UEFA and ECA are promoting a revision of the Champions League model: the European Super League project clashes head-on with most of the national leagues, which see it as a threat to their survival
European football is experiencing a period of tension as a result of the European SUper League project that UEFA and the ECA (European Club Association) are defending against fierce opposition from most of the national leagues, which see it as a threat to their survival. Reforming the Champions League has been a recurring practice in the history of European football, creating friction between the different parties sitting at the negotiating table. In the end, they will have to come to an agreement, but it is the way it was done that has heightened the tension in the upper echelons. The national leagues accuse the governing bodies of European football of having slow-cooked this new formula, in a ‘sub-committee’ and behind closed doors. The ECA argues, for its part, that due to malicious leaks, opponents have reached hasty conclusions without assessing the arguments of those who support the change in the competition model.
The distribution of money and exposure is, after all, the crux of the matter. The football business is like a big cake and, in its distribution, there are discrepancies: the big clubs want to continue being the icing on the cake and, the not-so-big ones the ingredients so that the cake is delicious and to everyone’s taste.
At the request of the ECA, and to avoid being left out of the game, UEFA is proposing to create a competition with three divisions that would come into operation as of 2024 and would be guaranteed for 20 years. This new model would end the Champions League as we know it today. European football would be divided between the Champions League, the Europa League and the Europa League II, a division that will come into being in 2021.
The Champions League would be played with a group stage and knock-out phase and, at the end of each season, 24 of the 32 teams would remain in the top competition, and would be joined by the four semi-finalists of the Europa League (which would have a system of promotion and relegation) and four national league champions. The 16 ‘founding clubs’ would have a guaranteed place, in true NBA style, so the national leagues would be like a fourth layer of the cake that appeals to very few.
With this restructuring of the top European competition, only 12% of the places would be decided by the sporting achievements of the teams in the different national leagues, when until now, all the places—except the one for the Europa League champion—have been determined according to the classification in the league. It is not yet known on what basis the participants of the first edition of the new European Super League would be chosen, but LaLiga suspects that it would be by historical coefficient.
The Spanish LaLiga, the English Premier League, the German Bundesliga and the Italian Serie A have all spoken out against the project. The European Leagues, an organization that represents 36 professional leagues with more than 950 clubs from 29 European countries, does not see clearly that the new model will defend the interests of all its members, and several clubs of the ECA itself also oppose the idea.
Javier Tebas, president of LaLiga, has become one of the main representatives of the opposition. “The creation of the European Super League would mean the destruction of national leagues. Make no mistake, it is a coalition dividing rich and poor clubs, in which only 32 of them will have a VIP pass”, says Tebas. And he bases his argument on the figures that present LaLiga as one of the most powerful leagues in Europe and a mirror in which many others see themselves. “We requested a report from the international consultancy KPMG and the outlook is bleak. The loss of audiovisual value in LaLiga television rights could be 41.5% in the first year and it would deteriorate each season. In Spain, the football industry makes the equivalent of 1.37% of GDP, directly and indirectly generates 185,000 jobs, and raises more than €4 billion for state coffers. Salaries at clubs that are not in the new European Super League would go down by 70% and up to 50,000 jobs would be lost. It’s dramatic”.
“The loss of audiovisual value in LaLiga television rights could be 41.5% in the first year and it would deteriorate each season” – Javier Tebas, president of LaLiga
The Premier League, in a statement signed by all the clubs, argues that “any change in the football calendar must respect national competitions”, and the Bundesliga argues that “a reform of a system that is already successful should be beneficial for all the competitors , not just for a few”. The European Leagues has also issued a clear verdict as spokesperson for the professional leagues of Europe. “Our meeting in Madrid, which was attended by 244 clubs from 38 countries, was a success and a historic day. We, representing almost 1,000 clubs across Europe, reaffirmed the idea that we must all work as one when what is at stake is the future of European football. We have to be included in the decision process and this process must go from gathering information to real negotiations. The domestic leagues have to be the basis of European competition, otherwise it is impossible to maintain the interest of the fans. We are not against change, but we are concerned about what the ECA is proposing; practically all the clubs are against a system with promotion and relegation, and a pyramidal hierarchy”, says European Leagues president Lars-Christer Olsson.
“Any change in the football calendar must respect national competitions” – Premiere League statement signed by all the clubs
The changes would not only affect the system of access to the top European competition, but would increase the number of matches and, therefore, would eat into the calendar of the national leagues, with changes to match days and times. “The weekends have always been reserved for domestic league matches and that’s the way it should be”, insists Olsson. To which Tebas adds: “If we give less relevance to domestic league games, the value of audiovisual rights will decrease because the platforms will have to choose, and they have already told me that there will not be enough money for everyone. Without a television window, sponsorship and match day earnings will also fall for clubs. The aggregate domestic income of all European national leagues totals more than €7 billion; those of UEFA, €2 billion. It is evident that the main source of revenue continues to be local competitions”.
“The domestic leagues have to be the basis of European competition, otherwise it is impossible to maintain the interest of the fans” – Lars-Christer Olsson, president of European Leagues
Charlie Marshall, general manager of the ECA, is holding out against the barrage of criticism and regrets that “outside of our association, there has not been a single constructive criticism. And that is disappointing because we have not put any proposal for a new format on the table to be accepted or rejected. They are just a bunch of ideas, many of them articulated by men of straw, about future concepts with the sole intention of stimulating debate”.
The ECA takes Ajax FC as an example of one of the clubs that would benefit from the system of promotion and relegation between European competitions. The semi-finalists of last season’s Champions League will have to pass two qualifying rounds to gain access to the competition this year, while with the new system they would be guaranteed a place. “Lots of the anti-rhetoric right now is that this is about the top clubs wanting to close themselves off. But right now, over 60 per cent of teams reappear from year to year in the Champions League. At the moment, the qualkiying slots from the domestic leagues are indexed very heavily towards the big leagues and it does penalise clubs like Ajax FC and clubs who are good performers with strong fundamentals in their medium to smaller-size leagues who struggle to get access, and they can’t build the fundamentals of their club because they can’t tell a continuous story”.
“The debate about a possible reform is much more than the Champions League. It also seeks to strengthen the Europa League and to develop a new tier competition which provides access to Europe to many top clubs from smaller countries” – Charlie Marshall, geneal manager of the ECA
Marshall also blames the media for telling only part of the story. “The press has focused its criticism very much on the Champions League, but it is important to remember that the debate about a possible reform is much more than that. It also seeks to strengthen the Europa League and to develop a new tier competition which provides access to Europe to many top clubs from smaller countries. Let’s not forget this. The ECA is concerned about the health of club football across all of Europe, not just individual leagues”.
The first conversations began, according to Football Leaks, among a select few in 2015. Four years later, the leaks have opened up the debate to all those concerned. They have four more years to agree. The future of European football, an important part of one of the most powerful industries in the world, is at stake.
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