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The European Premier League, or something like it, is an idea that’s seemingly been talked about forever. Is it finally about to happen?
The latest version of a “European Super League” came out this week, as reported by Sky Sports, hot on the heels of a related idea called Project Big Picture. Let’s try to boil down what’s going on here.
A “European Super League” is Probably Inevitable
There is so much money to be made by televising games between top European clubs that market forces will figure out a way to provide more and more of that. For these forces — big clubs, sponsors, TV networks, banks, players, agents. etc. — money is a drug that they always need more of. And of course the big clubs want to keep as much of it as they can, rather than share it with their domestic counterparts.
Likewise, for international fans especially — consider the size of markets in the US, China, India and South America — watching these top clubs and their star-studded teams is similarly like a drug.
Sure, there’s the Champions League (see this year’s schedule and watch it on CBS All Access), but these market forces and international fans don’t give a crap about Club Brugge playing PSV Eindhoven. They want Manchester United, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid — every week, all the time, forever.
Another way of understanding this is that the American model of a league with playoffs, and without promotion and relegation, is slowly taking hold in Europe. It’s certainly not a coincidence that three of the big English clubs pushing for this — Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal — all have American owners.
All of this is why, in England, proposals related to a European Super League always include cutting out replays in the FA Cup, doing away with the League Cup and the Community Shield game, cutting the number of teams in the Premier League, and so on. It’s all about making room in the schedule for more European games.
Does the European Premier League Mean the End of the Champions League?
One possible path to some kind of “European Super League” is simply to expand and change the current Champions League. And this has been proposed in various ways before. Ideas include having some permanent members, or deciding promotion and relegation on more long-term performances, etc. It’s all designed to produce less Brugge-Eindhoven and more Bayern-Barcelona, while also making sure that if Manchester United finishes 7th in England, they will still play Juventus next season in Europe.
But the latest European Premier League proposal would virtually do away with the Champions League. This has to do in part with a power struggle between the international governing body, FIFA, and its European component, UEFA, which you can think of as the Gambinos fighting with the Corleones for the numbers racket in Europe. UEFA depends on the Champions League, but FIFA is supporting the European Premier League.
Bottom line: If these big European clubs bail from the Champions League for a European Premier League, then the Champions league will die on the vine.
What Would a European Premier League do to the English Premier League?
One of the big questions around any form of European Super League is when they would play. If they insist on playing weekends, then domestic leagues are going to have a real problem. Would Liverpool get to field two teams, playing a lesser squad domestically? (With this kind of European money, they could afford two teams!) Or would they leave the domestic league, in which case you can imagine the effect on the next TV contract for a Liverpool-free English Premier League.
Or maybe they would play during the week, which is the most likely scenario, as it aligns with the current schedule. Again, though, this would be the death of the Champions League, FA Cup replays, the League Cup, and perhaps also the Europa League. It would probably mean a smaller Premier League, as well.
What it would also mean is that a situation like Leicester City qualifying for the Champions League, even if they were the English champions, would never happen again.
What Was Project Big Picture All About?
First, there was no official proposal. What got leaked was a working document, years in the making. And it was quickly voted down. But some version of it will be back.
Basically, Project Big Picture consisted of the English Premier League saying to the English Football League, “We’ll bail you out of the pandemic crisis if you accept the following changes.” And those changes are:
- Premier League to share more TV revenue with Football League going forward (more bailout)
- Get rid of the “parachute payments” clubs get when they are relegated
- Drop the Premier League from 20 to 18 teams
- Get rid of the Football League Cup and the Community Shield, as well as replays in the FA Cup. This, and the drop in league clubs, are to make room for more European games.
- Change the promotion/relegation system so that nos. 17 and 18 would go down but no. 16 would go into a playoff with nos. 3, 4 and 5 from the Championship
- Change the voting structure on league matters to basically turn the Big Six into a kind of UN Security Council that can veto whatever they don’t like
- Price caps on tickets to away fans
- Money for an independent women’s league
See the pattern? More money and power for the bigger clubs, more games in Europe, with some money and other perks thrown in to make it palatable.
European Super League: What Now?
All the trends driving these changes are still very much in place: financial worries, power concentration at the top, the rise of some form of European Super League, and the pandemic. So some version, or versions, of the European Super League will, I believe, happen eventually.
In particular, look for these changes to come up again in England:
- Reducing the size of the Premier League
- Sharing TV revenue with the Football League (to basically buy these other things)
- Getting rid of the League Cup
- Expanding or changing the Champions League
- Launching a European Premier League or something similar
- Getting rid of replays in the FA Cup