Whether you’re a lifelong supporter or an outsider who doesn’t know your Manchesters from your Madrids, you must have heard someone say the name “Super League.” To provide some context, the Super League was introduced just as European soccer had finally found a new sense of normality and unity throughout the hard previous year caused by COVID. After finally settling into a new routine, 12 of the world’s biggest soccer clubs unveiled a plan to launch what they called the Super League, a closed competition in which they (and their invited guests) would compete against one another while claiming even more of soccer’s billions of dollars in revenue for themselves [Source 1]. The Super League (ESL) was a decision made with complete disregard for the effect on the beloved sport but rather the goal of profit for the “already rich” teams. Premier League clubs Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, and Tottenham all signed up for the Super League, along with Juventus, AC Milan, and Inter Milan from Italy and Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid from Spain [Source 2]. The abrupt announcement left the entire global soccer community unclear as to whether professional soccer will be canceled, where soccer is heading, or what it will look like when it gets there.
The idea of creating a Super League has always been a theory but it has never been brought into physical form until the Sunday night of April 18th, 2021 on the eve of a meeting by the UEFA Executive Committee – which was intending to revamp and expand the UEFA Champions League from the 2024–25 season to increase the number of matches and revenue. The concept is a Continental competition that incorporates all of the most famous names from Europe’s domestic leagues every year into an event of their own [Source 1]. The only teams that would play in the competition would be these 12 powerhouses and the driving forces behind the Super League – Real Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool, and Juventus – invited PSG and FC Porto who distanced themselves from the proposal. The organizers were motivated to get Bayern Munich onboard, the reigning European champion and one of the world’s biggest and most successful clubs, but the day after the announcement of the Super League, Borussia Dortmund’s chairman (Dortmund is a club that plays in the same German league as Bayern Munich called the Bundesliga) said that not only was his team out but also that Bayern agreed with his position. With 15 teams in the ESL not facing qualification or relegation, critics said it would have devalued the game because it was unfair and uncompetitive [Source 5]. For example, Arsenal has not qualified for the Champions League since the 2016-17 season, but because of the ESL, they would have been guaranteed a place regardless of their performance in the domestic league (the Premier League). However, a future winner of the Premier League would not necessarily have qualified for the ESL if they were not a permanent member. If this were the case, that team would miss out on millions of pounds (British currency) in revenue which is unjust in many ways. As a result of the announcement of the ESL, fans of the clubs involved held several protests outside their grounds. As Mark Blatt, a tenth-grade student and hardcore Barcelona fan said, “Teams like Barcelona who were, and still are, in debt need the money but the Super League will destroy the domestic leagues and legendary competitions like the World Cup. Also, there is no glory to winning the Super League because the club wouldn’t have worked hard to get there. The clubs thought that money was everything but with the fans rebelling outside stadiums and on the streets, it was stopped.”
The obvious question that comes to mind is why on earth would someone want to completely change such a loved sport? The answer is simple: money. Champions League payouts total an estimated $2.4 billion annually. The Super League clubs expect they’ll generate more [Source 3]. According to their estimates, each founding member is predicted to make around $400 million in the first year which is four times more than Bayern Munich earned for winning the Champions League last season. These numbers are astronomical. However, the profit increases to the billions when considering the commercial income and the market for the broadcast rights for the Super League. The increased revenue would be a perfect solution for soccer clubs that have experienced significant revenue declines because of the COVID-19 pandemic [Source 3]. Some Champions League games have been played in empty stadiums due to quarantine restrictions which means that teams play without the influence of the fans which dramatically affects the financial position of specific clubs. Furthermore, the political reasoning behind the formation of the Super League which goes hand-in-hand with the economic rationale must also be taken into account. “You’ve got to keep in mind that obviously Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal are all American-owned. So you’re talking about liberal free-market capitalism, which is driven by business interests. Now, that stands in contrast to, if you like, the social democracy of Europe, particularly Germany, where there’s a more social-democratic model of governing football. We’re living in the age of a new geopolitical economy of sports, because what we have is an intersection of economic, commercial, industrial and political interests,” says Simon Chadwick, professor of Eurasian Sport at Emlyon Business School (and a Middlesbrough fan) [Source 4]. For capitalists, a wealthy person who uses money to invest in trade and industry for profit in accordance with the principles of capitalism, to grow, they must find new markets; however, when those markets begin to stagnate, they must search for new products such as creating a new league. Alberto Koenig, a tenth-grade student, and Real Madrid fan, explained, ”In my opinion, the Super League is a demonstration of what has happened to soccer over the past years. Pure corruption. The sports we have loved for years have quickly become a game for money where clubs and many players only care about profit.”
