Dr. Paul Widdop Governance Professor Simon Chadwick Super League UEFA

The Super League: “It Has The Potential To Aggressively Compete With The Three Big American Leagues”

April 19, 2021

This past weekend the EFL celebrated its 133rd birthday and then was faced with the following news: “Twelve of Europe’s leading football clubs have come together to announce they have agreed to establish a new mid-week competition, the Super League, governed by its Founding Clubs.”

iSportConnect speaks to Professor Simon Chadwick of EMLYON Business School and Dr. Paul Widdop, Senior Lecturer of Sport Development at Manchester Metropolitan University to get their views on why this development has occurred and what it could mean for football.

AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur have all joined as Founding Clubs. It is anticipated that a further three clubs will join ahead of the inaugural season, which is intended to commence as soon as practicable.

A joint statement by the clubs mentioned: “Going forward, the Founding Clubs look forward to holding discussions with UEFA and FIFA to work together in partnership to deliver the best outcomes for the new League and for football as a whole.”

“Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way.”

However, UEFA, the English Football Association, the Premier League, the Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), LaLiga, the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) and Lega Serie A quickly responded: “If this were to happen, we wish to reiterate that we – UEFA, the English FA, RFEF, FIGC, the Premier League, LaLiga, Lega Serie A, but also FIFA and all our member associations – will remain united in our efforts to stop this cynical project, a project that is founded on the self-interest of a few clubs at a time when society needs solidarity more than ever.

“We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening. Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way.

“As previously announced by FIFA and the six Federations, the clubs concerned will be banned from playing in any other competition at domestic, European or world level, and their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams.”

“Globalisation has changed the balance of economic power across the world and this is significant in terms of both revenues and money going into football and also in the way football is consumed.” – Simon Chadwick

In a letter to UEFA and FIFA, seen by the PA news agency, the Super League replied: “We are concerned that Fifa and Uefa may respond to this invitation letter by seeking to take punitive measures to exclude any participating club or player from their respective competitions.

“We hope that is not your response to this letter and that, like us, your organisations will recognise the immediate benefits of the competition established by SLCo. We also seek your co-operation and support on how the competition can be brought within the football ecosystem and work with us to achieve that objective.

“Your formal statement does, however, compel us to take protective steps to secure ourselves against such an adverse reaction, which would not only jeopardise the funding commitment under the grant but, significantly, would be unlawful. For this reason, SLCo has filed a motion before the relevant courts in order to ensure the seamless establishment and operation of the competition in accordance with applicable laws.”

Professor Simon Chadwick of EMLYON Business School, shared his opinion on the development with iSportConnect, saying: “I have been expecting this for some time. Last year in October when Josep Maria Bartomeu resigned as FC Barcelona president, he openly talked about the league. Globalisation has changed the balance of economic power across the world and this is significant in terms of both revenues and money going into football and also in the way football is consumed. There have been big changes in digital technology compared to April 2007, when the last time Super League was discussed. Since then we have seen the emergence of media and OTT platforms.

“There are couple of scenarios that spring to mind, neither are good for football in England.” – Dr. Paul Widdop

We also know the likes of Netflix are influencing the way people are consuming their audio-visual content. Since 2007, we have seen influx of money from the Gulf, China and more recently from the United States. So the talk of formation of Super League is not a surprise but you have to balance all of this against the discussions taking place around UEFA’s proposals for the Champions League and UEFA obviously is in a very difficult position in a sense that it clearly needs to keep its big clubs happy and the big leagues happy because they are the entities that generate the most money from TV deals, sponsorships, etc…

“At the same time it is a representative organisation which represents Poland, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland etc. So UEFA always walks a fine line between favouring a few and favouring many. And the Super League story is much about top clubs putting pressure on UEFA to favour them rather than the many.”

Dr. Paul Widdop, Senior Lecturer of Sport Development at Manchester Metropolitan University, co-founder of the Football Collective and research editor at Connect Sport, also spoke to iSportConnect on the announcement.

Asked where this potential commercial powerhouse could rank in the world of sport, he said: “I think it has the potential to aggressively compete with the three big American leagues (the NFL, MLB and NBA). There are many commentators reporting that the Super League would be boring and lack interest. I don’t agree with that, I think there is a market for this approach, and whilst the culture between European and American sports league are different, there is value for these clubs to pursue this type of closed agreement. Inevitably there will be a major backlash from sections of fans and supporter groups across Europe. But I think what many forget is that these are global clubs in global cities with global fan bases with varying needs, desires and wants.”

As to what will be the impact it will have on league football at the League level below the Premier League in England, he added: “There are couple of scenarios that spring to mind, neither are good for football in England.

“Firstly, let’s say the EPL suspend these clubs from the competition, then they are devaluing the brand of the EPL and ultimately will inevitably see a rewriting of the current broadcasting contracts, which are now an essential source of income. However, those who bang the drum of competitive balance will be happier as they will through the back door get a league that is less unequal.

“Secondly, if these clubs are allowed to break away to form a mid-week super league and allowed to continue in domestic competition, there will be a huge competitive advantage given the figures being talked about in the Super League, and competition will be effectively removed, not to mention the huge growth in inequality. Any structural change to a system has the potential to cause a cascading effect, by that I mean if resources and revenue started shrinking at the elite level this will have a devastating cascading effect on money and resources flowing through the system, and teams would find it very difficult to remain afloat. But we have been sleepwalking to this scenario since the early 1990’s, building a model of football built on principles of neo-liberalism.”

As details continue to emerge on this Super League it will be of great interest to see the continued reaction from fans, who appear strongly opposed to these changes, could turn the tide on the Super League. It seems we are at the tip of the iceberg.

Dr. Paul Widdop Governance Professor Simon Chadwick Super League UEFA