European Super League now a real possibility thanks to declining TV numbers and the rise of China

by Tony Attwood

There is not too much talk of it on TV, for the simple reason that when TV discusses football it is never neutral.   TV buys in football, and anything that threatens its position as the dominant distributor of football is an absolute no-go area.

Thus discussion of something being wrong with referees, or with the Football Association, or with Uefa, or with Fifa – it is all hidden away until it can’t be hidden anymore.  And then suddenly it is announced as “breaking news”.

Meanwhile the FA has always, and will always, bend the knee to Uefa and Fifa, no matter what they do, no matter how much money is wasted on bidding for competitions in processes that are fixed, no matter how financially and morally bankrupt the FA itself becomes.

So, don’t expect to hear too much on TV about the European Super League, but it is the dominant discussion point among members of the European Club Association at the moment.  It is a topic that has risen up before, and each time the clubs have been bought off with promises of more money from Uefa.

But a mixture of the corruption scandals at the top of Uefa, the recognition that football associations will tie themselves to Fifa, no matter what revelations comes out, declining viewing numbers for the Champions League, and the fact that all of the last seven Champions League finals have involved at least one of the big three (Real Mad, Barcelona, Bayern Munich), thus limiting the variety of performance, (and with two of those three having been found guilty of child trafficking), has had its effect.

Uefa is now preparing to sell the next round of TV rights for the Champions League, but there is a problem – viewing numbers are dropping dramatically.  Add to that the fact that a lot of the group stage matches are less than interesting to anyone other than already committed supporters of the teams, and that is a bigger problem.

So the top clubs in Europe are once more considering their 20-team Super League, with all the Super League teams being automatically in the Champions Leagues group stages.  The second tier clubs of course don’t like it any more than Uefa likes it, but if the clubs do form their league, there will be little that can be done about it by anyone else.

Uefa is now desperately trying to come up with a new formula that would buy off the top clubs once again.  There is talk of an extra knock out round before the group stages, so that the weaker teams would not play their six group stage matches and only pick up a few points.

But there is a further problem which is worrying the top clubs in Europe like mad: China.

When China reforms it doesn’t do it in the style we are used to in the west. It doesn’t dip a toe in, pull back, look around, watch the other guys…   China has plans and sees them through.

So for years it had a plan to boost academic performance in Chinese schools, and it has done that, getting Hong Kong as the second most successful “country” in terms of school performance in the world while the  Programme for International Student Assessment recognised Shanghai schools as the most academically successful in the world.

Except that China has found that with an endless push for academic success you inevitably build in something else: wholesale mental health issues and a complete lack of physical fitness among young people.  So time to change the system again.

And part of that next round of change is to get rid of all the past corruption and embrace football.

Jackson Martínez has been transferred from Atlético Madrid to a club in China for £31m.  China now owns around one third of Man City and a whole chunk of Atlético Madrid , and is starting to pull strings in both.   Alex Teixeira has just gone to China for £38.4m.  And the transfers continue – the transfer window not closing until the end of February.

Ramires of Chelsea has just been signed up for £25m and José Mourinho has been filmed in China taking it all in, and celebrating the signing up of new partnership agreements and further transfers. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is said to be ready to move.

Meanwhile the TV rights agency Infront, owned by Philippe Blatter  (most definitely a relation) has been bought by a Chinese start up.  It is I suppose one way of getting rid of that wretched family of corruptors.

Thus the model in China is always the same: bring in foreign companies and foreign labour.  Teach local labour the skills needed.  Do it.  Edge out the foreigners.

I still have the memory of my time in China and being taken on a tour of a city the name of which I am embarrassed to say I have now forgotten, and having the tour guide on the bus say something to the effect, “this is the mobile phone sector of the city – it employs about half a million people”.  The completely modern industrial complex went on as far as the eye could see.  Two miles down the road we came to the river which divided the city in two.  Wider than the Thames at Westminster, the guide pointed to the bridges.  “As you can see we have seven bridges across the river, and there are eight more under construction.  Three for rail, three for cars, and two which are double decker carry both rail and car transport.”

Yes, they were building eight bridges across the river, simultaneously.   I don’t think appeals against the planning authority were allowed.

With football it is the same concept.  Have the plan, do it.  The aim is first to boost the national league.  Then to host and then to win the World Cup, which is why there are now rules in place encouraging but limiting the number of foreign players in each team.  The investment in football in China by the state in the next ten years is around £500,000,000,000.  (That’s 500 billion if you got lost in the zeros).

