Profitability, poker game, consequences… 6 economic questions on the Super League

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First and foremost a financial project, the Super League poses many questions on the economic level.

On Sunday April 18 in the middle of the night, the launch of a European Football Super League bringing together 12 English, Spanish and Italian clubs was formalized. Sports economist at the University of Lille, Mickaël Terrien analyzes this project, which is still far from seeing the light of day, according to him.

It is a sea serpent whose outcome was inevitable “. Like many observers, sports economist Mickaël Terrien is not surprised to see a Super League take place in the world of football. In the works for several years, this project was expected, but for later. “The economic context linked to the health crisis has accelerated things “, explains Terrien, who specifies: “It was inevitable because on the one hand, we have big clubs in debt or in deficit who always want more. On the other hand, we have increasingly unbalanced European competitions. The two cumulative phenomena have widened the chasm. Today, it’s cracking “. In fact, the planned reform of the C1 from 2024 even shares many features with the Super League pointed out by all since yesterday. “The only distinction is who will organize the competition: UEFA or a bank”, ends the lecturer.

As has often been the case in recent times, all of this is the fault of the Covid-19. Or almost. The economic crisis caused by the pandemic is indeed at the origin of the spectacular acceleration of the European Super League project, according to Mickaël Terrien: “English clubs make a huge living from their ticket sales. They haven’t had one for a year. It certainly made them act faster. Especially since the big English clubs are more and more in difficulty vis-a-vis their pursuers, like Arsenal, because the distribution of TV rights is fair in the Premier League “. No ticket office in England, colossal debts that keep growing in Spain, or a complicated season for Juventus (only 4th in Serie A): so many reasons that have motivated the secessionist clubs to unmask themselves. Why ? “It’s simple: by creating a closed league in which they would participate by definition every year, these clubs secure their place and therefore their income, where some have struggled to qualify in the Champions League for years like Arsenal or AC Milan “, enlightens the economist.

With 12 clubs concerned for the moment, but a priori 20 each year (15 fixed members, and 5 guests), the Super League would be much more profitable than the current Champions League and its future 36-team format. “The competition must be supported by a bank that can afford to write a blank check. Then it will have to be made profitable with the TV rights. The idea is to do away with the middleman that is UEFA today “, summarizes Mickaël Terrien. Once this first step is completed, the Super League and its championship format will generate more matches, played between teams deemed more attractive. Therefore, the share of the pie increases for all participants: “TV rights will be sold more expensive, over more matches. The cake will therefore be bigger. However, instead of the 36 guests in C1, there will only be 20 in the Super League. Everyone will therefore have a bigger share “, cartoon Earthman. There will be more people watching TV, but also more expensive tickets: “The Super League will boost all income; We saw it well with the C1 which, since it left a logic of pure meritocracy in 1993, generates more money “, concludes Terrien.

Since Sunday, bets have been going well: will the Super League really see the light of day? Or is this a means of pressure to push UEFA to further reform the Champions League? For Mickaël Terrien, it is a blow of pressure: “It is untenable. If we take a historical approach to these independent leagues, we realize that for it to work, we have to leave few people behind, otherwise a rival league will emerge “. But there with 12 founding clubs, and 20 members each year, the Super League will inevitably leave mythical clubs on the back burner. “All the precedents show it: the clubs in question could create another league, which, in fact, would be the Champions League, which would be just as efficient. In this case, alone, the Super League would not succeed on its side “, estimates the economist, who continues: “For this to work, it has to take into account the top 30 or 40 European teams. A conference system would be more suitable. Governance would be ensured as a cartel by all the clubs. This is what happens in the NBA. But a cartel in economics is unstable because there is always someone who has an interest in cheating “. In other words, by being too selective in entry, the founding clubs would make the project unworkable from the outset.

Against this Super League, and even before its formalization, UEFA broke silence and raised its voice, supported by FIFA and national federations. If a player participates in the Super League, he will not be able to play the Euro, the World Cup or any other competition. Not enough to destabilize the secessionist clubs believes Mickaël Terrien: “It is a lever on the players, the clubs do not care. And then, we have a hindsight on this with the case of the Rugby 13s Super League in Australia. The Australian federation had told the players that they would no longer be selected. But when you contrast the financial power of an institution with the reputation of a competition and the appeal of national selections, at the finish line, it’s the money that wins. In Australia, the federation finally recalled the players because they needed them to win “. Paradoxically, what could protect UEFA is its generosity according to Terrier: “Concretely, the investor who will finance the Super League will have to put much more than the 2.3 billion of UEFA on the Champions League. And then, apart from that, if we offer a player to quadruple his salary to play for Real Madrid, or to play for Beauvais so that he can go to the France team, history has shown what sports athletes are going for. lean … “

Beyond the impact on other competitions, and the budgetary imbalance that this generated, the Super League could also redistribute the cards between the member clubs. “Perhaps the goal of the Super League is to change the mechanisms of governance “, says Mickaël Terrien. “The Super League project makes it possible to get out of a sporting logic above all to move towards a financial logic. The difference is that in an open league, if you don’t invest the money in talented players, you may not qualify for a European competition. There is a notion of an arms race. While in a closed league your position is secure no matter what, there is little threat. This is undoubtedly the heart of the reform: securing positions and reducing the arms race “. In other words, we could arrive at a scenario close to the NBA with a few behemoths fighting for the title, and others who are content to play the play-offs and generate income from TV rights and ticketing.

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