The Quick Rise and Fall of the Super League by Ari F.
Have you ever had an idea that you thought would be incredible, only to realize minutes later it probably wasn’t the best idea? Well, that's what the creators of the European Super League are feeling right now. After announcing a new football (soccer) league to compete against the UEFA Champions League last week, but after just three days, it shut down.
The Origins of the Super League
Created by Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez, the goal was to take the best and most popular teams from the top leagues in England, Spain, and Italy and pit them against each other in a separate league.The Super League teams initially included AC Milan, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Tottenham Hotspur. These 12 teams include six from part of the Premier League’s “Big Six, '' three from Spain’s La Liga league and three from Italy’s Serie A league.
The 12 teams would have competed during the week when the Champions League usually plays and would have played in their respective domestic league on the weekends. The organizers planned for the league to work similarly to the Champions League with a total of 20 teams, with eight being added later in the year. There would have been two divisions, with each team playing the nine other teams in their division twice. The top four teams from each division would advance to the playoffs. But why would these teams form another league, if there was already one that worked? We’ll have to go a few years back to figure that out.
The Evolution of How Soccer Makes Money
As the Premier League was growing, so were the ways of making money. First, teams began to add advertisements on uniforms. Corporations, like Chevrolet, started sponsoring teams like Manchester United and promoting their logo on their jerseys. This was a very smart investment for companies, as fans started associating a certain brand with their favorite team. In the US, a majority of sports stadiums are sponsored by brands. For example, in our area, we have Capital One Arena for the Wizards and Capitals, and FedEx Field for the Washington Football Team. Next came massive TV and broadcasting contracts as worldwide fan interest increased. Finally, in 1992, England's first division was renamed into the Premier League, which is now undoubtedly the most popular soccer league in the world.
As a new generation of players rose in the 2000s, so did the rise of superstars not just in soccer but also in broader pop culture. Players such as Ronaldo, Messi, and David Beckham became famous on social media and received enormous sponsorships. Messi signed a lifelong contract with Adidas in 2017, where he receives 18 million euros per year. Ronaldo is the most followed person on Instagram, ahead of celebrities like Ariana Grande and The Rock. Instead of teams being advertised, the players were advertised. This is very similar to the pro leagues in the US, as the NBA and NFL both primarily advertise their star players. The Premier League and European soccer was changing from “Barcelona plays Real Madrid on Saturday,”to “Watch as Messi takes on Ronaldo.” Now, these megastars started to intrigue Americans and wealthy investors outside of Europe. They could see how European soccer was gaining popularity and money, fast--and they wanted in.
An Influx of New Owners and Money for the Premier League
In 2003, a Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich, purchased an English team, Chelsea. Then, in 2005, the Glazer family, the owners of the 2021 Super Bowl champs Tampa Bay Buccaneers, purchased one of England's biggest teams, Manchester United. After this, many other American investors acquired top English teams, such as Liverpool and Arsenal. In 2008, Manchester City was bought by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, the deputy prime minister of Abu Dhabi. This purchase would change the way owners thought about the Premier League.
Abu Dhabi is one the richest cities in the world, so this purchase funneled huge sums of money into the Premier League. With more money circulating through the Premier League, the owners realized there was an opportunity to make even more.
The Premier League made 2.1 billion euros in 2018, while the Champions League generated 2.8 billion. The Champions League brings the top teams from around Europe, so it usually has more TV views and sponsorship money. But only four teams from the Premier League, and the top teams in other countries, get to participate in the tournament and also receive the money from it. This is why the Super League was created--a guaranteed way to get the big TV deals and prize money. The teams wouldn’t have to worry about winning every single game because they were already in the top league. The owners of these teams forgot about their loyal fan base. With no fans, there would not be huge TV deals. The owners didn’t think to ask fans what they thought of the league, and so the fans turned against them.
Soccer is a Way of Life in Europe
Soccer is special in Europe largely due to the passion and commitment of the fans. If they are born a Liverpool fan, they will always be a Liverpool fan. Before the pandemic, tickets to games were sold out weeks before a match. The team fans support becomes a part of their life and culture. In the Premier and Champions League, there has also been a long-living tradition of the bigger, better performing team supporting the smaller teams.
With the six biggest teams leaving, the fans decided that they needed to step in. They all believed that the owners were shying away from the real purpose of the game, and just doing it for some more money. Chelsea fans gathered outside the stadium to protest the team joining the Super League, which delayed the game. Fans took to social media, calling out the teams. Even the Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, and Prince William came out saying that they don’t support the Super League. In just 48 hours after the announcement, after all the outcries and protests, Chelsea backed out of the new league. Manchester City followed, and the rest of the “Big Six” had left by the end of the night. Due to this, the board of the new league stated that “the project was dead.”
The fans had won, and the future of soccer was saved, for now. The founders of the Super League have not ruled out the return of the Super League and are hoping to rework it. In what was a scary few days for soccer fans around the world, the supporters of soccer, no matter what team they cheered for, came together. The quick rise and fall of the Super League showed the true power of the fans and demonstrated that the fans fuel the teams, not the owners.