But hang on, you may say, China’s growth is slowing – I heard it on the news.  And yes that is true.  China’s economy grew by 6.9% in 2015, its slowest growth in a quarter of a century.   In the UK it is just over 2%.

So China is ready to pour money into European football as well as take European footballers to China for unbelievable salaries and huge transfer fees which no European club can match.  Crowds are on the up with several clubs now having average gates of over 40,000 and the numbers growing fast.

And back home… Champions League TV figures have gone down and down even though more games are available free-to-air.   The average audience is now just around 200,000 per match.   I blame Lineker, but that’s probably just my prejudice.

And so Uefa wants a different deal for football on TV for 2018‑21.   But with the top clubs in Europe now ready to pick up their cherished aim of a European Super League, and Chinese clubs showing that, although they had a false start in taking Anelka and Drogba to China a while back, the league now has itself sorted out and can pick and choose the players it wants, plus with Uefa being utterly discredited in terms of controlling racism and mired as corruption as Fifa, everything is up for change.

There’s no doubt that many in the FA, in Uefa and of course in the TV organisations that keep them afloat, will be in, and will remain in, utter denial.   But history shows us that when change happens (as with the Premier League breaking away from the football league, with the support of the FA), it happens fast.  And the consequences are never, ever what people imagined.

Arsenal Anniversaries (more on the home page)

  • 11 February 1888: Contrary to reports the first match at the Manor Field (later the Manor Ground) and home of Arsenal until 1913 was not on this day but against Millwall Rovers on 30 March 1888.  The game on this day against Millwall was played at the Sportsman Ground, Plumstead.
  • 11 February 1905: Debut of Andy Ducat v Blackburn.  He won caps for football and cricket, and was eventually sold to Aston Villa in 1912 for £1000, as part of the cost-cutting measures as the club prepared to move to Highbury.

The Untold Books

The latest Untold book is Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 with a Foreword by Bob Wilson, available both as a paperback and as a Kindle book from Amazon.   Details of this and our previously published titles can be found at Arsenal Books on this site.


29 Replies to “European Super League now a real possibility thanks to declining TV numbers and the rise of China”

  1. China is a big player in world football. But it is still far behind Europe in many ways, coaches, player development and so forth. But with a billion people they will certainly find talented kids if they have a mind too!

    I think another treat to European dominance of football is the MLS.

    It already draws lots of fans. Games often have more fans than lower level EPL games.

    Because of how MLS is structured there is competion. Each season starts with a feeling that almost any club could win the Supporters Shield (best record in league) and any club could win the MLS cup at the end of the season. This is in marked contract to every European league where some times one club, or two clubs dominate and the other clubs in the league to not have a chance.

    North American (USA and Canada) share a value of getting decision correct they will not accept the shoddy biased and bent ref work as we have in the EPL. US sports like Basketball and American Football show a high level of professionalism with officials and a clear desire to get the decisions RIGHT!

    The MLS has been willing to innovate. This is held in check by FIFA or they would already have started doing video replay and using other forms of technology to help
    the refs.

    The over all revenue of the MLS is going up so the salaries are going up. If the pay is similar I would say most players would rather live in the USA/Canada than China.

    Finally the North American players are getting better with out having to play in Europe. Many of the up and coming players think twice about a European opportunity. Playing regularly in the MLS is often better for their career then siding the pine on a European team and they know it.

  2. I would say that CL tv viewing figures have dropped, because in the UK all CL games are on BT sport, which means you have to get an extra subscription – last season they were on SKY (pay) and ITV (free)

  3. Interesting, as always, the clubs were bound to start sabre rattling with the power vacuum created by the fall out of Blatter & Platini. Also I’m pretty sure it was Paltinis idea to divide the final qualifying round into champs & non champs to allow teams from smaller countrys like Scotland a shot of getting in rather than based on the seeding system used previously.
    This has allowed a lot more ‘minnows’ in, although good for them and probably the longer term, it doesn’t make ‘box office’ and therefore revenue for the big boys. Coupled with the EPL TV deal, the rest of Europe must be panicking that if they don’t find a way of competing the EPL will, financially at least, swallow the rest of Europe, when West Ham have bigger revenues than Inter Milan, you know they’ll be some unhappy bods about !

