Almanac Soccer: A Super League For Football



Braham Dabscheck is one of the world’s leading researchers, thinkers and analysts in all matters pertaining to the practice of professional sport. Since the early 1970s he has kept a critic’s eye on the relationship between owners, leagues and players. He responded quickly to the prospect of a breakaway football league in Europe, penning this article,conly to find things had changed overnight as a result of various pressures. I encouraged him to publish this piece anyway, and he obviously agreed. We’re also interested in your thoughts – leave a comment if you are inclined.  (JTH)



A Super League For Football


By Braham Dabscheck



Shock horror, the end of the world is nigh. Top European football clubs have announced their intention to form a European Super League independent of UEFA and FIFA. Foundation clubs (Manchester United, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan, plus three other yet to be determined ‘permanents’ and five floating clubs) have been promised €3.5 billion in infrastructure investment and in excess of €10 billion in the ‘initial commitment period of clubs’. Except for the five ‘floaters’, this Super Football League would be a fixed or closed competition, rather than places being determined by success in domestic leagues, as has traditionally been the case in European football. It is also mooted that a similar Super League will be created for female players.


The proposal has been denounced by officials – club, league, EUFA and FIFA – and fans as being based on ‘pure greed’ and ignoring the traditions of football. Statements have been made about the need to ban these renegade clubs from competitions, relegate them to lower leagues and ban players from being selected in national teams.


Can we make sense of what is happening? It should be pointed out that the formation of rival leagues has been a staple of sport since the advent of professionalism. Rival leagues have formed in all of America’s major league sports – baseball, basketball, football, hockey. World cricket was wracked by the advent of World Series Cricket in 1977 when Australian media magnate Kerry Packer created his own competition for Channel 9. Indian Cricket also experienced a battle between rival leagues with the advent of a regular Twenty20 domestic competition. In 1995, another media mogul in the form of New Limited’s Rupert Murdoch, initiated a major war with Rugby League with the creation of Super League. We might also recall in England, the Football Association’s formation of the Premier League which diminished the historic role and importance of the Football League.


As a general rule, the organisation with the deepest pockets invariably wins these wars. It either beats off its rival or absorbs it in a merger; with the weaker/losing side being dealt the worst cards. What is noteworthy about league wars is that they are driven by the lure of higher revenues beckoning from technological advances associated with broadcasting and product delivery. The backers of the Super Football League want to capitalise on the global interest in the leading clubs – brands – of European football. There is more revenue to be obtained from these top teams playing each other in regular competition than them turning out against a lower level team where star players may be injured, reducing their potency and longevity.


A criticism against the Super Football League is that it will reduce the income and ability of other clubs in domestic competitions to compete. The EUFA Champions League already has this effect. This table shows the distribution of prize money for the UEFA Champions League.




Such income substantially increases the income of ‘qualifying’ clubs and distorts the distribution of income in domestic competitions creating situations where a handful of clubs consistently dominate domestic competitions. Juventus, for example have been champions of Serie A 36 times, including the last 9 seasons; Bayern Munich champions of the Bundesliga 30 times, including the last 8 seasons; Paris Saint Germain have won the last 7 titles of Ligue 1; Barcelona – 10 – and Real Madrid – 5 – have won 15 of the last 16 La Liga titles; and Manchester United 13 of 28 titles in the English Premier League. The only way clubs can break this cycle is by the injection of funds by an outside billionaire, as occurred with Chelsea and Manchester City.


Also, assuming that in the advent of a Super Football League, UEFA maintains its supra European competitions, does the fact that twenty clubs have decided to not compete create ‘space’ and the prospect of higher levels of income for twenty other (traditionally lower revenue) clubs? Or is UEFA going to simply give up and stop organising club competitions?


What are we to make of threats to ban clubs and players? Decisions of courts in previous league wars reveal that they take a dim view of such actions. European law and the common law support competition and are opposed to unreasonable restraints of trade; they are critical of actions that support monopoly practices such as erecting barriers to entry for new economic actors. UEFA and FIFA banning clubs and players may be in conflict with such norms in the European Treaty and the common law.


Banning players from internationals was frowned on by courts during the World Series and Super (Rugby) League wars. Also, would national teams really turn their backs on their best players when selecting national teams?  How would followers of national teams react to this? Would they rather see their national team win, or be understanding of not choosing ‘stars’ and losing because some league or UEFA official is upset about governance issues associated with football? On the other hand, would clubs and players welcome such bans as it would reduce demands on their playing, risk of injury, and help to lengthen careers?


These suppositions may depend on the interplay of the various contracts that are already in place. Past events tell us that the side with the deepest pockets wins league wars. In sport, competitions off the field are always more interesting than those which occur on the field. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.




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  1. Stainless says

    It would seem that fan sentiment has prevailed on this occasion, overturning an incredibly poorly-timed and ill-judged venture. However your points are valid. This proposal would merely be formalising a pre-existing cartel, eliminating their already low risk of them missing out on UEFA’s riches. Their greed and arrogance would be breathtaking were it not already so entrenched. I suspect this is not the last we have heard of this type of power play.

  2. Ta Braham. Good read.

    Seriously, what’s called sport is now big business. This isn’t a new phenomena, it’s been like this for quite a while but seems to get more accentuated. As Thomas Adorno called it; the culture industry.

    As part of this industry the wealthier,more powerful clubs want to become wealthier and more powerful. It’s what the Australian Prime Minister was talking about recently when he mentioned the animal spirit of capitalism.

    The idea of super leagues, of the wealthier getting even more on their own terms is not new here. Don’t forget the predecessor of the AFL, the VFL, split from the VFA as the wealthier clubs wanted more revenue from the gate receipts. There was the amatuer/professional division in tennis, not resolved until 1968. Again $$ was the big driver. Of course there was the WSC era in cricket, Rugby League had the Super League division.

    These things on their own are not good and/or bad, they highlight the commercial nature of what we call sport. More of this will take place, just let’s see. I wouldn’t say the idea of a soccer super league is gone for ever.

    The future is unwritten.


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