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In the aftermath of the UK’s European Super League drama, it’s worth reflecting on what could have been, why the Top 6 were motivated to do something so controversial in the first place and what the impact might have been on the other teams in the Premier League (and potentially beyond).
It’s possible we haven’t seen the end of the ESL, but with news of a potential €7bn deal for a new look Champions League it seems as if the ESL clubs might be able to achieve a part of their financial goal without having to defect to a new (and extremely unpopular) competition, which should be good news for fans of the clubs and the sport in general.
For a few days, the footballing world was thrown into a frenzy—let’s look back at why it all happened.
Why did the “Top 6” want to join the European Super League in the first place?
The first thing to note here is that it is impossible for any of the clubs to have anticipated such retaliation from the footballing world. Pundits, fans and other clubs all came together to send a powerful message to the Top 6—one centred around greed, anti-competitiveness and a love of the beautiful game.
With that out of the way, let’s try to understand why the defectors were motivated to form their own European competition, with no relegations and limited opportunities for involvement from other clubs:
- Finances: Lucrative sponsorship and broadcasting deals, usually distributed between 32 teams in the Champions League, split between a smaller number of teams, funded by banking powerhouse JPMorgan.
- Consistency: Guaranteed income each year, not dependent on performance, so no possibility to ‘miss out’ if your team isn’t up to scratch.
- Better sponsorship opportunities: Many of the world’s top brands sponsor the Champions League to be associated with teams like Barcelona and Manchester United. Now, they would be able sponsor a smaller pool of (globally recognised) teams, and avoid paying for marketing on games/teams that generate lower viewership.
- Reduced travel: Some Champions League games can see teams travel as far as Istanbul and St Petersburg—restricting the teams entering the competition would avoid exhausting long-haul trips to remote locations.
Were they justified in wanting to start their own league?
While you can (and many did) certainly question the approach the clubs took, it isn’t difficult to see why the prospect of the European Super League was attractive to the big sides. They are, without a doubt, the key driver behind there being so many eyes on Premier League football, and they make up 6 of the 7 Premier League teams who lost the most ticket income from COVID-19—money that will need to be made up from somewhere.
Let’s first look at the size of the fanbases, using the number of followers each Premier League team has on social media. While it might not be a perfect indicator of how many people would watch these teams in a new league format, it can at least give us an idea of the number of people taking an interest in each club.
|Club||Twitter Followers||Instagram Followers||Facebook Followers|
|West Bromwich Albion||1,100,000||377,200||843,000|
The Top 6 teams are, unsurprisingly, far and away the most popular teams in the Premier League in terms of social media following. The ‘smallest’ of the Top 6 teams, Tottenham (who rank 6/6 for all 3 social medias within the Top 6) have over double the Twitter and Instagram followers as the next closest teams (Everton and Leicester respectively) and over 3 times the number of Facebook likes as the best of the rest (also Leicester).
The numbers are even more shocking when you compare the two groups against each other. While Manchester United come out tops in all 3 rankings, they are by no means the only reason behind the enormous discrepancy between the Top 6 and the rest of the Premier League—for example, Arsenal’s Twitter following dwarfs that of every of the non-Top 6 teams in the Premier League.. combined (and with over 1M follows to spare)
|Rest of the league||16,143,100||17,288,900||29,007,871|
|Following difference (as a multiplier)||5.7x||8.6x||8.9x|
Simply put, the teams considering breaking off into the European Super League probably felt quite justified in doing so—just by looking at this fairly simple data, it wouldn’t be difficult to draw the conclusion that they were/are responsible for the majority of the viewership (and thus sponsorship) of any competition they participate in. If they felt they weren’t properly compensated for their contributions, you can imagine they’d look elsewhere.
The Top 6 make up well over 80% of the total Twitter followers in the Premier League
Instagram is especially stark, with 90% of the followers of Premier League clubs keeping an eye on the Top 6
Facebook is a similar story—90% of the Premier League’s likes are concentrated in the Top 6
What would have been the impact on the rest of the Premier League?
To understand the impact on the other teams in England’s top division, we’ll need to consider things through a wider lens. Most of these clubs don’t play in a European competition at all, and so don’t feel the benefits of the increased revenues generated by playing in the Champions League or Europa League. Nor, as we’ve discussed above, are they bringing in global viewership, the likes of which the Champions League or European Super League (and their sponsors) might be interested in.
In order to truly understand the impact on these clubs, it’s important to consider aspirations. While many of the clubs don’t/can’t compete with the Top 6, all of them would tell you that’s their eventual goal. You don’t have to look too far into the past to be reminded of Leicester’s unlikely 2015-16 title-winning team, and the financial rewards (both from sponsorship revenues, ticket/merchandise sales and potential future sponsorships/partnerships) are well worth the lofty goals many of these clubs set.
While a complete list would be considerably longer, here are just a few of the main ways the rest of the Premier League would have been impacted had the European Super League gone ahead as planned:
- Talent Acquisition: Quality players want to play against world-class opposition. With no hopes of ever seeing the field against clubs like Barcelona or Juventus, it may have been difficult for many Premier League clubs to attract talent from hotspots like South America or Eastern Europe.
- Finances: A successful ESL launch would have severely hindered brands willingness to sponsor competitions like the Champions League and Europa League. While more ‘Other 14’ clubs may have made it into these competitions, the amounts they received in reward/broadcasting money would have been considerably less than they are currently.
- Competition: Football was founded on the principles of competition and merit. The Top 6 consistently being rewarded with top-level European football could have left some clubs wondering what exactly it was they were playing for—especially if the ESL clubs (as some suggested) rested players in domestic competitions in favour of big games against the likes of Real Madrid or A.C. Milan.
- Fan Support: How quickly fans rallied against the ESL is proof of just how quickly sports fans can turn if they don’t agree with something. If fans felt their teams weren’t competing for anything (with no chance of ever qualifying for the ESL) it’s possible they’d have lost interest over time.
European Super League Frequently Asked Questions
After the enormous backlash from fans, probably not. Plans for the European Super League had been discussed between the founding clubs for a number of years on and off, so a lot of planning and thinking went into what they assumed would be a launch that would excite fans worldwide.
As we found out, however, that wasn’t the case—any plans to break away from Europe’s current competition format would probably be met with a similar reaction.
Plans were scrapped before this was ever made clear, but the general outline offered 5 spots ‘up for grabs’ each year (assumably) for exceptional domestic league performance. What exactly this would require was never made clear, nor the leagues that would be considered.
The Steam Workshop has a European Super League League & Data Update for any Steam users.
Otherwise, FM Scout has a database completely removing the ESL teams from the football pyramid, presumably for their suggested transgressions against the beautiful game.
12 of Europe’s top Football clubs came together to try and create their own competition that would be played alongside the domestic competitions (Premier League, FA Cup, etc.). The goal was to create their own version of the existing UEFA Champions League that would be more financially lucrative to the clubs involved, who believed their participation was responsible for most of the revenue generated by the competition and that they weren’t being compensated appropriately.
We already have a version of what was suggested in the UEFA Champions League. Any future attempts at a “European Super League” could probably only succeed as a modification/adjustment to the UEFA Champions League, and not as a separate, standalone competition outside of UEFA’s jurisdiction.
A collection of Europe's biggest clubs including Manchester United and Barcelona breaking away from traditional European competitions (Champions League, Europa League) to form their own invite-only competition.