  4. I find it hard to believe that TV viewers of CL matches have dropped dramatically.
    I’ve always felt that the hard core of viewers has invariably been and will ever remain, the committed followers of the teams involved. Plus, of course, neutral football fans who like to watch the final stages of the top European competition.

  5. Well, TV viewership drop in rest of the world is due to the time factor (also). Australia/Asia and Americas have to watch the game after midnight or afternoon. Hardly a convenient time for midweek games. Unless you are a hardcore supporter of the playing clubs, why would you watch it….

  6. Mark

    Some interesting points but a couple I have a slightly different take on:

    “….But it (China) is still far behind Europe in many ways, coaches, player development and so forth.”

    —-And England isn’t? Since when did that matter? It’s all about the money.

    “Each season starts with a feeling that almost any club could win the Supporters Shield (best record in league) and any club could win the MLS cup at the end of the season. This is in marked contract to every European league where some times one club, or two clubs dominate and the other clubs in the league to not have a chance.”

    —–But it’s been like that for years and years. If you take the PL alone, it was for a good while pretty much dominated by just 2 teams, Man Utd and Arsenal, and that was during years of massive growth.

    Personally I think what’s behind the falling figures is far simpler than that.

    1 – Saturation.

    As much as I love it, there IS just too much football on TV. Why do I think that? Because go back 5 years and I would watch every match on TV. Now I doubt I watch 50%. I’m just getting bored with it all.

    2 – Money.

    For me, the fact that SKY etc. seem to get more excited about the amount of money being spent in the transfer window than they do over a match, says all you need to know about where there priorities lie. The fact that the public really didn’t gave a shit about the transfer window shows just how far they are loosing touch with how people are starting to ‘view’ football.

    A side note on the, personally I’m not that bothered about the figures, supply and demand and all that, but I do get the feeling that I am in a minority, and to a degree I understand it. It is, on the face of it, obscene.

    But so is the money paid to basketball players? Quarter backs? Film stars? Rock musicians? So football is far from unique on that issue.

    But I do agree and I do believe the bubble will burst, in Europe at least, it’s just a matter of when, which is almost certainly what’s behind the reasoning of uniting with the newer, less saturated Eastern, and possibly North American markets. Others can obviously see it coming as well.

    In conclusion, rather than the predictability of the ‘winners’ I think the problem is European football on TV has reached saturation point, and as a consequence, is going ‘stale’.

    Despite all that, personally an elite league would be the end for me.

    The unique make up and competitiveness of the PL is what makes it special.

    Also the prize for doing well and earning the right to compete against the best teams in Europe still holds a magic for me, and losing that ‘prize’ would be a massive negative for me.

    If we are playing (assuming we would qualify as an elite Club) the all those top top teams every year, the magic would be gone. Yes it would be a novelty for a while but I think it would loose it’s sheen very quickly.

    As they say, if you have steak every week, where’s the joy in Steak?

    2 other issues:

    a) The away support, and the atmosphere it generates is a massive part of the uniqueness of English football. The travel costs would surely have a massive impact on that?

    b) Without the prize of the Premiership surely the ‘feeder’ leagues, in all countries, would die a death?

  7. I can fully believe that the number of people watching CL matches is going down. Till let us say 5 -6 years ago I watched every match. But the more I saw and noticed how some teams were and still are favoured the more I started to realise that I was watching not real sports.
    So now I only watch CL matches when Arsenal play. When Arsenal is out of the completion I turn off my TV at the final whistle and no more CL football for me till next season when Arsenal is involved. And I am not alone in this. If Arsenal would not qualify for any European competition I would never watch them on TV.

    I have heard the same from others by the way who are no longer watching the charade called CL. And after all… the umpteenth Bayern-Barcelona or Barcelona- Real Madrid match is boring after a while…

  8. Walter,

    What you just said is exactly what I have been doing for the past 5 years. I also watched nearly every CL match, but seeing Bayern, Barca, and Madrid favored in every single match made me lose interest and I only watched Arsenal in CL.

    Champions League is more of a made-up, over-hyped, and shady refs based competition. Its not case anymore that the best playing team will win it. The teams who have won the CL in recent years all have had tremendous help from referees, fixture adjustments, and the so called “Randomly Drawn Teams”.

  9. So looks like China a major player in the buying and selling of clubs and players too.

    No doubt this is why USA is also pushing football, and UK now has to try to keep at the forefront in order to compete.

    No doubt Europe will soon come up with something to stop their clubs and players disappearing?

    Exciting times? Who knows?

