Will UEFA reform be enough to keep clubs like Liverpool at bay?
The idea of a breakaway European ‘Super League’ is far from a recent development. In fact, it is an idea that has been bandied about for a number of years and has steadily gained support as clubs seek to capitalise on the increasing commercialisation of mainstream sport.
Just this summer a meeting was convened with Charlie Stillitano of the International Champions Cup (ICC) to discuss the possibility of a potential breakaway. Interestingly this meeting contained two of the so-called traditional giants of European football, Liverpool and Manchester United, both of whom will be absent from the continents top table this season.
Far from being a covert summit, Stillitano was more than happy to divulge some of the discussion points from the meeting, going as far to admit that any breakaway would be well outside his own jurisdiction:
“We cannot in any way, shape or form make a Super League. We are not the architects of this discussion. We know for a fact that everyone’s talking about it- there’s the ECA (European Club Association), there’s UEFA- and looking for a way to improve. If they look at our tournament and see it as a model of a way for them to go forward, it’s not us suggesting that. To me it’s in the hands of the clubs and UEFA. They have to figure it out.”
So why the push for a breakaway?
The inclusion of perceived underdogs from lesser UEFA member nations has long been seen as sacrosanct by most football fans, but for the larger clubs it only seeks to undermine their own revenue potential. From a commercial perspective, Liverpool versus a side like Bayern Munich or Real Madrid is a far more marketable tie than say against a minor European side like CFR Cluj or Rapid Vienna. The romantics among you would defend the right of a so-called lesser club side to test themselves on this stage but in reality it only seeks to hinder the growth of football when compared to other global sports.
In a recent faculty article we discussed the reasons for US commercial dominance in sport, with a closed league system a major lever in creating the assurances necessary for economic prosperity. Protectionism creates stability, guarantees revenue and allows US sports teams to thrive when compared to their European rivals.
So how have UEFA responded?
Just this week it was revealed that UEFA would consider changes to the format of the Champions League and discuss these at an Extraordinary UEFA Congress in Athens on September 14-15, where a new UEFA president will be elected to replace Michel Platini. Sky Sports’ Kaveh Solhekol reports that guarantees will be made for the top four clubs in each of the continents top four leagues to participate in the group stages of the competition. A move that is seen as the potential first step in solidifying the standing for the biggest and most successful football clubs in Europe. This could commence as early as the next UEFA cycle between 2018-2021.
It is a difficult trade-off for the game’s lawmakers; the ability for the underdog to conquer the apparent Goliaths of football is all part of the appeal. Conversely, a closed league system produces a definite financial benefit for the game, at least from a holistic point of view. The wide range of literature and empirical evidence on the topic would certainly add credence to this argument, and as we have mentioned before club valuations are an easy way of underlining this precise point. US sports teams are more profitable and also far more valuable than their European adversaries.
Reform is on the way, but will it appease the clubs that are seeking to cement their place at the very top of the game? For the purists this will no doubt be a horrifying development, yet another glaring failure of the modern footballing world.
Romantic or reformist, should we provide protection for clubs like Liverpool?