Weekend Previews

The Day That Fans Rose Up

On the life, and presumed death, of “The Super League”, and why we must not stop after this victory…

So…

A lot has happened, huh?

I am sure we all saw what happened on Sunday, as 12 European football clubs made the joint announcement that they would be leaving UEFA to form “The Super League”. A few of Europe’s elite clubs, alongside Arsenal and Tottenham, came together to essentially say they are the only clubs that matter and should have access to all of the TV money and fans while every other club dies. They all left the European Club Association, essentially signaling their desire to leave UEFA behind, and the whole football world was left to wonder what in the world was going to happen next.

The response was, understandably, quite negative.

Those 12 clubs’ owners and executives had basically spat in the faces of their loyal fans, demonstrating that, once again, their sole desire in life is to achieve profit by any means necessary. The fans that had been living mere miles from the stadium, attending matches for five, ten, twenty, fifty years, were simply “legacy fans” to them. They were not the market of fans they wanted to cater to. They were considered unimportant by the owners. They instead wanted to target people like myself or potentially like you, the reader (since a significant amount of our readership lives in Asia). We are the new market that they are desperately trying to tap in to, but they do not really care about us as people. They would have made it impossible for average fans to watch the match in person, probably would have hid the match streams behind pay-per-view walls or behind expensive streaming services, and would have done everything possible to gouge every last dollar out of us. We are not fans, we are customers. We are not people, we are simply dollar bills and data points for these owners.

They were not content with stacking the deck in their favor, as they had done for the last two decades, they wanted to burn it all down and leave only themselves standing. Financial Fair Play rules, while probably having noble intentions, were used to form and propagate a financial caste system, creating an ever-growing gap between the “haves” and “have nots” in football and slowly withering away whatever remaining ideas of parity existed in the top European leagues. Changes to the Champions League and Europa League money allocation structures introduced a new facet of money distribution based on UEFA Coefficient, ensuring more money for the bigger clubs through this extra avenue and leading to the current situation where we see the same clubs repeatedly make it far in Europe.

Nope, that was not enough for them. They wanted to create an entirely closed system where they get access to all of the money, and the vast majority of the football world is kept out. Through their good graces, they were going to allow five clubs entry to participate in the competition every season, but they failed to say that those five clubs would have no say in how the league is ran and that they would get a fraction of the money that the 15 “founding” clubs would get. They claimed this was being done to save football and protect the institution of football from the corruption of UEFA’ monopoly, and it appears they aimed to do that by establishing a just-as-corrupt, if not even more corrupt, monopoly that allows the biggest brands (not even biggest clubs, just the biggest brands) in football to survive while the hundreds of other clubs across the continent slowly wither away and die due to lack of money. Any statements from Super League owners saying they were trying to help everyone are nothing more than lies from greedy charlatans.

And it all fell apart as quickly as it began.

The outrage was widespread. Fans were infuriated. The fans of the teams in the competition felt betrayed, and fans of clubs outside of the “ESL 12” felt that the rich were leaving the sport behind for their clubs to disappear. Football media gave this wall-to-wall coverage, with former players using television or social media to express their views on the project. UEFA and FIFA, sensing they were going to lose money because of this, sprung into action and using the strongest means possible to challenge the teams, through legal and sporting methods, in order to stop the Super League. The teams involved appeared willing to absorb these hits, able to take the fan outrage and willing to challenge UEFA and FIFA in court.

They appeared to not account for issues from playing staff, which is funny considering the players and staff were not told this was happening. Many teams wore warm-up t -shirts with anti-Super League messages. Many players used press conferences or social media to express their displeasure with the Super League idea. Pep Guardiola’s pre-match press conference was cut short due to his criticism of the Super League. Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw allegedly stormed into the United executive offices to confront United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward. Jordan Henderson assembled a meeting of the captains of every Premier League team to put out a unified message against the ESL. The response from the players was staggering.

This all came to a head on Tuesday afternoon, when a mass protest of Chelsea fans outside Stamford Bridge stopped the Chelsea team bus from entering the stadium before their match against Brighton. That must have been a spark, because shortly after, Chelsea began the process of withdrawing from the Super League. Manchester City followed shortly after, followed by some questions regarding Atlético Madrid’s participation. Ed Woodward resigned as United executive vice-chairman, a move that was justified as something that was already planned but that appears to be a lie. By the end of the day and into Wednesday, most of the participating teams issued some form of statement saying they were not moving forward with the Super League in its current model.