    I wonder where this leaves Arsenal? Is the owner preparing? We can only hope so, and if the advancement of fans in China and US is something to go by, then it seems they are preparing.

    Super League. Not for or against, what will be will be. That is change and we need change.

  10. @Jambug
    February 11, 2016 at 11:44 am

    You know…The English level of football will now rise; what with the new arrival of Guardiola next season – right? 🙂 😉

    Hope his tippy-tappy football style (the one that attracts tackles bla bla) doesn’t come into conflict with PIGMOB – or will they (PIGMOB) make exceptions because – well he (Guardiolla) will after-all be with the OTHER Manchester Club!

    As far as China is concerned…well the last betting/corruption frontier for football I guess.

  11. I’m all for China dominating world football, if it means taking mourinho away from these shores 🙂 Would be nice if they could take Riley too, with his cronies.

  12. The reference to China is as though it was the governmant buying players. Chinese clubs are all beholden to the government & have very little independance. The society is not democratic & will eventually destroy the club structure of Europe by financial manipulation of the game in Europe.

    The manipulation by betting triads has aleady taken the FA into strange behaviour with their PGMO setup. A setup that is nothing less than the basis of open corruption in sport with no accountability in English law.

  13. As we’ve seen in the PL, money doesn’t immediately equal positive results. Chavski and $iteh both had many years of big spending before ‘The Russian’ and ‘The Arabs’ injected the real big buck and finally got some reward. If either of them had bought a smaller club which hadn’t had some serious investment previously then they would have had to wait for a few years longer.
    China can throw money around but won’t buy immediate success. It’ll take them quite a few years of good football before they’ll get any fan-base outside China unless the European teams have some really major ‘muck-up’/foot shooting incidents.
    As for them improving their national team to a top level…… Just look at how much the PL ha affected our national team.
    The real issue is that in the same way that the PGMO protect certain teams here, the European refs protect certain teams like Real, Barca and Bayern (Bayern a little less than the 2 in the same country that the refs have their holiday homes).
    RvP being sent off against Barca was the real turning point for me, when it was finally hammered home to me that UEFA wanted Barca to win that game. Since then I rarely watch a non-Arsenal CL game, except the odd ‘highlights package’.
    MLS is a growing operation market-wise and is good entertainment for fans that don’t know any better. Make no mistake, it will improve technically and will probably get to a decent ‘European’ standard in the future but that could take 5 years or 25 years… However a bit like the Johnsons Paint Cup (or whatever it’s called) the fact that the competition starts without a clear favourite (or 4) does make it more interesting/entertaining.

  14. There’s a certain moment watching CL in Europe – Malta, Prague, Pilsen, Berlin, Hamburg, Odense, Copenhagen, England – when the flat screen movement becomes wallpaper, and it covers the continent, it’s Europe, it just plays on, a bank of screens on the wall, it’s the way life is filled out for people, so,disinterest time.

    Arsenal break the pattern, because of the quality of the football, because Wenger has fashioned an ethos in a language that compels attention, in part because of the xenophobia, racism, homophobic assumptions levelled against them in the narrative and the individual voices of the commentary/punditry 24/7, and, of course, perhaps the single most illuminating reason to support the Arsenal – you get on the bus and the stranger sitting behind you will tell you exactly what Wenger is doing wrong, and how he, the stranger, would put it right, immediately, because, not like that clown Wenger, he knows what’s what when it comes to football, and so he can see it, why can’t that …….?

    I can’t see that European disinterest getting electrified into love and devotion by the introduction of a super-elite league. The Chinese league will succeed for the reasons the Maersk container fleet is the largest fleet of huge boats crossing and criss-crossing the planet’s oceans. Will the Chinese create the 24/76 narrative to sustain the football? Will the Chinese create the heroes and villains we apparently need to sustain interest?

    How does the country that gave the planet a few thousand years of history, prompted Kafka to write one of his greatest short stories – The Great Wall Of China – and created the philosophical framework of acupuncture 2000 years ago, introduce football as a mass spectator sport?

  15. budgynana, That is interesting. Have the Portuguese ‘immigration’ dept been involved in this….. Otherwise they could be in for a shock when none of the players sent over actually get a work permit….:D

  16. It should also be pointed out that China has a real problem with Racism. I know that puts them in line with many other countries and with Uefa but it may cause problems when trying to sell their league as a TV package outside China…..

