If it’s a choice between a European Super League and a 36-team single league Champions League, most football fans in Europe would reject both. But then, this isn’t up to us. We’re largely irrelevant.
The overwhelming negative response to both ideas, perhaps especially the European Super League, makes clear the opposition, but less vocal are those who are in favour. And there must be plenty who are. We need to think about them. Why shouldn’t they get what they want? OK it’s a change but change isn’t always bad. Indeed, this change will make football better for everyone else. Yes it’s a selfish self-centered greedy move which pays no regard to football’s history, but did we expect anything else?
Money-generating machines such as Manchester United don’t sign up for anything on the off chance that it’ll be popular. They will have research which proves it would be a big money-spinner and highly popular. We shouldn’t deny that, nor pretend that how we feel about it is a global feeling. It isn’t.
If you’re sitting in Mumbai and fancy watching a game, do you turn on Burnley v WBA or do you watch Chelsea v Real Madrid? Everyone knows the answer to that. There are 1.3 billion people in India alone. These clubs want their money. They won’t get it with Brighton v Southampton.
There is a big demand to see big games between big clubs at the moment. There may not be after five years of them playing in a sealed league, but here and now, there is. It’s just not in the UK or in Europe.
That it is not popular with their traditional audience in Britain and Ireland is of little concern to these clubs because we’re not very big and we don’t provide that many eyes on TV screens.
The big audience for football is not Europe, it is in India and China, which have a total population of 2.6 billion souls. Thailand has a population a little bigger than the UK, Japan’s is double the UK. Brazil has a population over 211 million people. All these markets are bigger, growing and potentially far, far more valuable to the clubs and to their broadcasters. That’s just the reality.
When Sky was bought by Comcast it was said to have a total subscription audience in Europe of 23 million. Given not all of those will have bought a deal with football built in, it shows you the European audience’s size is less than stellar in a continent of 740 million.
The big money is elsewhere. Now, the Big Six (by wealth) Premier League clubs know this. They can’t come out and tell their European fans that they’re not important, but they are much, much less important than they ever have been. Yes, they claim to want to play domestic football on weekends and ESL midweek, but surely know that’s not workable or acceptable to anyone.
Both India and China are fast-growing economies and with a quickly expanding wealthy middle class. By contrast, growth in Europe is non-existent. All the profit has been tapped out and, in some territories is probably shrinking as post-Covid unemployment bites and the amounts we have to pay look like poor value for money.
As soon as you look at the global picture, a European Super League which sees Europe’s big sides always playing each other, makes absolute sense to the club's accountants. There isn’t the same root support to placate in your Far East and Indian audience and that makes everyone’s lives easier.
The distant overseas fan has no investment in the English football pyramid, nor any in the important local civic aspects of football. It’s all entertainment to them, in the same way a movie is. They want to see the best players playing each other. They want mega stars. They care much less or not at all, that it’s a local lad who has come through the youth team. Why would they?
This isn’t a criticism, it’s just the nature of an expansion in global appreciation of the sport. In the UK we often forget that. We think we are the most important people, but global corporations think globally, not locally and they gravitate towards where the money is and where the big numbers are. That ain’t here.
While these six clubs have the moniker of the football club of old, in truth, they are imposters. They’re not Arsenal or Spurs or Chelsea etc, they’re just wearing their clothes. They’re a global sports brand and are run as such. They try not ruffle fans' feathers by saying this too loudly but it is the truth nonetheless.
Presumably, this is why this move has shocked so many people. They still sort of believed their club was a ye olde football club and not a corporate machine with some faceless CEOs looking to maximise profit for their sports franchise. A mere asset in a portfolio is not how any fan here likes to think of a club, but that is what the Big Six (and others) are.
Fans like to say they have no choice but to follow their club for various historical and cultural reasons, but this isn’t true. Everyone has a choice. And anyway, it’s not their club any more. Things have changed, only the name has not.
We should be disgusted by how we’ve been treated but not surprised. You pay and you watch the new tournaments or you don’t. That’s it. That’s the modern reality.
It’s a new day, but a good one because it means domestic football will need a complete redraughting. Yes, it may reduce income but so what? Just pay players much less. They’re massively overpaid as it is.
In actual fact, it may be the best of all worlds. Those who don’t mind who the club plays can enjoy the big games against Juve or whoever, and those for whom it seems like plastic experience can go and watch local football in person or on TV. Everyone is happy.
Gary Neville can deliver articulate critiques of the breakaway clubs for as long as he likes on a TV channel that hived off the First Division and put it behind a paywall with the lure of cold, hard cash. They will not care. He’s coming at it from a totally different angle and it’s an angle that there is less money to be made from. Yes. it is horrible exploitative capitalism but hey, why did you think they’d be above that?
Perhaps it is surprising that it took this long to happen. But as soon as Sky closed the free access door in 1992, it was probably always inevitable.
Football is the people’s game and it remains so, but it is now at least two games. VAR alone saw to that and all that is happening here is the fracture is being more clearly manifested by being shaped into a league. All those who say it’ll fail - and I was one - are probably wrong. It will be kept afloat by money from parts of the world that are not here.
And that’s OK. The Premier League of old can be renamed the First Division and will be a very popular more competitive league, far better for not being so financially unbalanced.
We will not miss the so-called Big Six and they will increasingly feel to UK people like they’re playing a game that is not for us, but is for people a long way away and they deserve their football too, after all. So let’s not worry, let’s leave them to it and wave bye-bye.
It’s been a long time coming, it’ll be a long time gone.