Image from the National Archives Catalog. Click on the image to learn more.

Some of the biggest names in FootballLionel MessiCristiano RonaldoKevin De BruyneZlatan IbrahimovicTony Kroos, and others, play in some of the clubs vying to create the European Super League. In the current system, these players only get to play against each other either for their national team or in another exclusive competition called the “Champions League,” for which their teams have to qualify in their respective domestic leagues. Commercializing the competition among these gifted athletes allows these clubs to create avenues of cash flow to support their operations. The pandemic brought unprecedented financial challenges to these clubs due to a lack of revenue from ticket sales and the cancellation of games. According to the BBC, eleven of the twelve clubs, excluding Chelsea FC, are in considerable financial debt, with clubs like Manchester United, Barcelona, and Manchester City reporting a decline in revenue of 18.8%, 15.4% and, 10.5%, respectively for 2020 when compared to 2019 [1]. Reckless spending and unnecessary bulking of debt have led to some of the storied clubs in sport being in financial turmoil, and the pandemic has only turned it up a notch.  

In June 2020, Deloitte published the Annual Review of Football Finance 2020 in which the European football market size for 2018/2019 was €28.9 billion or $34 billion of which 59% came from the ‘Big Five’ European leagues, i.e., Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga, La Liga and Ligue 1 [2]. Financial “Polarization” amongst the ‘Big Five’ exists with English clubs registering “highest absolute growth,” Internazionale and Juventus accounting for 70% and 50% of Serie A’s matchday revenue and commercial growth, and Paris Saint-Germain accounting for half of the non-broadcast revenue over in France[3]. “Wage costs across the ‘big five’ leagues increased by almost €1 billion as their combined wages to revenue ratio increased to 63%” [4]. A comparison of the revenue generated from Broadcasting for the 2018/2019 season reveals that the English league collected €3.45 billion or $4.1 billion, which was approximately 1.89 times and 3.84 times greater than the Spanish and French league respectively, about 27.45 times greater than the Russian league, and almost 88.69 times greater than the Polish league (most minor league based on average revenue per club) [5]. According to Deloitte, “broadcast rights income continues to be a critical factor in driving overall revenue growth” [6] and offers a gateway to formulate an exposition for recent events. 

In a recent interview, Florentino Perez, president of Real Madrid, said, “What we want to do is save Football, so that it can live peacefully for at least the next 20 years without stress and without having to say 200 million euros have been lost…Competitiveness, the attraction is more valued in television, so more income is generated” [7]. By shifting focus from local to global and unlocking value through the modern marvels of the internet and smartphones, an inference is that the creation of the European Super League is to accurately commercialize money-making assets while carrying considerable debt in their pocketbooks. 

According to the European Club Association report published in August 2020, Fan of the Future, across 14,000 respondents in 7 countries, Football was the most popular international sport. MotorsportsBasketball, and Tennis ranked #2, #3, and #4 on the list [8]. In a section titled, Profiling football rejectors, the report states that “Of the 30% of respondents who have no interest in Football, the majority (69%) say that they have never been interested. 40% of those who never had an interest in Football say they have better things to do with their lives than follow Football, with between a quarter and a third saying they don’t like sport in general (29%)” [9]. In the Florentino Perez interview mentioned before, Mr. Perez might be referring to this 40% statistic as a metric to support the transition and need for European Super League. Money in Football is not new; it’s money infused with a dash of desperation due to the financial windfall from the pandemic that calls for the formation of this new ethos. 


Image from the Library of Congress. Click on the image to learn more.

1978, in particular November 28, 1978, offers an example of the intersection of money, broadcasting, and interest in the sport. Kerry Packer, the media tycoon and owner of Channel Nine wanted to create his version of a cricket league called World Series Cricket, exclusive to his TV station. The best players from around the world competed in a shorter version of the game than the traditional five-day version with untraditional elements such as under floodlights with colored jerseys and a white ball intertwined into the new format. Colin Croft, former West Indies fast bowler, known as the Smiling Assassin, documented his experiences in an essay, Forged Under Pressure. Unlike the European Super League, where clubs, not players, are determining action, in 1978, Kerry Packer negotiated directly with the players and not their cricket boards. The opportunity cost to secure a better form of income came at the expense of playing for their respective national teams. Mr. Croft ultimately signed to play for the World Series Cricket since the pay was “much better,” but the “real agony” for him was that “a simple little country boy, … could not play for the West Indies again” [9]. 

