It will go down in folklore as a calamitous mis-read of the room, and one of the most blatant signs of greed in the history of professional sport. I am, of course, speaking about the European Super League, which came and went this week quicker than you can say “these bigwigs don’t care about the fans.”
In a nutshell, the idea was thus – the league launched a website and went live, announcing twelve of the biggest football clubs on the planet as its founding members, with the promise of three more to come. The Clubs themselves followed suit with statements of support for the concept. England’s ‘big six’ teams - Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur - were joined by three apiece in Italy and Spain, before a backlash of epic proportions saw the majority having backed down and withdrawn as of Thursday lunch time (AEST), when just four of the dozen remained.
We may never know the full intentions of the twelve clubs who went public – many suspect it was just to create leverage towards what future UEFA Champions League competitions look like, and an unequal distribution of broadcast funds to favour the behemoths – but whether they achieve what they sought from this or not, it can only be viewed as one of the worst public relations disasters in the history of professional sport. The inability to respond to negative outcry left a massive gap where the only voices heard were those condemning it, with no counter arguments or justifications from those who endorsed it before it was too late.
Fans of the English ‘big six’ may never trust their owners again, and for many who’ve seen COVID as a chance to reflect on life and their passions, it may provide the final justification to move away from these mega-corporations. Many football fans no longer identify with their Clubs and can’t afford to attend matches, and this may be the impetus to instead invest their hard-earned at local Clubs lower down the football pyramid. For players, coaches and staff of these Clubs, there will be a growing sense of not feeling like a true stakeholder, with so many of them speaking about how they were kept in the dark and disagreed with the move – earning back that trust will be a massive challenge.
Successfully calling one’s bluff can be empowering and intoxicating. Think of a game of poker, where backing your judgement for a big hand and humiliating a big-talking opponent with lesser cards is literally the biggest rush in the game. For the other Clubs in the English Premier League and continental Europe, the endorphins will be flying right now, with a Goliath-like mentality fuelling them onwards and upwards.
A word of caution, however – money still and always will talk, and the commercial capacity of the twelve European Super League teams dwarves almost all others, anywhere in the world. While this move fell flat, it was justified on the basis that the current financial structures of world football aren’t working for those who think they deserve the biggest piece of the pie.
- Pete Fairbairn, Group Account Director (Sport), Thrive PR & Communications