Had the Super League been made, the involvement of legal authorities would have been inevitable. Legal involvement would mainly occur because UEFA or FIFA would struggle to have any direct control over the ESL. This was clearly a concern for both UEFA and FIFA as seen by the strong statements released over the short period of time where the ESL was nearly assembled. In addition, the clubs would not be the only ones considering legal action. Throughout the entire planning and announcement of the ESL, one of the key stakeholders, the players, appear to have been left behind in the thoughts of the clubs. This neglect ensures issues with the existing playing contracts if clubs leave their league. It would have put the players in a serious position to obtain legal advice on whether to participate in the ESL and also be prevented from playing in the Euros or a future World Cup. Such decisions could mean the end of some players’ professional careers. European football may now seem slightly less attractive to US-based investors, said Chadwick, but it will continue to be a lucrative investment [Source 4]. Therefore, one could argue that legal action had a subtle influence on the fortunate downfall of the ESL.
In a dramatic turn of events, all six Premier League sides confirmed their plans to withdraw from the Super League less than 48 hours after the announcement due to the backlash the news received. They were then followed by Atletico Madrid in Spain and Italian team Inter Milan. One of the chief movers behind the ESL, Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli, admitted that the ESL is not likely to go ahead after 8 out of the 12 teams had departed from the project. It seems as if the Premier League teams were shocked by the strength of criticism. Arsenal apologized in an open letter to their fans and said they had “made a mistake”, adding they were withdrawing after listening to supporters and the “wider football community.” Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy said the club regretted the “anxiety and upset” caused by the proposal. Manchester United said they had “listened carefully to the reaction from our fans, the UK government, and other key stakeholders,” in making their decision. Once the UK clubs saw the repression of the ESL, they realized that the risk of losing their fans and destroying the core values in which the club identifies was not worth the profit. Fellow classmate and Bayern Munich fan, Alan Strulovic, said, “I didn’t and still do not support the idea of a Super League. As a soccer fan, I find it to be completely unfair to other clubs and very egotistical. I am happy that it didn’t work out.” The Premier League released a strongly worded statement saying the European Super League would “undermine the appeal of the whole game,” and “destroy the dream of fans of any club in England and across Europe that their team may climb to the top and play against the best.” [Source 6] Due to the short period of the ESL, it is impossible to determine the impact of the ESL on competitions such as the World Cup or the Europa League. However, when people questioned whether UEFA could hold the Champions League without the 12 clubs, some said that in Europe there are many good clubs and the Champions League could be held with or without them [Source 6].
Overall, the plan for a dozen top European soccer teams to form a breakaway “Super League” is nothing short of a sporting revolution. The Super League would have completely altered how European soccer operates and would have created a major schism in the sports community. The 48-hour history of European soccer’s long-discussed, swiftly ordered, lately announced, much-criticized, and quickly rejected Super League was short in time but long in drama. The battle for control of soccer’s billion-dollar economy, a fight that Rory Smith of The New York Times referred to as “The Sunday-Tuesday War,” began with rumors of a “super” new league, then broke into the open with talk of lies, deceptions and betrayals; inclined street protests in several countries produced threats of official government action and sporting excommunication in many others. Then it all ended, only two days after the news broke, with a flow of humbling reversals by half of its member clubs. Had the six Premier League teams stayed in the project, the sport of soccer would be much different than it is today and would be completely destroyed. The Super League denied excluded clubs the ability to showcase their talent in a given season and win a competition which they would have deserved after progressing through many stages up to the final. Instead, the Super League would have guaranteed 1 out of 12 teams an automatic championship that they do not warrant as they would only win because they were among the richest and most selfish teams in Europe. In the end, the Super League was such a threat to the soccer community that even James Corden, a comic actor, writer, and television personality, devoted an entire segment to speak about the events that took place on live television.