The Rise and Fall of the European Super League
In late April, European soccer faced its greatest crisis since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The proposed “Super League” by the powerhouses of European soccer shook up the sports world for a few days and brought massive backlash from fans around the world.
by Prithvi Prem
The Original Plan
On April 18th, twelve of the largest soccer clubs in Europe unveiled a plan to launch what they called the Super League, a competition in which they (and their guests) would compete against one another while claiming billions of dollars in revenue for themselves. This decision, however, was not out of the blue. For a long time, the possibility of a “super league” has been discussed. But this day was the time it had become reality.
The 12 founding members were composed of 6 English teams (Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, and Arsenal), 3 Spanish teams (Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, and Barcelona), and 3 Italian teams (Juventus, Inter Milan, and A.C. Milan). As for the rest of the 20 proposed teams, they were to be part of a rotating cast whose selection criteria had not been revealed.
There was already a competition like this for the powerhouses of European soccer known as the Champions League. This competition has been going on for over 60 years and is one of the most popular competitions in the world. However, what set apart the Super League and the Champions League, was that the 15 clubs would have permanent spots in the Super League, whilst the Champions League only allows temporary spots.
One large incentive for the founding 12 members was the amount of money they would rake in through this league. The clubs believe that selling the broadcast rights for the Super League, as well as the commercial income, will be worth billions. And it will all go to them, rather than being redistributed to smaller clubs and lesser leagues through European soccer’s governing body, UEFA.
After the Super League announcement broke, the major domestic and continental leagues of Europe acted quickly. The Premier League moved quickly to condemn the plans, followed swiftly by every other major body in football, including UEFA and the English, Spanish, and Italian football federations. Even politicians and high-ranking celebrities joined in, including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Considering the large benefits for participating clubs, you would think that their fans were overjoyed with this Super League. However, it was the exact opposite. Fans, in reality, started voicing their displeasure at the participating clubs. They were upset by the greed of these already rich owners and their clubs. European football is universal in a way that American sports are not. The wealthy clubs are connected to the smaller clubs and are, in many ways, their subsidizers. The relegation structure of European soccer allows smaller clubs such as Leeds United and Fulham to be a part of the same solar system as the monsters like Manchester United and Liverpool. There was always an unsteady balance between all these teams, but as long as they were in the same universe, they could coexist and potentially all thrive off each other.
The day after the announcement broke, English fans staged a massive protest outside Chelsea’s stadium before their match against Brighton & Hove Albion. This protest captured the football world’s attention, along with the Chelsea ownership, who announced their withdrawal from the super league that evening, just over a day after announcing the competition. Chelsea’s exit was followed by that of Manchester City and the rest of the six English clubs. By April 20, Super League president Florentino Perez announced the suspension of the Super League.
Shortly after the announced suspension of the Super League, Manchester United Chairman Ed Woodward announced his resignation from his position. Owners of the 6 English clubs apologized to the fans but were met with little to no forgiveness. The fans were still livid at their ownership and demonstrations started to take place. On the 23rd, Fans of Arsenal protested outside the stadium for the owner, Stan Kroenke, to resign from his position. Manchester United fans staged a large protest outside Old Trafford before Manchester United’s huge game vs. Liverpool on May 2. The fans managed to enter the stadium and stormed the pitch to protest against the owners of the club, the Glazer family. Their protest managed to get the match postponed, which captured the attention of the entire football world. Just a few days ago, on May 7, UEFA placed sanctions on 9 of the Super League clubs for their intended breakaway. As a result, the nine clubs have agreed to make a combined 15 million euros contribution to benefit children's and grassroots football across Europe. They will also have 5% of UEFA competition revenues withheld for one season, starting in 2023-24, and this money will be redistributed.
This tumultuous period of world soccer showcased one thing: the power of the fans. If it wasn’t for the large demonstrations and backlash, there is a good chance that the Super League wouldn’t have collapsed. The fans showcased their resilience and their care for the sport, causing the suspension of the super league as well as major consequences for the participating clubs.