A handful of the world’s most popular soccer teams upended the world’s favorite sport on Monday by announcing that they would ban together to create their own “Super League” — a move that has angered fans, rival clubs and soccer’s top regulatory bodies alike.
So, how did these clubs come to reshape the soccer world? And why has the announcement sparked so much backlash?
What is the Super League?
The Super League aims to unite the best — and most valuable — soccer clubs from across Europe into a set league of 20 teams. The league would immediately supplant the Champions League as the world’s most competitive soccer league.
For years, European soccer clubs have seen joining the Champions League as the pinnacle of the sport. Each year, 32 teams across the continent are selected for the league based on their performance in their domestic league the year before.
We are one of 12 Founding Clubs of the European Super League— Arsenal (@Arsenal) April 18, 2021
Joining the Champions League means millions of dollars of additional revenue for a team, through TV rights and increased exposure. However, one bad year on the pitch — no matter how popular a club is — can get a club bounced from the league, and the lost revenue could spell several years of financial ruin.
By starting their own Super League, Europe’s most popular clubs hope to create a system that more mirrors American pro sports — a league with a set number of teams that need not worry about being “relegated” after a bad season, and, more importantly, keeps the riches for themselves.
Who is joining the Super League?
So far, six English clubs (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspur), three Italian clubs, (AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus) and three Spanish clubs (Atlético Madrid, Barcelona and Real Madrid) reportedly intend to join the Super League. Eventually, the clubs hope to invite eight more of Europe’s top clubs to join before beginning play in 2022.
Why are some fans so upset?
For decades, Europe’s soccer structure has offered teams — no matter how small — the hope of competing at the highest level. Teams that win their league were “promoted” to a higher level of competition, meaning more than 1,000 soccer teams across the continent could all dream of the glory of playing in the Champions League.
Take, for example, the 2015-2016 Leicester City F.C. squad. The year before, they were nearly bumped from England’s top soccer league the, Premier League, after a rough season. But in 2015-16, Leicester City defied 5,000-to-1 betting odds and went 23-3-12, finishing in first place in the Premier League and earning the right to play in the Champions League the next season.
By creating a Super League and removing the possibility of promotion and relegation, some fans argue that it would remove an essential element of European soccer.
Even fans of some of Super League clubs are against the move. A handful of Liverpool fans protested against the proposed Super League in front of the club’s stadium on Monday.
The fans are united in their fight back against the European Super League. pic.twitter.com/iFRSBGXvZu— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) April 19, 2021
What is the justification for the Super League?
The founding Super League clubs like Manchester United and Barcelona already have millions and millions of fans all over the world. Their matches draw enormous audiences in person, on television and online. Because they’ve already amassed a fortune, they can attract the best talent all over the world by offering higher salaries.
The Super League clubs argue that they shouldn’t need to share revenue with smaller clubs because they’re drawing the biggest audiences. In addition, owners of some of the world’s most popular clubs, like Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal are now owned by Americans, who have hoped to launch an American-style league in recent years in the hopes of generating even more revenue.
What’s going to happen?
There’s still much to be sorted out, but it appears that soccer’s top regulatory bodies are fighting back. On Monday, reports indicated that UEFA — the organization that runs international soccer in Europe — may ban players who follow their clubs to the Super League will be banned from the World Cup and European championship.
FIFA has also indicated that it will block players from outside of Europe from representing their nations in the World Cup should they follow their clubs to the Super League.
FIFPro, the global player’s union, said it would oppose measures that would block players from representing their country in international events, but added that the Super League could impact the "fabric and cultural identity of football."