A Not So Super League
Soccer, especially in Europe, has often been viewed as unfair for smaller teams that have less money to spend on transfers and investments. This season, however, is proving that idea wrong.
In England, the entire season has been defined by underdog stories and surprising failures by richer teams. Leicester City, a team that represents a city with only the 23rd largest population in England, ranked 17th out of 20 Premier League teams in terms of transfer spending this season. This is a team that was almost relegated last season to the lower leagues of English soccer, and had a 5000-1 chance of winning the League at the start of the season. Yet, to the surprise of soccer fans everywhere, Leicester sits in first place in the League with only four games left to play.
Leicester also has one of the lowest wage bills in the League of $69.3 million, compared to their closest rival Tottenham Hotspur’s wage bill of $143 million, which is also relatively low. The usual dominating teams are not able to keep up with these teams, despite their much higher spending. Manchester City sit 3rd in the table, a whole 12 points (4 wins) behind Leicester, despite a wage bill of $279 million. Last season’s Premier League champions Chelsea are now in 10th place, 29 points behind Leicester City (almost 10 wins worth), with a wage bill of $310 million.
Despite drawing to West Ham this weekend and their all-important striker Jamie Vardy’s suspension (which could possibly be prolonged), Leicester City are still favorites to win the Premier League with 11-10 odds in England. Even if they somehow manage to come in second, they are still undisputedly one of the most exciting teams to watch in the world.
This combination of richer teams underperforming and relatively poorer teams like Leicester City and Tottenham achieving such success seriously challenges the idea that poorer teams have no chance of competing.
The underdog trend is being seen in other nations as well. Only a few weeks ago, FC Barcelona of Spain sat 10 points clear at the top of the League table ahead of Atletico Madrid, and seemed unstoppable. They had gone 39 games without losing, breaking the spanish record by 5 games.
On April 2nd, however, the tides turned. Barcelona lost to rivals Real Madrid (who were previously underperforming), and have since uncharacteristically only won two games out of six, have been eliminated from the Champions League, and are now equal on points with Atletico Madrid at the top of the table.
While this is no Leicester City story, the situation at Barcelona has shown the unpredictability of soccer, regardless of the competing teams’ revenues. Barcelona makes around $160 million per year from TV revenues alone, but teams like Valencia (TV revenue of $50 million), Atletico Madrid (TV revenue of $50 million), and Real Sociedad (TV revenue of $28 million) were able to beat Barcelona convincingly. Even the poorest teams in Spain can conquer the giants of world soccer.
Yes, money is important in soccer. Of course it is; it’s how teams buy players, develop their youth, upgrade their facilities, and gain global recognition. Look at Bayern Munich in Germany and Paris Saint-Germain in France and how they transformed their organizations with money and investments, allowing them to buy their way to success in numerous competitions. Yet, as this season has shown, being smart with the money you have and being unique can allow any poor team to beat the richest of the rich.
But all of that could change very soon. The idea of a European “Super League” is now in the works at the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), the governing body of European soccer. The League would be structured such that the wealthiest, “best” teams from different European nations (mostly the most popular soccer nations) would compete against each other instead of against teams from their respective countries.
This idea hinges on the richer teams wanting more TV revenues. Their current deals are structured such that the richest teams in a league has to share TV revenues with the other teams, despite bringing in most of the viewership and marketing. The creation of this new Super League would increase the amount of high-level, mass-viewership games that would raise more money for bigger teams. The revenues would not have to be shared with their poorer counterparts.
Which teams are admitted into the Super League could be rotating, but won’t be based on performance as the current European international club competition, the Champions League, is. This is extremely unfair for poorer teams both competitively and economically: they will not have a chance to challenge themselves against the best in the world and will lose a large portion of their TV revenues if the bigger teams leave.
Additionally, nations who do not have as many rich teams will have no chance at catching up to the powerhouses that would form the Super League. Countries in Europe like the Netherlands, which once led the world in soccer strategy and performance, will fall far behind the already rich soccer nations which will only get richer. The unjust polarization within and between nations will only increase if the Super League is formed.
The Super League could be created sooner than you might think, too. While UEFA said that there were no plans in the works, many teams are already pushing for the League. Some of England’s richest teams have met to reportedly discuss the structure of the Super League and push for its establishment. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, CEO of Bayern Munich and chairman of the European Club Association, also said that the Super League was inevitable. The UEFA Club Competitions Cycle, which determines the funding for European competitions, will expire in 2018, opening the door for a new structure to be implemented (including that of a super League).
What is most scary to me about this League is the negative implications it will have for poorer teams and the sport as a whole. Even the most successful of the poorer teams that cannot make it into the Super League will be lost into soccer oblivion, becoming no more important than 3rd division teams are now. Fans will have to pay exorbitant prices to go to Super League games, and only wealthier people will be able to afford to attend. Entire teams, fanbases, leagues and nations will be left in the dust, and soccer will transform from a game for the people to a game for the elite.
And what’s worse, the love, passion and hope for the game that so many hold will be lost. I won’t get goosebumps when I see Leicester soar to the top of the Premier League, or enjoy watching small teams beat giants like Barcelona. If there isn’t uncertainty in every game, if there isn’t a chance that a team can do the unthinkable, if there isn’t hope—then what’s the point?