European Soccer Group Proposes Radical Breakaway League
(Bloomberg) -- A group of the world’s richest soccer clubs, including Manchester United and Real Madrid, announced plans for a European breakaway league starting in August, a project that could herald the sport’s biggest shakeup in decades and make elite teams even wealthier.
The marquee names -- six from England, three from Italy and three from Spain have signed up so far -- would play each other midweek as an alternative to the prestigious UEFA Champions League, according to a statement early Monday. In addition to what will be 15 permanent teams, another five will qualify each year for the so-called Super League.
Establishing a new elite tournament in Europe would effectively end the Champions League’s decades-long reign as the world’s premier club contest, and revolutionize the sport’s structure. It would also funnel billions of dollars into the game’s upper echelons, following a year in which revenue has dropped as matches take place in largely empty stadiums. The 15 founding teams would share an upfront payment of 3.5 billion euros ($4.2 billion).
|The 12 teams so far:|
|Premier League: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham|
|La Liga: Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid|
|Serie A: AC Milan, Internazionale, Juventus|
Real Madrid’s Florentino Perez will be chairman of the group with Juve’s Andrea Agnelli and Manchester United’s Joel Glazer as vice-chairs.
“We will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world,” Perez said in the statement. “Football is the only global sport in the world with more than four billion fans and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires.”
The announcement sent shares in prospective Super League member Juventus Football Club S.p.A. soaring as much as 10%, their biggest gain in a year. The Champions League’s U.K. broadcaster, BT Group Plc, fell as much as 0.75% as investors weighed the potential hit from the establishment of a more prestigious rival competition.
By creating a system in which five places a year are available through a qualification process, the organizers are seeking to head off criticism that the competition is closed -- as with the National Football League in the U.S. and the National Basketball Association in North America. The group also pledged “solidarity payments” to European soccer of more than 10 billion euros.
But even before the plans were announced, national leagues from England, Spain and Italy, plus the sport’s governing body in Europe, hit back at what they called a “cynical project” founded on self-interest. In addition to considering legal action, their joint statement raised the prospect of throwing teams out of their domestic leagues.
Under the new project, any club would remain in its domestic league but pull out of the Champions League.
FIFA, the global governing body and organizer of the World Cup, weighed in last week, saying it would ban players who took part in the breakaway. That could potentially throw next year’s World Cup in Qatar into chaos.
Political heavyweights also chimed in, with leaders from U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson to former Italian Premier Enrico Letta voicing their concern. French President Emmanuel Macron praised French clubs for not signing up so far.
The proposed league also comes as UEFA, the European ruling body, tries to push through a controversial program of its own this week. It wants to expand its tournament to 36 teams, giving each team 10 pre-knockout group matches compared to six now, an increase that irked some teams complaining the season already has too many games.
The Super League’s plans:
- An August start with clubs in two groups of 10, playing home and away matches
- The top three in each group automatically qualify for the quarter finals.
- Teams finishing fourth and fifth will compete in a two-legged play-off for the remaining quarter-final positions.
- A two-leg knockout format will be used to reach the final at the end of May, which will be staged as a single fixture at a neutral venue.
- A women’s league will be also be launched “as soon as is practicable.”
Proponents argue the new Super League would create a more exciting competition because the top teams would play each other more often. It would also be lucrative for them, with permanent membership removing the uncertainty of the Champions League, whose teams must qualify annually or risk losing broadcasting and sponsorship revenue.
But the idea of creating a competition that removes the drama of a smaller team such as four-time champion Ajax winning the trophy or of a bigger club having to qualify in the first place, has angered supporter groups and former players.
Fans of Chelsea, owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, highlighted what they regard as the greed within soccer.
Gary Neville, who won eight Premier League titles as a Manchester United player and now works for Sky Sports, said he was “absolutely disgusted” with the move. The idea that teams could take part in a league and never be relegated from it was, he said, an “absolute disgrace.”
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