How much money is enough money? The concept of a European super league has been around since the late-80s but the idea that won’t die has once again resurfaced – this time led by Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli (above) and the European Club Association (ECA).
What are they after? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the primary motivation behind the proposals appears to be money, with many of the bigger clubs across Europe looking enviously at the worldwide television revenues secured by the Premier League in particular.
Agnelli apparently hates the idea of upstarts like Leicester City having the temerity to play in his illustrious European competition, so is now looking at ways to guarantee participation for the big clubs and the TV money that comes with that – and to exclude smaller clubs who happen to qualify by winning their domestic leagues, like Leicester City did back in 2016.
Working in cahoots with UEFA the self-appointed big clubs are planning to create a new format for European club competitions from the 2024-2025 season onwards. This would involve a Champions League of 32 teams, a Europa League of 32 teams, and a Europa League 2 composed of 64 teams – with a maximum of five teams from the same national league per competition.
So far, so familiar. But there are some crucial changes being proposed that would have a huge knock-on effect on English football as we know it. First of all, instead of eight groups of four teams each playing in the autumn, they’re going for four groups of eight – so that means instead of each participating club playing six games between September and December, they’d play fourteen.
Adding that number of European games into an already crowded fixture calendar would inevitably have an impact – it would signal the end of the League Cup, the FA Cup would have to become primarily a midweek competition without replays, and the Premier League would have to reduce in size to 18 or even 16 clubs – with a knock-on effect on the number of clubs promoted from the Championship each year.
There’s even been talk of the European fixtures taking place at weekends, pushing Premier League fixtures into midweek slots – which would make life even more difficult for away fans in particular, and destroy the traditional culture of weekend league football.
The next big change would be that a club’s place in the new-fangled elite European competition would no longer come from success in their domestic league.
Once initial membership of the new Champions League is established, then there’d be promotion and relegation of eight teams from the 32 at the end of each season – with the four semi-finalists of the Europa League being promoted, and only four places available to clubs based on domestic performance.
With the five English teams unlikely to finish outside the top 24, there’d be no prospect of any other English team qualifying again.
Good riddance to them?
Why should you, a fan of say a League One club following England away, care about the avarice of Juventus, Bayern Munich and their ilk? Isn’t it a case of good riddance to them, get rid of the big six and we can have a more competitive league without them?
Sadly, the prospect of so much broadcasting money going to the European elite clubs would have a hugely negative impact right down the English football pyramid.
If they start playing Champions League matches at weekends then inevitably the blackout of televised matches at 3:00pm on a Saturday will soon be a thing of the past, meaning that all down the pyramid clubs will be competing directly against televised football.
Financial impact on lower leagues
If these proposals come to fruition, the football pyramid in England and Wales would stand to lose billions of pounds, putting the very fabric of our football culture and the weekend matchday routines in jeopardy.
Champions League revenue is currently the biggest factor distorting the competitiveness in the Premier League, and the ECA-UEFA reforms would distort that even further – with the ‘big six’ retaining a bigger share of TV money and solidarity payments down the leagues drying up.
With the potential for a drastic reduction in the Premier League’s broadcast income, the money that filters down in the form of solidarity payments would take a significant hit: last season, Championship clubs shared £72.6 million, League One clubs £16.3 million and League Two clubs £10.9 million of Premier League TV income. The loss of this solidarity money could push a number of EFL clubs over the edge financially.
The future: fans can have decisive voice
This isn’t the first time that greed has threatened to undermine the traditional principles of league football – remember Game 39? - and it won’t be the last. But history shows us that these plans can be beaten – we defeated Game 39, and we can defeat this.
We’ll be at the forefront of that campaign, along with our colleagues at Football Supporters’ Europe. As we learn more about the ECA and UEFA’s plans, we’ll have campaign actions that many of you will be keen to get involved in – whether that’s lobbying your own club, writing to leagues or holding a banner in the stands – there’ll be ways for anyone to get involved.
At a meeting of Premier League fan groups convened by the Football Supporters’ Federation in May 2019 there was unanimous opposition to the concept of a super league AND unanimous support for these six principles.
- Promotion and relegation based on sporting performance - from the bottom of the pyramid to qualification for Europe
- No to closed leagues or franchise football – qualify on results, not through history or heritage
- Weekends are for domestic leagues – protect fan culture, home and away. No live broadcasts on Saturdays at 3:00pm
- We want competitive leagues – no to even more concentration of wealth and on-going domination by a fixed few top clubs
- Domestic football comes first – protect the pyramid and cup competitions
- Share the wealth – the money from elite football should be shared across the whole game
A version of this article first appeared in Free Lions 166.