We are just four years from seeing a breakaway European Super League, or at least that’s according to Arsene Wenger’s prediction made back in 2009. Wenger is of course just one of many over the years, in 2013 Glatasary chairman Unal Aysal predicted a European league within five years, revealing that talks had been underway among some clubs around creating a closed-shop competition involving 20 of the continents top teams. Such dreams, or – depending on your point of view – nightmares of a super league have persisted for years, but are we really just a few seasons away from a revolutionary change in European football?
For some the evolution over the past twenty years of the European Cup from simple knockout tournament involving various national champions to what is now a de-facto prototype for a super-league in the ‘Champions League’, provides proof of an inexorable slide towards the side-lining of domestic championships. Moreover there is a compelling economic logic behind the assertion that having Europe’s elite clubs meeting on a regular basis will result in better football and that this will have in turn have a greater appeal to TV audiences in Europe and beyond leading to the few lucky clubs who find themselves on the inside reaping huge broadcasting revenues.
The prospect of a super league raises many questions; who to include (and as importantly who to exclude), how many teams for each country, what selection criteria will be used, how will promotion and relegation be handled, or will it be a closed-shop, and so on. All these are big questions, though none would be enough to stop a super league in its tracks.
Instead there is another reason why we are, at the present time, further away from a European Super League than when Wenger made his prediction several years ago.
This reason is the phenomenal success of the English Premier League in generating huge amounts of revenue through broadcasting. The domestic live-broadcast rights to this tournament over three years from 2016 were purchased for over £5 billion. This does not include rights to screen highlights, valued at around £200 million, or overseas rights which will be auctioned later this year. In terms of these overseas rights it is widely expected that the amount raised will exceed the current deal of over £2 billion.
For Premier League clubs the impact of the long-term rise in broadcasting on their revenue streams has been enormous; Deloitte observed in the 2015 edition of their annual Money League publication that Premier League clubs currently make up fourteen of the of the top thirty income generating clubs globally – and that’s not even accounting for the record-breaking deal which has just been concluded.
The sums on offer for European-level Football, although growing, seem small in comparison. In the UK BT’s winning bid, for three years from 2015-16, came in at £299 million per season for a package which includes live rights to all Champions League and Europa League games. This is still some way from being enough to tempt, in particular, English clubs away from domestic competition; Certainly their indifferent approach to the Europa League demonstrates what happens when the money on offer doesn’t match up to the returns from domestic football.
Besides, domestic leagues such as the Premier League have the benefit of having a proven track-record in attracting paying television viewers. Broadcasters pay astronomical sums as they know, or take a good guess, that they can recoup this investment, and a little more besides. As we have seen though the consequences of getting it wrong, in terms of over-paying for rights, has proved ruinous to broadcasters and clubs alike. Backing a super league is therefore a huge risk for both broadcasters and clubs and one which, for now, they seem unlikely to take.