In an interview with Tayo Popoola for BBC Sporting WitnessJeff ThompsonAustralian Fast Bowler, said, “It probably didn’t look good Cricket. But, at least, for the people, the women that started coming along in droves, they realized that the maroon team was them, green and gold team was us. You didn’t have everybody out there white like seagulls” [10]. While Mr. Croft later played for his national side, Mr. Packer’s intervention provided for the modern version as we know. A direct line can be drawn from Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket to the contemporary media behemoth that is the Indian Premier League. World Series Cricket provided the sport of Cricket with a new format suited for a changing audience. Maybe just maybe, the European Super League could have affected the traditional structure of Football.  

The teams that showed interest to start the European Super League are multi-billion dollar operations and stand on a financial scale, sometimes exponentially higher than some of the clubs in their domestic leagues. These are also teams with an almanac of historical events that have created relationships with native matchday supporters for whom Football is more than a sport. It’s a lifestyle. The creation of the European Super League would have attacked a delicate balance but might have presented a different approach to Football. Suppose Mr. Packer’s World Series of Cricket and its impact on modern Cricket could serve as a reference, who knows, sooner or later, instead of making 2 hours to watch an entire football match, we could be spending 30 minutes to watch a cage match. In 2002, Nike ran the Secret Tournament campaign in the lead to the 2002 FIFA World Cup. In my eyes, it is one of the most compelling pieces of advertisement that could materialize in the modern world of Football

Excluded from the commotion of the European Super League was the German team of Bayern Munich, six-time winner of the Champions League. No German team supported or was involved in forming the European Super League. In a statement made on April 20, 2021, CEO Karl-Heinz Rummeniggee stated, “On behalf of the board, I would like to make it explicitly clear that FC Bayern will not be taking part in the Super League” [11]. FC Bayern is the biggest club out of German Bundesliga, ranking #4 in the Deloitte Football Money League 2020 with FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Manchester United at 1, 2, and 3, respectively[12]. The German Bundesliga has an interesting system where there is no particular interest in controlling decisions. Instead, it’s the 50+1 rule, “which ensures that the majority control of a football club remains in the hands of those to whom it means the most: the supporters” [13]. 

Inspection of historical interaction between fans and money of one German team, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, can help understand the true importance of the 50+1 rule in German Football. Dietmar Hopp, German entrepreneur and founder of the SAP software company, owns the majority of voting shares of TSG 1899 Hoffenheim team in the Bundesliga. Borrusia Dortmund fans vehemently accuse Mr. Hopp investment of €350 million or $422 million by bankrolling Hoffenheim, a village club, and buying his way into the Top Division from the Eighth Division in 1990 [14]. The widespread resentment towards this particular public figure can display the ferocity in passion displayed by Football fans towards Football. There is a divine notion that Football is a sport of fairness where the mighty can fall on a given day. It can be confirmed with the unexpected “UPSET” mixed in with a series of games, but for the most part, the more talented and conditioned team will outsmart its counterpartResults in sports can be as unexpected as rolling a dice, but there are times when having the right capital allows for delivering performance.   

While the English teams have withdrawn from the idea of the European Super League, other teams such as Juventus F.C and Real Madrid have not. Mr. PerezPresident of Real Madrid, is still pursuing the picture and is hopeful that the European Super League would persevere. Mr. Perez said, “I don’t need to explain what a binding contract is but effectively, the clubs cannot leave. Some of them, due to pressure, have said they’re leaving. But this project, or one very similar, will move forward and I hope very soon” [15]. Some versions of the European Super League will come to materialize in the coming future that is different from the current version of the Champions League. In the words of former Arsenal manager and current FIFA Chief of Global Football Development, Arsene Wenger, “Modern football has to find a compromise between what the clubs and fans want” [16]. What the clubs want is clear, but what do the fans want is not so clear. A whole other essay can be written about the bureaucratic and technocratic failure of various organizing committees in Football.  

Screen Shot 2021-05-01 at 7.04.27 PM.png

Image from Google Finance. Blue Line represents Manchester United (NYSE: MANU) and Orange Line represents Juventus (BIT: JUV).

I was so curious to write this essay because Manchester United (NYSE: MANU) and Juventus (BIT: JUV) are listed on the New York Stock Exchange and Borsa Italiana S.p.A., or the Italian Stock Exchange. If the stock measure was an accurate measure of sentiment, a possible hypothesis is that Manchester United’s withdrawal from the formation of the European Super League has benefitted its stock.