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Love the idea or hate it, the European Super League will happen.
Twelve extremely rich franchises (I’ll be calling them franchises, they’re no longer clubs) want it to happen, these franchises understand their business model inside out, and they know that the ‘salt of the earth’ supporters are a tiny part of their equations.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand this is about one thing: money.
Sugar-coated comments like "We have come together at this critical moment, enabling European competition to be transformed, putting the game we love on a sustainable footing for the long-term future" are simply PR speak as even these out of touch franchises know they can’t say the ESL is being put together to make them richer.
Football is an emotional game, and people across the world have worn their emotions on their sleeves, none more so than the likes of Garry Neville who is rightfully ashamed of his club.
Some 33 years ago I was introduced to Manchester United when a family friend moved from Glossop in the UK to Australia, and showed me some match-day programmes and club pins. It was love at first sight.
Since then I’ve invested my time and energy through sitting up at 3 in the morning watching games against Barnsley and Stoke, and invested my money in buying merchandise, travelling to matches in Manchester, and now as a middle-aged man, shares in Manchester United PLC.
I’m invested in more ways than one, and I hate what is happening to the franchise I love (loved?).
Investments Not Clubs
Here is one reason the European Super League will happen:
Playing in the Premier League is lucrative, for the 2019/20 season Manchester United received £166.2m, made up as follows:
Actual league position: 3rd
Equal share: £31.8m
Facility fees: £28.9m
Merit payment: £32m
Overseas TV income: £68.5m
Commercial revenue: £5m
Data by planetfootball.com
For the Champions League, if a franchise wins it, they can expect around £80m in prize money and revenue share.
For Manchester United, they would need to win the Champions League to then earn around £260m total from the two competitions, and let’s make no mistake, they’re a million miles away from winning it at the moment.
So, participation in the ESL nets them £300m just for showing up, putting an extra £40m in the Glazer’s pockets - sorry, to ‘put the game they love on a sustainable footing…’
Ed Woodward has often said that Manchester United’s profitability isn’t reliant on results on the pitch, and now that is true.
United could lose every match in the ESL and still bank more than they would for winning the Champions League, before coming back and doing it again the next year, since they can’t be relegated.
Club owners don’t care about fans, they’re actually a thorn in their sides, preventing them from realising their visions and dreams of directing more money into their pockets.
What club owners do care about is their shareholders, and for the majority of United shareholders, transitioning from the cut and thrust of earning qualification, and therefore money, on merit represents a much more volatile investment than a guaranteed purse for participation.
Investors don’t like volatility, so from them, this proposal will receive support.
There is precedent
Reason number two the European Super League will happen is precedent.
Remember Kerry Packer and World Series Cricket?
At the time, it was said to be the death of cricket, and nobody would watch grown men playing cricket in their pyjamas.
That was almost 45 years ago, today, the shorter formats of the game are thriving, and have spawned other formats such as T20. The money is flowing, fans are watching, happy days.
When the ESL happens, thousands of people will say they’re not going to watch, and that they no longer support their franchise.
Franchise owners will actually see that as a good thing. Those fans who live a short walk from the stadium, who buy a ticket, stand up, sing, then head to the pub are not their target market.
The target market for the owners is a fan who flies in from Norway, the US, or China, spends thousands of dollars on an ‘experience’, drops another thousand in the Megastore, sits in their seat taking selfies to publish on Instagram, then flies home again and tells their friends (who then do the same).
Sorry, it’s not personal, it’s just business.
Looking back at the World Series Cricket example, cricket boards did a lot of hand-wringing and made threats, but ultimately had to work with the cabal or lose their biggest asset - the players.
The Premier League is in much the same position.
Sure, they could expel the ‘Big Six’ from the Premier League, but we all know that more people subscribe to Sky to watch United v Liverpool than they do to watch Brighton v Burnley.
If they kick the ‘Big Six’ out, they kill their own competition. They’re going to have to play ball for their own survival, and the franchise owners know this.
Remember when the Glazer’s bought Manchester United and fans said they would boycott the club?
A breakaway club F.C United of Manchester was formed, and are currently irrelevant, languishing in the seventh tier of English football.
Sure, a handful of people will stop watching, but the owners know that football is a global commodity and fans from China, the US, India, and all over Asia will gladly step in and fill the void.
The biggest threat the ESL poses
There has been a lot of talk of earning the right and destroying the history of the game, which is of little concern to owners whose roots are based in the American system of having conferences and moving franchises to bigger, more profitable ‘markets’.
Make no mistake, there will be no plan to limit the clubs to 20.
The addition of ‘expansion franchises’ will see the ESL grow to 30, even 40 clubs, all divided into ‘conferences’ leading into a play-off system.
The biggest threat the ESL poses to us, the fans, is that one day our franchise will no longer play in our city.
A franchise is something that can be bought and sold, and if an owner wants to move their new toy to where they live, they can.
And let’s face it, the weather in Manchester isn’t a drawcard for any player or fan looking for an ‘experience’, and not many people outside the UK know where Tottenham is.
One day you’re meeting up with mates at the pub before walking down to take the seats that have been in your family for generations.
The next, you’re watching Dubai Spurs play the Shanghai Gunners in a Sunday Night Football pay-per-view special.
So while I won’t be in any rush to follow the LA Red Devils, I will however hold onto my shares as a prudent, and stable, investment.