A Potential Seismic Shift in European Soccer

A Potential Seismic Shift in European Soccer

UEFA’s Champions League is one of the most exciting and interesting tournaments in sports. Clubs across every major soccer league in Europe compete against one another, giving fans the chance to watch historic matches between big clubs such as Liverpool and Barcelona, while also giving smaller clubs the chance to try and play Cinderella. Given the excitement of watching the largest soccer clubs throughout Europe play each other once every few years, some clubs began to ask: why don’t we do this every year?

That question has led to vast amounts of speculation over the years about a potential “Super

League,” in which the largest clubs in Europe would create their own league in place of the

Champions League.[1] This “Super League,” which some have also called the European Premier League, would follow an NBA-style format, with 16-18 teams playing each other twice followed by a playoff round after the regular season.[2] The clubs that are reportedly interested are the largest in Europe’s major leagues, including: Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, and Manchester United, among others.[3] 

Although this speculation has been around for years, financial losses suffered by clubs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to more substantiated rumors about the league becoming a reality. Clubs in England’s Premier League—their topflight soccer league—are reportedly losing more than $130 million a month due to a lack of revenue from ticket sales, and clubs across Europe are suffering a similar fate.[4] These losses are coupled with recent proposals from England’s top clubs, specifically Manchester United and Liverpool, for the English Football League and English Football Association to adopt what has been dubbed “Project Big Picture.”[5] Among many aspects of the proposal, the deal would give the biggest clubs in England’s top league greater voting rights and place a greater emphasis on those teams that have been in the league the longest.[6] Instead of a one-club, one-vote policy, the deal would give voting power to the nine longest-tenured Premier League clubs, with only six votes required to make major changes in the league.[7] If the top six clubs, who also are the wealthiest clubs, are able to make changes almost on a whim, they could easily pass a vote allowing England’s top teams to compete in the Super League, if it comes to fruition. As a result, those top teams would have access to the greater revenues coming from the Super League, leaving the already less-wealthy clubs at an even bigger disadvantage than they already are.

To add more fuel to the Super League fire, there have been reports that financing for the new league is being organized by JP Morgan.[8] The Wall Street bank is said to be planning a package of $6 billion in order to get the new league off the ground. In exchange, JP Morgan would likely receive future revenues earned through the competition, whether it be through broadcasting rights or ticket revenues, which will likely pique the interest of other banks to invest in the league.[9]

With the financing in place, there has been increased attention placed on two of soccer’s largest governing bodies: FIFA and UEFA. FIFA is the world governing body of soccer, and organizes international tournaments such as the World Cup, while UEFA is Europe’s governing body and is responsible for the Champion’s League, among other things.[10] FIFA has reportedly been involved in the development of the new format of the Super League, a move which would undercut UEFA’s largest revenue generating endeavor.[11] Unless FIFA and the other powers at be involved with the Super League can convince UEFA to get on board with the plan, there is great potential for a battle in court between the two governing bodies.[12]

As more teams reportedly sign on to join the league, as Manchester United and Liverpool were said to do this week, it will be interesting to see whether UEFA finally steps in to try and put an end to the Super League talks.[13] UEFA’s Champion’s League format is said to be locked in place until 2024, which could provide more time to negotiate with FIFA and clubs involved with the new league about potential compromise.[14] The Super League, however, may be less keen on negotiations due to reports that they plan to launch in the fall of September 2022.[15] Either way, it will be interesting to whether clubs, governing bodies, and leagues across Europe begin to think about potential legal strategies to block the new league from being formed, given the prospect that it is just a way for the rich to get richer.

[1] See Gabriele Marcotti, How a European Super League Could Happen and Spell Doom for the Champions League, ESPN (Oct. 21, 2020), https://www.espn.com/soccer/uefa-champions-league/story/4213902/how-a-european-super-league-could-happen-and-spell-doom-for-the-champions-league.

[2] See Joaquin Maroto, European Super League: a “hostile takeover” of Champions League, Diario AS en (Oct. 28, 2020), https://en.as.com/en/2020/10/28/football/1603877672_115231.html.

[3] Id.

[4] Mark Kleinman, Top English clubs in bombshell talks to join European Premier League, Sky News (Oct. 20, 2020), https://news.sky.com/story/top-english-clubs-in-bombshell-talks-to-join-european-premier-league-12109175; see also Graham Dunbar, Soccer clubs income hit by $680M UEFA rebate to broadcasters, AP News (Sept. 8, 2020),https://apnews.com/article/virus-outbreak-sports-europe-serie-a-soccer-d0db952743908e72a9ae49f395cc9494.

[5] Kleinman, supra note 4.

[6] Gerard Brand & Ben Grounds, Project Bit Picture Q&A: All you need to know about Premier League shake-up proposal, Sky Sport (Oct. 14, 2020), https://www.skysports.com/football/news/11096/12102347/project-big-picture-q-a-all-you-need-to-know-about-premier-league-shake-up-proposal.

[7] Id.

[8] Oscar Williams-Grut, JP Morgan reportedly to finance new ‘European Premier League,’ Yahoo Sports (Oct. 20, 2020), https://sports.yahoo.com/jpmorgan-european-premier-league-liverpool-manchester-united-144930747.html.

[9] Kleinman, supra note 4.

[10] Id.

[11] Mark Kleinman, European Premier League: Liverpool and Manchester United in talks for FIFA-backed tournament, Sky Sports (Oct. 21, 2020), https://www.skysports.com/football/news/11095/12109174/european-premier-league-liverpool-and-manchester-united-in-talks-for-fifa-backed-tournament.  

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15]See Maroto, supra note 2.

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