Super League football shows shift to 'closed shop'

London (AFP) –


The shock formation of football's European Super League highlights a shift by the world's richest clubs away from sporting merit and towards a "closed shop" that gives them more financial security, analysts say.

The continent's best-known teams are seeking to capitalise on their long-running success with the creation of the Super League, under plans denounced as greedy by Europe's football governing body UEFA.

Six Premier League teams -- Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur -- have joined forces with Spanish giants Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid and Italian trio Juventus, Inter Milan and AC Milan.

That has however also sparked condemnation from politicians and fans, particularly at lower league clubs who may face lower revenues from television deals.

- 'Shift in fundamentals of sport' -

"What it means with the shift from the fundamentals of European football -- and also European sport in general -- it moves from sporting merit being the primary driver to more of a closed shop," Tim Bridge, director at Deloitte's Sports Business Group, told AFP.

He added that it was "unclear" whether the six English teams would continue because the Premier League rulebook only allows them to compete in certain other competitions.

"What it would mean if those six clubs leave then that would clearly diminish the value of the Premier League rights pretty considerably.

"And so I would expect there are some pretty detailed conversations going on to try and find some way forward from here."

England's biggest football teams have long been unhappy that broadcasting revenues are shared quite evenly among the 20 clubs in the Premier League.

The system is designed to help fund lower league teams that have fewer fans and weaker finances.

Under the Super League plan, football clubs from England, Italy and Spain will receive a one-off payment of 3.5 billion euros ($4.2 billion) to be shared with three other European giants yet to sign up.

The pot compares favourably with the huge sums the top clubs already earn from global broadcasting rights, sponsorship and other commercial revenue.

And it has been put forward solely to support infrastructure investment of the founding members to offset the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

"A couple of clubs who are in the 12 are in challenging financial situations currently and therefore are probably looking for a greater level of financial stability in the future," added Bridge.

"It's also that probably some of the driving forces behind the decision are maybe the American owners of certain clubs and they are used to a closed competition."

Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool are all owned by American tycoons -- who also control US baseball, basketball and American football teams competing in leagues where they cannot be relegated to lower-tier levels.

In England, Premier League spending slumped by more than two-thirds to a nine-year low of just £70 million ($96 million) in the January transfer window as the coronavirus crisis hit budgets.

The outlay was dramatically down on last year's £230 million expenditure, which came just weeks before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down football across Europe.

- 'Worst of both worlds' -

There are also suggestions that the Super League's founders could be expelled from their domestic leagues, while players could be banned from representing their countries -- but not without expected legal battles.

If they are kicked out, "broadcasters will be able to rip up existing contracts" for domestic competitions and the sides not invited to the top table "would have to renegotiate a far less lucrative deal", said Kieran Maguire, an expert in sports finance at the University of Liverpool.

Andre Spicer, professor of organisational behaviour at City University London, said the new league is both partially closed, with permanent members, and partially open since five new clubs could be promoted each season.

"If this is the design, it falls between the two models and there is a danger it will give us the worst of both worlds: lack of competition and lack of resource sharing," Spicer said.

"The result could be a few top teams who lack serious competitive challenge but are unwilling to share resources around," he said.

"This could make big teams into rentiers who don't have to try too hard and just harvest the income from their unchangeable position."