'A television product divorced from the reality of football' - legal experts warn Super League won't get 'free pass' from EU

Breakaway league represents a 'big risk' for the clubs involved
'A television product divorced from the reality of football' - legal experts warn Super League won't get 'free pass' from EU

A selection of scarves of the English soccer Premier League teams who are reported to be part of a proposed European Super League, laid out and photographed, in London, Monday, April 19, 2021. The 12 European clubs planning to start a breakaway Super League have told the leaders of FIFA and UEFA that they have begun legal action aimed at fending off threats to block the competition. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

The proposed European Super League is "a television product divorced from the reality of football", and the new structure will encounter serious issues with European Commission regulations — that is the view of experts from the University College Cork (UCC) Centre for Sports Economics & Law.

Dr Declan Jordan, Senior Lecturer in Economics at UCC and Research Associate at the Centre, believes the split from football's established structures, led by 12 'founder members', represents a significant risk for the organisations involved.

“The Super League project involves a significant risk for the clubs concerned. It is a natural progression for elite football to create an entertainment offering that is separate from the pyramid structure of national leagues. 

"The Super League is essentially creating a television product divorced from the reality of football for most fans. The clubs want to capture more of the commercial pie for themselves, and it is also consistent with the globalisation we have seen in other industries.

"Whether the project is implemented or not, and whether it is successful, depends on how tough UEFA and the national associations treat the breakaway clubs. 

"Withdrawing them from the Premier League, Serie A, and La Liga so that their only games are within the Super League, in my view, creates too high a risk for the breakaway clubs. Though there is a strategic problem where these large clubs are important for domestic leagues generating revenue, and also where these clubs are watching each other and can’t afford to be left out of the Super League."

The Super League clubs have already filed motions before relevant courts in an attempt to prevent the breakaway clubs being punished and the new competition obstructed.

In a letter to Fifa and Uefa, the Super League wrote: "We are concerned that FIFA and UEFA may respond to this invitation letter by seeking to take punitive measures to exclude any participating club or player from their respective competitions.

"We hope that is not your response to this letter and that, like us, your organisations will recognise the immediate benefits of the competition established by SLCo.

"We also seek your co-operation and support on how the competition can be brought within the football ecosystem and work with us to achieve that objective.

"Your formal statement does, however, compel us to take protective steps to secure ourselves against such an adverse reaction, which would not only jeopardise the funding commitment under the grant but, significantly, would be unlawful.

"For this reason, SLCo has filed a motion before the relevant courts in order to ensure the seamless establishment and operation of the competition in accordance with applicable laws."

Dr Seán Ó Conaill, also of the UCC Centre for Sports Economics & Law, says the clubs involved may have more than football bodies to content with, suggesting a breakaway from Uefa and Fifa will attract the attention of regulators in legal areas where otherwise football tends to get a 'free pass'.

“Professional football is given great leeway with regards to how the law applies to it, especially in the area of the EU. Football effectively gets a free pass on a lot of issues that would be considered illegal in other areas such as competition law and employment. 

"This is allowed because bodies like the EU recognise the societal and cultural role played by football and as part of the trade-off certain protections for grassroots sport and trickle down benefits are hardwired into the system via protections like training compensation being paid when younger players transfer first and solidarity payments to a player’s training club when a big transfer happens.

“If the proposed breakaway league really does breakaway from UEFA/FIFA it will have serious issues – they might not care much for the pre-existing rules and there would be no way to compel them to accept them but that would definitely put them on the radar of the European Commission.

“There would be very significant impacts more locally here too in terms of the trickle-down. Irish clubs are moving towards being part of larger groups but the appeal there has always been the possibility of European breakthrough – the Super League would hugely undermine that and make the ‘investment’ option in Irish football far less attractive."

Dr David Butler, also of of UCC’s School of Economics and Director of the Centre for Sports Economics & Law (CSEL), wasn't surprised by this weekend's developments.

“Increasingly, the major European clubs are having less and less in common with their domestic rivals from an economic perspective. The Super League format proposed today has been envisioned for many years. This is not entirely surprising. It may however have been partly accelerated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"No doubt, the founding members produce the lion’s share of value in current European competitions and believe they can increase their worth through collaborating – a new Super League would bring an influx of television rights money.

"The current Champions League format leaves a lot to be desired. The schedule is clogged with extremely unbalanced matches. As an entertainment product, the new Super League would not be afflicted by these balance problems to the same degree.” 

Dr Robert Butler of UCC’s Department of Economics believes the latest breakaway move will draw European football closer to a US model where sporting organisations are self-governed like franchises within the NBA and NFL. 

"The clubs would be self-governed within this new league and would make the structure resemble something much closer to the American model rather than the European system."

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