Apr 19, 2021 - Sports

European soccer is at war

Liverpool celebrating
Liverpool celebrating its 2019 Champions League victory. Photo: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Europe's biggest soccer clubs have established The Super League, a new midweek tournament that would compete with — and threaten the very existence of — the Champions League.

Why it matters: This new league, set to start in 2023, "would bring about the most significant restructuring of elite European soccer since the 1950s, and could herald the largest transfer of wealth to a small set of teams in modern sports history," writes NYT's Tariq Panja.

  • The founding clubs: AC Milan, Arsenal, Atlético Madrid, Chelsea, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Tottenham (with three more to come).
  • The financing: JPMorgan confirmed that they will underwrite the project. Each founding member would be provided at the start with ~$400 million, which is more than four times what the winner of the Champions League took home in 2020.

How it works: Instead of having to qualify for the Champions League each year, the 15 founding members would compete annually in the Super League, irrespective of their domestic league performance.

  • The final five spots in the 20-team league would then be filled through some form of qualifying (this remains unclear).
  • The tournament would feature two groups of 10, playing home and away matches, with eight clubs advancing to the quarterfinals.

The response: UEFA responded to the threat by unanimously voting to revamp the Champions League with an expanded field (from 32 to 36) and more group stage games (from six to 10 per team).

  • England's Premier League, Spain's La Liga and Italy's Serie A all denounced the breakaway league proposal, as did European politicians like British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
  • Open competition and promotion/relegation are core pillars of European soccer, so this Super League — which is closer in concept to closed leagues like the NFL or NBA — would alter the fabric of the sport.

The big picture: Europe's wealthiest clubs have long sought a better way to monetize their global popularity.

  • By forming their own competition, they believe they can better leverage their brands without smaller, less attractive clubs diluting their value.
  • It's a similar dynamic to the one that exists in college football, where most Power 5 leaders are interested in breaking away from the NCAA.
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