‘A spit in the face of fans’ says UEFA chief
Should supporters own 51% of every football team? As fans mutiny and political leaders rage over a cash grab by wealthy bosses, the case for major legal reform is growing.
“It’s pure greed… it’s a criminal act against football fans”. That was Gary Neville’s angry verdict yesterday on the shock plan by 12 of Europe’s biggest clubs to form a new entity: the European Super League.
If the idea becomes reality, the new group will include 20 clubs, and will run alongside existing European and domestic leagues.
Football authorities immediately hit back. The European football body, Uefa, is threatening to ban the breakaway clubs from other tournaments. Fifa, the international governing body for the sport, said players would be barred from the World Cup.
This would mean England without Harry Kane, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling or Harry Maguire.
Teams for the current top club competition in Europe, the Champions’ League, are currently chosen by merit and win big financial rewards in TV revenues and sponsorship.
But the new league would not be merit-based: it would guarantee all 12 founder members a place in every future tournament. Critics say this amounts to a kind of cartel that shuts out smaller clubs.
For many, this is a killer blow to the sport. It would be like watching the top 12 tennis players simply play each other over and over again for, say, an entire year.
For the billionaire owners of the clubs it makes sense. Fans can not get enough of elite football. And this guarantees massive extra money for the clubs to spend on snapping up the world’s top players.
Many experts think there is a conflict between the interests of billionaire owners, who see their clubs as businesses, and the fans, for whom a club is a community.
One major European country claims to have solved the problem already. German clubs in the top leagues have to be 51% owned by fans, so supporters can outvote private investors. Partly as a result, a ticket to a Bayern Munich match can cost as little as £7.65. In contrast, a cheap seat for an English Premier League match will cost around £33.
However, ticket prices are not just set by the club: they are also affected by supply and demand. That is why some think fan ownership really does very little to bring football back to supporters. Football teams are businesses, and their decisions are dictated by market forces.
Should the same law apply in every country?
Yes, say some. "Here, football is one of the last activities which really brings people together, across all ages and all classes of income," says one German club boss. "Most chief executives have decided to take less money and enable people whose families have supported the club for generations to keep coming. We want to have our whole society as part of our football, in our stadiums."
Nonsense, say others. There is one reason why the Premier League still has the most exciting clubs, great coaches and the most thrilling players: money. This money dwarfs the amount in German football and comes largely from the pockets of the super-rich owners that Britain rightly welcomes to the party.
- Does the Premier League create the most exciting football in the world?
- Is football more like a religion than a sport – with a profound social and even spiritual meaning for many fans?
- In groups, design a single logo for a possible new European Super League.
- In pairs, work on a slideshow that presents the arguments for letting fans have a controlling interest in their football clubs.
Some People Say...
“The thing about football - the important thing about football - is that it is not just about football.”Terry Pratchett (1948 – 2015), British novelist
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Most people agree that football grew out of local communities. In its earliest form, it was played between two villages, with an unlimited number of players trying to get an inflated animal bladder to a set point. In the early 20th Century, local clubs cropped up all over the country: often all the workers in a particular industry would form a team together. Loyalty to a local football team quickly became an important community bond.
- What do we not know?
- There is some debate over what effect the new super league will really have. Some people argue that assembling the top teams across Europe in a single, exclusive league will harm all other clubs, because the best players will scramble to join the clubs in the ESL, leaving little talent for the rest. But others think it could open up more competition: if the rich, dominant clubs stop playing in ordinary leagues, it will create space for smaller clubs to win more titles.
- Gary Neville
- One of the most decorated English footballers of all time, with 20 trophies including eight Premier League titles. He spent his whole career at Manchester United.
- European Super League
- The ESL would include the same 15 teams every season, with the remaining five qualifying annually.
- 20 clubs
- As well as the 12 clubs that have already signed up, a further three from Italy and Spain are expected to join to make up the core 15.
- The Union of European Football Associations is the organisation that administers football tournaments in Europe.
- The Federation Internationale de Football Association is the world’s highest governing body of association football.
- TV revenues
- Each Champions’ League team receives a large sum of money corresponding to the share of TV viewers who watch their matches.
- A group of rival businesses that band together in order to dominate the market and shut out competitors.
- 51% owned
- If fans own 51% of a club, their vote on big decisions will always be bigger than the private investors’ 49% vote.
- Market forces
- The ebb and flow of supply and demand: how much there is of a product, and how many people want it.