  17. One thing not mentioned I think is the increasing proliferation of US owners who are, by nature, not used to relegation. If they can’t get rid of it from the EPL (established too long) then the sensible way forward (for them) is to invent another league from which there is minimal/no chance of relegation. The benefit being that. in business terms (return on investment), there is much more predictability.
    Teams involved would need bigger squads to cover European and domestic fixtures but the financial rewards would more than compensate.

  18. Kissinger is said to have asked the Chinese premier at the time what he thought of the French revolution. The premier replied, “It’s too soon to tell.”

    China takes the long view.

    If it wants to be a major player in football, it will be. And if that involves a fifty year plan, so be it.

  19. Robert, Yes China will undoubtedly succeed with their league eventually (not so sure about the national team though) but 50 years is far beyond the TV companies/ EL / CL etc forecast. I doubt any of them think beyond 5 years and definately not longer than 10 years. None of their employees expect to remain in their jobs that long…..

  20. 1.To support Arsene Wenger in all he does.

    As this is the first instruction in the sites mission statement, all discussions are to some extent pointless as the site followers will always defer to the opinion and teachings of Arsene, strange.

  21. Tipster…… most non UA regulars you’ve completely misunderstood point 1. We do support Wenger and the team because:

    1)He knows better than us how to manage a professional Club and its players,
    2)Until we can find a proven and demonstrably better solution, what Wenger does is usually going to be right or the best solution for the moment,
    3)There is nothing strange in acceding to superior widom and experience/expertise. Only a complete idiot refuses to acknowledge his obvious superiority when the master displays his skills. and finally
    4)We may, in general express support for his decisions and actions but it is NOT unconditional because we do not see things in black and white. We have been known to diverge from the Arsene way on occasion and even question his view of things BUT we also know that we are amateurs (just like you) and that he is usually going to be right.

  22. OMG – well said. Tipster does try to fish every now & again. He is should listen to Talkshite.

  23. I too only watch the Arsenal matches both in the EPL and in the CL , as the other teams styles don’t interest me . The German , Spanish , French and Italian games never even get a cursory glance from me .
    All that babbling before , at half time and post game , also gets a miss from me.

  24. I do hope that if and when the Chinese Super-Duper League gets underway , that the TV companies hire competent staff and ‘experts ‘ who understand the uniqueness and complexity of Chinese culture .
    This so that the don’t put their foot in their mouths , as they are usually bound to do . Here is an example of a very recent SNAFU by a newbie there.

    An new American CIA spy in China urgently reports back to HQ today:

    ‘ China exhibits signs of collapsing: All the factories have stopped work, all shops have closed their doors ;
    Government offices have all stopped working ;
    Shares are not trading ;
    the wealthy have dragged their family , left their homes gone overseas ; locals are busy buying rations and food ;
    most houses doors display red notices and verses of seeking and begging ;
    the are streets littered with the smell and remnants of fireworks ;
    people generally not doing anything except drinking and gambling ,
    while the young and the children are going around in groups begging for money ‘
    the whole country seem to have collapsed …….’

    Idiot! They are all celebrating Chinese New Year!

  25. Brickfields, If i’m free and a French, German, Italian or Spanish game is on them I’m quite happy to watch it. I followed Bayern for over 15 years (since I lived there) even though it’s often a men against boys game. The top teams against the lower teams is usually less interesting but a couple of their lower table teams is like watching a championship game here. They are generally technically better but much slower games than our championship games here.

  26. I don’t think China is worried or care about marketing their league to western countries, I believe they want to increase their domestic fanbase because they know western clubs are targeting their market. So combat this they start buying players from Europe.

  27. From what I’ve read, 20 clubs will be participating in the proposed super league. And also that the teams participating will not be playing their domestic leagues while playing the super league. I’m sorry but as a fan of the Barclay’s premier league, I don’t want to see that happening.
    Now I an very excited at the prospect of a leagie-format European competition. And at the same time, I want to see my beloved arsenal play in both Europe and in england simultaneously. But since injury and fitness would become a heavy crisis if a team has to play both I suggest that uefa should reduce the number of participating teams. Instead of 20, let no more than 8 or 10 teams play.
    I’ve made my calculations and found that the teams participating in the final has to play 15 games in the champions league I.e they have to face 15 weeks of european action. With 8 teams, you have 14 weeks of European action for each team, and 18 if 10 teams are playing.
    And instead of having 2 divisions, have 3, or 4 even so more clubs can enjoy playing in europe
    What do you say to that, Tony?

Comments are closed.