April 19, 2021

Will a 'Super League' blow up global soccer? Here's what we know after bombshell announcement: The games would be played on weekday nights, essentially replacing the current Champions League, and allowing clubs to remain in their domestic leagues — the Premier League, Serie A, etc.

But that, for several reasons, seems unfeasible.
Commentary with some inside info.

posted by NoMich to soccer at 09:55 AM - 16 comments

Half of what makes the Champions League fun for me is these periodic match-ups between powerhouses that only come about every 3-5 years (or longer). I would assume in this super league that these teams are playing on a yearly basis, which takes some of the excitement of the draw out of the competition. Not to mention the joy of seeing the little club that could knock off one of the global elites.

It's obviously all about money, but soccer has been all about money for a while, and this seems a natural progression. Will be interesting to see if the country-level FAs and UEFA can bring any leverage to bear here via expulsion from domestic leagues, eligibility of players for international tournaments, etc.

Freezing the teams at this snapshot in time also ignores the cyclical nature of success of some of these clubs. Some have the long histories of dominance (Real Madrid, Liverpool, United, Barcelona, Juventus) that you could pluck them out of about any era and they would have been one of the teams. But if you were to go 20 years back, Man City were relegated in 2000-01, PSG (yes, I realize they have not elected yet to join this league) were mid-table mediocrity in Ligue 1, etc. And on current form, Spurs and Arsenal hardly look like European elite. Again, appreciate that it is all about the money, but it's basically taking a snapshot of the richest clubs at this point in time, herding them into a room, and padlocking the door.

posted by holden at 10:52 AM on April 19, 2021

I do not like this, have told LFC so, and most of my official supporters group have said the same. "You'll Never Walk Alone" my ass.

posted by billsaysthis at 11:17 AM on April 19, 2021

I have been searching through some history trying to find some precedent for this. I have come up with 4 obvious times when major US professional sports leagues were threatened with competition. However, in none of these cases did teams threaten to join another league. The obvious cases were the National Football League challenged first by the All-America Football Conference and then by the American Football League; The National Basketball Association versus the American Basketball Association; and finally Major League Baseball facing the Federal Baseball League.

Like the proposed Super League, all of the upstart leagues appear to have been driven by money, but this is unique because it involves teams trying to break out of an established relationship. The AAFC and AFL efforts in football were the result of the NFL denying the opportunity for expansion franchises to the founders of the competing leagues. This was also the case in the ABA-NBA situation as well as the baseball situation. The AFL is the only competing league to gain a nearly complete win of its objectives. The others had only partial success. So if history is any guide, the Super League will be in for a rough time, and full success is unlikely.

If I were an investor in any of the proposed Super League teams, I would be very worried. The possibility of being expelled from one's National professional league or having some players leave in order to maintain eligibility for their country's national team could more than offset any financial gains from the move. This announcement almost seems to be a premature, ill-considered attempt to head off speculation based on leaked information. In any case, I really don't want it to succeed.

posted by Howard_T at 02:50 PM on April 19, 2021

As a long time fan of the beautiful game, one of the things that made it beautiful for me was the very antithesis of American sports. There are few meaningless games towards the end of the season with teams fighting for spots at either end of the table, whether it be for the title or a spot in the Champions League or a team fighting relegation. The romance of the little guy being able to fight through to achieve something special as Leicester did a few seasons ago. This just feels like an Americanization of something that was much better beforehand and hopefully it doesn't come to fruition. This is the first time in 15 years as a Liverpool supporter I'm ashamed to be so.

posted by Ricardo at 07:53 PM on April 19, 2021

Howard: Don't forget the WHA trying to step up against the NHL back in the 1970s. Just like the AFL/ABA, the smaller league eventually was (partially) absorbed into the bigger league.

The dissolution of the minor league baseball system this off-season is SORT OF like this. Instead of this large interconnected system of Rookie/A-/A+/AA/AAA teams, they major league teams sliced off 60% of the teams and pulled them into the official minor league system. The remaining minor league teams have to get by on their own as independents.

posted by grum@work at 09:46 PM on April 19, 2021

So the 20 biggest clubs in Europe all join a new league and 15 are permanently there.

What happens to the reputation of the teams among that protected 15 who regularly become the Sunderland and Fulham?

posted by rcade at 11:54 PM on April 19, 2021

Maybe Crystal Palace will have a chance to win now?

posted by NoMich at 08:24 AM on April 20, 2021

Don't forget the WHA trying to step up against the NHL back in the 1970s

Remember that well. WHA teams were 28-13 vs NHL teams in the 2 years prior to the "merger" in which the WHA teams were forced to give the "big league" NHL teams the majority of the talent on their rosters. If not the result would have been a New England or Quebec vs Winnipeg or Edmonton Stanley Cup in the first year.

posted by cixelsyd at 12:23 PM on April 20, 2021

If six teams get kicked out of the Premier League, I am telling myself this means Sheffield Wednesday won't get relegated.

posted by rcade at 12:29 PM on April 20, 2021

Howard: Don't forget the WHA trying to step up against the NHL

Thanks, grum, I did indeed forget that one. I blame it on old age, but I can't keep using that excuse for much longer. You are correct that the result was the same. The point is that I have found no precedent for teams in leagues that are covered by an overarching organization attempting to form another league that will fall outside that organization. In some ways there is similarity; a rebel group is trying to pressure the existing authority to accept the change. This one does not appear to offer the type of solution that was found in the cases I referenced (as well as grum's addition). It will not end well.

posted by Howard_T at 01:45 PM on April 20, 2021

Welp, that didn't take long: Chelsea looking to unjoin the super league.

posted by NoMich at 02:38 PM on April 20, 2021

Also, Manchester City

posted by NoMich at 04:26 PM on April 20, 2021

Re the EPL teams "leaving" - I always felt the super league idea was largely for the benefit of Real Madrid and Barcelona, who thoroughly dominate (from a revenue perspective) La Liga and seem utterly contemptuous of the smaller clubs and having to share anything with them (and those two clubs already have separate deals around TV and certain other benefits that treat them preferentially vis-a-vis the rank-and-file Spanish clubs). Correspondingly, seemed to me the English teams had a lot less to complain about - yes, they still have to share revenues from league sources such as media rights (albeit also not equally) but they have the richest TV deals in the world and can attract many of the best players.

Other than FOMO, there's always been less of (but not the absence of) a rationale/business case for the English teams to join a super league (well except for Arsenal and Spurs and anyone else of the 6 on the outside looking in for ECL spots on the regular, who would be getting guaranteed money for the competition where they may be looking at Europa League at best based on domestic form).

posted by holden at 06:30 PM on April 20, 2021

Well that folded faster than Superman on laundry day. And it meant the end of Ed Woodward. If it gets rid of the Glazers and Fenway Sports, all the better.

posted by yerfatma at 09:03 AM on April 21, 2021

Holden, that rationale rings true to me. Do you (or anyone) believe that an alternative is plausible wherein La Liga merges with another league or two that similarly have a small number of teams who dominate--such as, say, French Ligue 1 and/or Portuguese Primiera Liga--to create a border-spanning league with a deeper and more competitive top flight that still administers in the same fashion as current leagues (i.e. 20 teams/38 match season and relegation/promotion)?

posted by bender at 11:23 AM on April 21, 2021

I think they're trying to create an alternative to the Champions League as opposed to La Liga. And a better move is to work to make those countries have more than a couple dominant teams. It shouldn't be necessary to cross borders to create a competitive national league.

posted by Ricardo at 04:14 PM on April 21, 2021

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