Apr 26, 2021 - Sports

America's role in the Super League debacle

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

In the wake of the European Super League's spectacular demise, a popular response has been to blame Americans.

Zoom in: Four of the 12 founding teams are owned by Americans, American bank JPMorgan was set to finance the project, and the "closed" format is reminiscent of American sports leagues.

Yes, but: While Stan Kroenke (Arsenal), John Henry (Liverpool), Paul Singer (AC Milan) and the Glazers (Manchester United) deserve as much blame as the other billionaires who hatched this epic failure, the Super League concept itself is actually quite un-American.

  • The Super League is more analogous to a postseason tournament than a league. The proposal wouldn't have eliminated promotion and relegation; it simply would have changed who makes the tournament.
  • Like the current Champions League, the Super League would have placed the best European clubs in a group stage/knockout-style competition each year.
  • Unlike the Champions League, it would have guaranteed spots to Europe's richest, most dominant teams, rather than make them qualify like everyone else by finishing near the top of their domestic leagues.

Between the lines: Do you know of any major U.S. sports league that guarantees playoff spots to its wealthiest, most successful teams without them having to earn it each season? Me neither.

  • In fact, one of the defining elements of America's crown jewel, the NFL, is how difficult it is for teams to consistently make the postseason.
  • March Madness, another American phenomenon, is synonymous with miracles and underdogs, two things the Super League model would have essentially eliminated.
  • Put it this way: U.S. sports are fairly socialist, while European soccer is pure capitalism. The Super League would have made it even capitalistic, which feels like an extension of European, not American, sports culture.
MLS commissioner Don Garber. Photo: Omar Vega/Getty Images
MLS commissioner Don Garber. Photo: Omar Vega/Getty Images

The state of play: We already have an "Americanized" version of professional soccer. It's called MLS, and it has virtually nothing in common with the Super League.

  • 10 different clubs have won the MLS Cup in the last 15 years, the kind of parity Americans love. The Super League model was fundamentally against that concept, and it's rarely found in European soccer.
  • "We're the North American version of the global game," MLS commissioner Don Garber told me earlier this month. "Early on we were criticized for that, but I think now people accept that this is the path to success here."
  • "You can't buy success in MLS — you've gotta earn it. And I think that's the quintessential American way. The fact that at the start of every season, every fan and every player believes they can win the championship."

The big picture: The amount of American influence on the European Super League is debatable. What isn't debatable is that Americans do, increasingly, have influence in Europe.

The bottom line: Don't blame America for the Super League. Blame greedy owners, one-third of whom happen to be American.

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