By Tony Attwood
Whichever way the Super League legal decision goes, it is going to be a problem.
At this moment European Court is deciding if football clubs have the right to break away from Uefa and run their own competitions without Uefa’s say-so. If the court says “yes you can” (on the basis of freedom of competition, a bedrock of the EU) then Super League will be back on the table, and all clubs will know that if they don’t like what Uefa gets up to, then they can set up their own competition/s.
But if the court says “no” (on the basis that sport is different from other areas of trade and so restrictive rules can apply) then Uefa will not only reign supreme it will reign with added certainty that it can do anything it likes. And Juventus and Barcelona – both in incredibly bad financial situations – will be pondering what on earth they can do next. They were utterly dependent on Super League income for their survival, and Barcelona’s advance selling of their future media rights only makes sense if they can get extra income from Super League to replace that loss.
Certainly given the way that Uefa has been behaving in terms of the last European final in relation to police activity and ticket sales, and the subsequent lopsided enquiries, and the way it has allowed the power behind PSG and beIN Sports to become ever more dominant in Europe, it is fairly clear that greater democratisation of football is not going to be on the agenda. (For more background see How UEFA and PSG have taken control and fooled all of football).
Should the three remaining rebels (Real Mad, Juve and Barcelona) win, they will not, of course, set up their own three-team Super League, but will return to the other Super League clubs and start to negotiate a new competition that will be acceptable to the clubs like Arsenal that said yes originally, and then quickly said no.
As a result of that the Premier League could kick out the clubs entering the Super League, and there could be a battle over that.
But of course there could be a compromise. Instead of the Champions League run by Uefa there could be a Champions League run by the clubs, in which the clubs continue to play in their national leagues, but don’t play in the Uefa Champs League, instead playing in their own 10 or 12 teams Champions League. This could be a league in the full sense, with all teams playing each other twice during the year with three points for a win.
In other words Super League and the Premier League would exist alongside each other as Champions League and Premier League do now.
However in an article published by the London School of Economics, three academics suggest that the financial power of Super League would further detach the big clubs from their domestic rivals and that the notion of a closed competition “suffers from several significant flaws.
“For instance, Arsenal is strongly competing with other Premier League clubs in England for fans. So, the national consumer markets are ‘relevant markets’, which are the focal points of economic competition and competition law.”
But for me, it is difficult to see how this is the case – most Premier League fans become fans of their club because of family tradition, or where they were born, or a chance encounter. They don’t change from one club to another.
The main issue however is probably the cost of TV subscriptions and season ticket prices, and here the market forces of supply and demand will continue to hold sway. It should not be forgotten that although it is hard to get a ticket at Arsenal this season, for the two previous seasons when Arsenal finished eighth in the league, for those games not affected by pandemic restrictions, obtaining a ticket by members was not hard at all, and many games had multiple empty seats.
If Super League does exist alongside the Premier League but is played mid-week just as the Champions League is now, the one question remaining is that of promotion and relegation. Would the bottom club from Super League drop out each season?
The problem with that is how a new club would be elected. Up to 1986 the clubs at the bottom of the Fourth Division in England had to reapply to stay in the league, while clubs in the lower leagues applied for admittance, and the clubs with the most votes got the places. Mostly that meant the League clubs voting for each other (although in one notorious case Barrow were voted out, simply because the rest of the league clubs felt the journey to their ground was too long).
But first we await the court case.
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