A Whisper in the Background of European Soccer
Kelner, M. (Oct. 20, 2020). European Premier League plans are further proof that greed is now the driving force of football. Retrieved from https://news.sky.com/story/european-premier-league-plans-are-further-proof-that-greed-is-now-the-driving-force-of-football-12109430
By: Luke Pacifici
Just imagine it: a tournament of the best and most popular soccer teams across Europe for a large cash prize. It sounds like a dream, or possibly a recurring nightmare, but this tournament may soon be a money-making reality. Rumors have recently surfaced about a European Premier League. However, before the world can score with such an idea, there are quite a few obstacles to overcome.
First, a brief look into the proposed European Premier League. The league would be the top flight competition of European club soccer and would be composed of the best 12 to 18 teams across Europe’s top five domestic leagues: the Premier League (England), Bundesliga (Germany), Ligue 1 (France), La Liga (Spain), and Serie A (Italy). The teams would play in fixtures during the regular European domestic seasons and conclude with a knockout format tournament to crown the winner. The winner would receive prize money worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Unlike the traditional European domestic leagues, where spots in the league are determined through relegation and promotion, teams in the European Premier League would be contractually signed to compete for a certain amount of years. In a way, this could mirror Major League Soccer’s blueprint of no relegation or promotion and a possible salary cap.
Although there are not any finalized plans, financiers including JP Morgan are allegedly assembling a $6 billion funding package to assist the league’s creation. In addition, teams such as Liverpool and Manchester United are already in talks about joining this proposed tournament, which could start as early as 2022.
A closed league comprised of the top soccer teams across Europe initially sounds exciting, but there are complications to this plot. Primarily, the European Premier League could pose a serious threat to the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). UEFA is the governing body for European soccer, and it is a confederation organized under the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).
FIFA has been linked with developing the format for the European Premier League, but there is already opposition from UEFA. UEFA notably runs the UEFA Champions League (UCL), which is also a tournament involving the top teams across Europe. Rather than signing contracts to join, teams earn the honor to play in this tournament by finishing on top of their domestic league’s tables from the previous season. In addition, the competition features teams outside of the five powerhouse countries.
Theoretically, the UCL and the European Premier League could coexist, but they would be direct competitors. To complicate things even more, the UCL has a few TV deals in place until 2024 giving companies the rights to broadcast games involving Europe’s top clubs. UEFA has already released a statement saying “[they] strongly oppose a Super League,” identifying that promotion, relegation, and open leagues are what make European soccer work.
UEFA operates under the goal of improving the level of play around Europe, and they believe a closed style tournament of the top teams would slightly disincentivize other teams from improving. In European soccer, after conquering a domestic league, teams have the chance to conquer Europe in the UCL. When the tournament to conquer Europe becomes exclusive to certain teams, a reason for finishing on top is taken away.
If UEFA does not approve the European Premier League, a legal battle would ensue between UEFA, FIFA, and the companies who have secured rights to broadcast Europe’s top teams. Besides private funding, the European Premier League would need TV deals to get off the ground. The only problem is that UEFA has already secured broadcasting contracts with companies until 2024 for the UCL. With the introduction of a new tournament featuring Europe’s “top” teams, several contractual obligations could be broken. UEFA and FIFA could find themselves in a legal dispute about whose games should and shouldn’t be broadcasted as well as whose contracts have been breached.
An initial thought would be to schedule these tournaments on different weeks and days so that both could resume, but the problem is that the soccer calendar is already packed. On a given week, teams sometimes already play in their own domestic leagues and the UCL. Additionally, when there isn’t the UCL to worry about, some teams are competing in their own country’s domestic cups and competitions. Not to mention, teams still need time to practice in between games. For example, the schedule for Manchester City, one of England’s top clubs, in December 2020 consists of games every four days, on average, across three different competitions.
Aside from UEFA’s disapproval, there is one more factor to consider when creating a tournament of Europe’s top teams: the other teams in Europe. Gary Neville, retired defender for Manchester United, notes that “the idea that a $6 billion package is being put together to set up a new league when lower clubs are scrambling around to pay wages and stay in existence” is a big issue with the proposed European Premier League. Neville takes current factors such as COVID-19 into account, but money would just go back into the pockets of the wealthiest teams either way.
At this point in time, the European Premier League is just a recurring tease. With the global pandemic and the broadcasting contracts currently in place, it seems that the league might have to wait a few more years before the clearest path to reality becomes available. Nonetheless, the opposition from UEFA and the potential saturation of wealth are big obstacles to overcome. Yet, even with these obstacles in place, the thought of a European Premier League is turning into more of a reality. The question that remains is simple: is soccer better off with it or without it?
: Kleinman, M. (Oct. 20, 2020). “Top English clubs in bombshell talks to join European Premier League”. Retrieved from https://news.sky.com/story/top-english-clubs-in-bombshell-talks-to-join-european-premier-league-12109175
: Marcotti, G. (Oct. 21, 2020). “How a European Super League could happen and spell doom for
the Champions League”. Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/soccer/uefa-champions-league/story/4213902/how-a-european-super-league-could-happen-and-spell-doom-for-the-champions-league
: Kleinman, supra.
: Prince-Wright, J. (Oct. 20, 2020). “Report: Liverpool, Man United in talks to join new tournament”. Retrieved from https://soccer.nbcsports.com/2020/10/20/european-premier-league-liverpool-manchester-united-new-fifa-tournament/
: “European Premier League: What we know about FIFA-backed plans for cross-continental super tournament” (Oct. 21, 2020). Retrieved from https://www.skysports.com/football/news/11095/12109353/european-premier-league-what-we-know-about-fifa-backed-plans-for-cross-continental-super-tournament
: Larkin, B. (2015). “The Structure and Policies of FIFA”. Retrieved from https://sites.duke.edu/wcwp/tournament-guides/world-cup-2014/fifa-institutional-politics/the-structure-and-policies-of-fifa/
: “European Premier League…”, supra.
: Kruskic, H. Feb. 12, 2019). “UEFA Champions League Explained: How the Tournament
: “European Premier League…”, supra.
: “Manchester City Fixtures”. Retrieved from https://www.skysports.com/manchester-city-fixtures
: Kelner, M. (Oct. 20, 2020). “European Premier League plans are further proof that greed is now the driving force of football”. Retrieved from https://news.sky.com/story/european-premier-league-plans-are-further-proof-that-greed-is-now-the-driving-force-of-football-12109430