Football is a very partisan game, a very tribal game. We are often divided along rivalry or cultural lines or however else, but on this one day, the entire football community stood up together and collectively said “no”. It was really wonderful to see, but we should keep this energy going.

Because more change needs to happen. This current system is still corrupt, and more change needs to happen at all levels for this sport to move away from the direction that it is going in.

Firstly, because this will not be the last time we hear the phrase “Super League”. The clubs involved still remain committed to the idea, and many of the statements they put out said they were only backing out from the league “in its current form”. They will be back, likely with a more deceptive plan than this one. And this is why there needs to be a level of fan ownership at every club. Germany’s “50+1 Rule”, which requires all clubs in Germany to be majority-owned by members (fans), has been a major conversation point among those following all of the other major European leagues since the Super League announcement, and for good reason. No German team joined the league due to the resistance from their members, who held enough of a voice within the organization of the clubs that they were able to kill the idea in its early stages. Something like this needs to exist in all major European leagues, especially in England, where the voice of the fan has been drowned out over the last two decades and where the main ringleaders of the Super League originated from. These clubs are community institutions, and they are slowly being turned into the moneymakers for these rich owners instead of being the institutions that actually care about the fans and community around them, and implementing a fan ownership rule can return the sport closer to that ideal image of community.

Florentino Pérez’s interview on Spanish TV defending the Super League was a massive sham, full of lies and gaslighting, but he was right about three points. The first one was that UEFA (and, by extension, FIFA) is corrupt, and the current system is not financially viable for clubs at all levels. The Champions League reforms that just passed, which you can read about here, are essentially a UEFA-backed Super League-lite, a model that could be built into a Super League but with UEFA and FIFA’s backing and with both also making a cut of the profit. The Swiss model is unnecessarily taxing on the players, and the extra qualification spots decided by UEFA Coefficient are massively unfair and, if we are being honest, only exist so England can finally have six teams in the Champions League, something that they have wanted for years now. The power that people like Nasser Al-Khelaifi hold within UEFA is quite worrying, and it makes me think that UEFA will only get more corrupt and money-hungry.

Aleksander Čeferin has been President of UEFA since 2016, and the only reason he enjoys even a moderate amount of support is the fact he is not remotely as corrupt as his predecessor, Michel Platini. Despite this low bar, he has still overseen a UEFA that has caved to the demands of these big clubs, further driven a wedge between the “haves” and “have nots” in the sport, failed to actually uphold or enforce any rulings to control financial spending by *alleged* cheaters and promote financial sustainability of clubs, and led us to the position that we are in now. The sport does not need more of the same UEFA that we have gotten the last two decades. We need reform, action, people who are going to make substantial, meaningful changes for the betterment of the sport as a whole, rather than just lining the pockets of a few. The institutions of our game need new, refreshing leadership, and UEFA is a good place to start. Aleksander Čeferin should resign.

Gianni Infantino should also resign as President of FIFA, and the 2022 World Cup should also be moved from Qatar. FIFA being wildly corrupt should not be news to anyone, so I will not stay on this point too long.

Pérez is also correct about the financial viability of the game. Yes, I know the debts of the big clubs cannot be completely blamed on the COVID Pandemic and those big clubs will likely be able to recover over time once the pandemic is over, but the financial instability of football began ages ago. We have all seen the explosion of transfer fees since Paul Pogba’s move to Manchester United and Neymar’s move to PSG wildly skewed the transfer market. This has almost required big teams to spend egregious amounts in order to just be competitive on the continental level, and that need for big spending flowed down to the lower leagues of the sport, where teams in lower divisions throw themselves into debt just for the chance to be promoted to the top flight of their country. It has also created a desperate need for higher and higher television rights contracts to provide paydays necessary to keep funding this spending, creating essentially a financial bubble around television companies in football that, should there be significant changes in the television industry, could burst and leave a lot of clubs in trouble. Clubs being in debt was still a problem before this, but it seemed to peak around this time.

There needs to be some way to stop this, for the sake of big and small clubs. Financial Fair Play had the intention of doing this, but all it has done is remove parity from the game while still encouraging the big clubs to spend egregious amounts and not protecting smaller clubs from instability (Bury, Wigan Athletic, Bolton Wanderers, Bordeaux, etc.). FFP needs to be scrapped and there needs to be some sort of legislation to replace it that reins in the big spending of clubs while still having more parity within the leagues than what we currently have. Everyone does not need to be on an even playing field, but there needs to be a way where some unpredictability can be introduced while protecting the mid-to-long term financial futures of these clubs.

