The news of the European Super League shook the world of sport during its short-lived existence. It triggered an avalanche of opinion, from sports personalities to world leaders, and took fans on an emotional rollercoaster. What a 48 hours, hey? 

As the dust settles, MTM Sport takes stock and tries to unpack what last week’s events mean for the world of football in the months to come.

What happened?

Twelve football clubs from England, Italy and Spain announced their intention to set up a new tournament – a European Super League. This was to be a ‘closed shop’, with the founding clubs always guaranteed to take part, and room for five others who would qualify based on success in their domestic league. Plans were at an advanced stage, with the format, branding and even a website all in place, and the aim to start “as soon as practicable”. It sparked intense media attention and after substantial pressure from voices inside and outside the game, coupled with mounting fan pressure, the English clubs involved began to withdraw, sparking its collapse. 

What does it mean for the future?  

The ramifications are yet to be decided, with media coverage of events suggesting there could be possible sanctions for the clubs involved, ranging from fines to competition suspension. Formal charges appear increasingly unlikely, however, as time progresses. Yet the aftermath of the event is likely to instigate change in some capacity. So what happens next? 

1). A re-imagined version of the ESL 

Whilst the English clubs may have withdrawn from the ESL, other founding clubs have been less committal about stepping away. The Spanish duo of Real Madrid and Barcelona are yet to publicly withdraw, whilst senior personnel at Italian giants AC Milan and Juventus have hinted at being interested in an adapted version of the current proposals. So the ESL – or at least a different version of it – may not be completely dead and buried yet.

2). Elite clubs using the ESL move as leverage in future negotiations 

The clubs involved have flexed their muscles and shown what an alternative footballing universe could look like. Some have suggested that this may have been a testing of the waters, to be used as a form of leverage in negotiations about the future of domestic and European competitions. Certainly some clubs amongst the breakaway may feel that their pulling power, on which such events are sold, should mean that they acquire a greater percentage of the revenues generated. The discussions will continue to be had around who needs who more. UEFA’s president last week was playing the role of peacemaker in welcoming the ESL clubs back into the fold, suggesting that they “had a lot to offer” and focussing on the future. 

And that future, in some ways, is already here. Amidst all the coverage of the ESL it might have been missed in some quarters that a revamped Champions League format for 2024 was announced. Whilst these changes do not give the Super League clubs the total control over European football that the ESL may have done, they do still hugely benefit them financially – and also help to remove some of the jeopardy. 

This is because the new format will consist of an additional 100 matches (225 vs. 125 currently) amongst 36 teams (up from 32), with two of those being clubs who did not qualify automatically, but gain entry by having the highest UEFA coefficient ranking. So teams who historically perform well in UEFA competitions have a possible backdoor entry to the Champions League, if they have a below par season. By continuing to qualify and compete in European competitions they can keep the coefficient high and reduce the likelihood of dropping out. The extra matches will also help increase revenues and commercial opportunities. Just not quite as much as the ESL would have done. 

So whilst the breakaway clubs might not have been successful in setting up a closed shop European tournament, they have (sanctions permitting) been able to secure more of what they wanted. More games. And less risk. 

3). Fan driven reform 

In discussions around the ESL, the suggestion from the Real Madrid president that 40% of 16-24s are not interested in football and that there might need to be format changes to maintain the short attention spans of younger generations, has certainly got people talking. The counter argument presented widely online has been that the issue is more about young people being priced out of the game – and therefore seeking alternative forms of entertainment elsewhere. Either way it shows that there is an opportunity – and an appetite – for change. 

That change could be driven by the fans themselves. Following the collapse of the ESL plans the UK government announced it was bringing forwards a fan-led review of English football that will examine ownership, finance and supporter involvement in the game. Recent events have brought the German model of the 50+1 rule sharply back into focus. This is the principle that members (the fans) have a 51% voting majority when it comes to any and all decisions about their club. There is a feeling in some quarters that this could help to drive ticket prices down and attract more younger audiences into stadia. This working, in England at least, seems unlikely without government intervention, as it would require current owners to relinquish their grip on power which many have invested heavily to acquire. It also deters new investors, who might struggle with the idea of pumping lots of money in and not being able to call the shots. 

Whilst the merits of the German model remain open to debate, certainly fans are keen to use the events of recent weeks as a springboard for change. To keep the conversation of ticket prices, the cost of watching football and the perceived lack of fan engagement on the agenda – for clubs, governing bodies and governments. Many see it as an opportunity for a reboot, and a chance to bring fans front and centre more in the big decisions that matter. 

At MTM Sport we are excited to see what the future brings. We work extensively across mens, womens and youth football, from grassroots to the professional game. We work with clubs, sports broadcasters, charities, governing and public bodies to explore football from every angle. A recent example includes our study with the European Club Association into the modern football fan. If you’d like to know more, please get in touch today.

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