriptions on TV and stadiums have removed many people from more participatory forms of cheering and faithful.

The crisis of the last year almost blew up the system, which remained standing only because the main European leagues started playing again, and therefore reducing losses, relatively soon. However, the damage remains considerable. According to an estimate cited by Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, in the two-year period 2019-2021 the European football system will have lost revenues of approximately € 6.5 billion.

All 12 founding teams of the Super League are in debt, some more and some less. There are teams that have long since started a rationalization of their expenses to build more solid foundations, but in the face of mediocre sporting results – such as Milan and Arsenal – others that in recent years have become heavily indebted to try to enter and remain at the top of the system, like Tottenham and Inter, still others that for years have been collecting bad investments and sports results that are not up to par, like Barcelona and Chelsea.

According to a calculation by the Gazzetta dello Sport, at the moment the 12 founding teams have debts of around € 7.8 billion. Each of them will get an initial funding of about 400 million euros from the Super League: the New York Times points out that it is more than four times the amount earned in sponsorships and TV rights by the team that won the Champions League last year, that is Bayern Munich.

What happens to the national championships?
It is not yet clear whether the national leagues will accept UEFA’s request to expel the teams participating in the Super League. A Serie A without Juventus, Milan and Inter – and even more a Premier League without the six most followed and famous teams – would have a much lower value than the current one. Corriere della Sera cites an estimate by Serie A CEO Luigi De Siervo that the Super League would result in a 30 to 50 percent drop in revenue for non-involved teams. There is a similar risk even if the richest teams continue to participate in national championships at the same time as the Super League: the latter would probably become their main objective, decreasing their commitment to home championships and lowering their level and general attractiveness.

A couple of days ago there was a meeting of the Lega Serie A described as very tense, in which among other things the president of Turin Urbano Cairo gave the “Judas” to that of Juventus, Andrea Agnelli. During the meeting, Juventus, Milan and Inter reaffirmed that they do not want to abandon the Serie A championship. Many teams have not yet taken a clear position. The biggest issue at stake, for all those who are not involved in the Super League, is that of the revenues for television rights, which have just been sold to DAZN until 2024 for about 840 million euros per year.

Right, what’s up with the TV rights?
If the teams participating in the Super League really came out of the national championships, the holders of the TV rights would ask to renegotiate the contracts downwards: as to the downside, it is not clear exactly. Already today Serie A earns the lowest figure among the five main European leagues: without Juventus, Milan and Inter, which according to an Ipsos analysis alone are supported by 65 percent of Italian football fans, the accounts of the media teams and low rankings may no longer stand up. It does not help that in recent years very few Italian teams have equipped themselves to diversify their income, focusing for example on merchandising, sponsorships, more efficient structures. According to an estimate by Repubblica, television rights represent 40 percent of the annual revenues of Serie A teams.
Is there anyone in favor, apart from the founding teams?

For now practically none: the Super League has been criticized in a compact way by politicians, journalists, professionals, representatives of organized supporters. Even the promise of a “solidarity loan” that the Super League has committed to pay to minor national leagues, youth football and women’s football did not help: 10 billion have been promised for the next 23 years, that is about 434 millions a year. According to Repubblica, there are many more than the 160 million that UEFA allocates each year for similar projects: but evidently few believe that figure to be realistic.

Only a few commentators judged the proposal positively: in Il Sole 24 Ore the journalist Lello Naso put together ten reasons why the Super League would be a good idea, while on the sports magazine The Athletic the tactics expert Michael Cox wrote an article about opinion titled “the European leagues are in pieces, and the Super League may be the only solution”.

Why aren’t Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich there?
Many expected to find among the founding teams of the Super League also the two finalists of the last edition of the Champions League, which for about ten years have dominated their own national championships almost undisputed. At least for the moment they have given up, for different reasons.

The president of PSG, Qatari Nasser al Khelaifi, in addition to sitting on the UEFA board of directors has a discreet conflict of interest: he is the president of the beIN Media Group, which holds the TV rights to broadcast the Champions League in the rich market of the Middle Orient. A possible participation of PSG in the Super League, therefore, would damage the main company of al Khelaifi.

Bayern Munich, on the other hand, motivated his refusal with different reasons. In an interview with Corriere della Sera, its CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge explained that, according to him, the solution to solve the problems of European football is “to reduce costs”: “the road cannot be to collect more and more and pay more and more players and agents. We need to reduce things a bit, not put more on the table. We have exaggerated with the expenses: everyone, without exception. It’s time to play a less arrogant kick».

A source from The Athletic who worked with both teams added that neither team was convinced by the promises of huge revenue made by the Super League leadership.

What do the players think?
For them too it was a good surprise, as well as for the coaches of the teams involved. The Athletic has collected several reactions from Premier League players, almost all anonymously, all very confused.
All the players who have spoken out in public have expressed their opposition to the Super League. Among them also the attacking midfielder of Manchester United and the Portuguese national team Bruno Fernandes, the Spanish midfielder of PSG Ander Herrera, the Brazilian forward of Everton Richarlison. Few of the Serie A players – notoriously reluctant to take a position in public debates – were openly opposed, including Lazio attacking midfielder Luis Alberto and Udinese defender Sebastian De Maio.

The most explicit of all were the players of Leeds, a historic English team that plays in the Premier League this year, who on Monday during the warm-up before a game against Liverpool wore a shirt with the Champions League logo and the inscription “Earn it”.

Paulo Bentu

Non-Resident Fellow

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