The last (somewhat) valid point that Pérez made in that interview was that viewership of the sport was going down, especially among the people considered to be a part of “Generation Z” (those considered to be in the 15-24ish age range, basically the first generation that grew up completely on the internet). Now, Pérez said a bunch of egregiously stupid reasons for this happening and made some equally egregiously stupid suggestions to solve it, such as making football matches shorter in length because of Gen Z’s obsession with TikTok, but it is still a somewhat valid point. He is just missing on the biggest reason as to why this might be happening.

Being a football fan has never been more expensive, and this is especially true if you support a team in Europe.

If you are reading this right now, firstly thank you, but secondly I want you to think about everything you have to pay for in order to watch the club you support, whether it be in person or on TV, and how much you pay for it. I will use myself as an example. I have the unfortunate economic burden of supporting both Everton FC in the Premier League and Olympique Lyonnais in Ligue 1. To watch both of the clubs I support play in all competitions in a given season, I have to pay for four different streaming services. I would have to add a fifth should either team be playing in Europe, as Lyon were last season. Two of those five services are needed just to watch the Premier League in the United States, literally the bare minimum required to follow one of the most popular, if not the most popular, league in the world in the market that these big teams are supposedly desperate to capture. In total, that is nearly $100 per month, a little over $70 of which is required just to watch the Premier League. That is ridiculous, right?

And this burden is equally hard on the match-going fan, especially in England, where the prices have become ludicrous. The cost of watching the Premier League and Champions League on TV, at least based on my limited research, rests at around £70 per month through Sky Sports and BT Sport, and this does not include the £15 “pay-per-view” games that Sky introduced during the COVID Pandemic and will likely introduce again soon. Match day tickets and season tickets have ballooned in price over the years, with the cheaper end of the Premier League still requiring between £300-450 per season to maintain the cheapest possible season ticket option. Higher up in the table, the prices get even worse. Manchester City maintain a £325 season ticket, among the cheapest offerings in the league, but Manchester United and Chelsea’s cheapest offerings are in the mid-to-high £500s. Liverpool’s cheapest season ticket is just below £700, while Tottenham and Arsenal’s cheapest season tickets are £795 and £891, respectively (all numbers based on 2019/20 season prices). And that is just for one adult season ticket. If you are bringing someone, likely a kid you want to introduce to football, you have to pay for two. While most, if not all, clubs offer a junior season ticket for those under 18 or a young adult ticket for those between 18 and 21, you can still see how the costs add up very quickly.

Individual match tickets can vary wildly in price depending on competition, but those can be hard to come by depending on the occasion and how big the season ticket holding population of the club is. For instance, Everton have a very large season ticket holding population, meaning a very significant percentage of Goodison Park on any given match day is filled by season ticket holders, which means there are fewer individual match tickets to buy. It can still be upwards of £50-100+ just to get into the ground. I paid £55 for a ticket in the away end for Everton vs West Ham at the old Boleyn Ground, and that was basically just to get in the door at face value. It did not increase in price because I bought it from a reseller, that was the face value of the ticket.

If it costs this much just to watch football, I can see why people choose to find a cheaper hobby. You can buy a video game console for between $200-500, and that is a one-time purchase. Social media and media sharing sites like TikTok and YouTube are completely free and provide hours upon hours of entertainment. Yes Florentino, I am slightly worried about the viewership of our game, but it is because people like you and the hypocrites at Sky and NBC and elsewhere make it very hard and very costly for the average fan to watch. Football was once the sport of the working class, and it is now slowly but surely pricing out the core demographic of viewers in order to satiate the owners’ and television companies’ desire for more money.

This is why the fans should not rest, and this is why we should not celebrate a short-term victory over the Super League. There is still so much that our sport needs to fix. There is still so much that needs to be reformed in order to give the fans a sport they deserve.

Ok, my rant is over. I had a lot going through my head the last week, and this should about cover it all. My last request for you, dear reader, is to support this game that we all love. When COVID is over, go watch your local team play. Pay for a ticket and give them your support. If you are planning a trip to Europe, try to explore all of the wonderful clubs and cultures that the continent offers rather than just sticking with those big name brands.

Football is our sport, and it is bigger than those 12 owners who decided they were too good for everyone else.

Adapted Featured Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

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