Updated: Jul 20, 2022
This past week in Luxembourg, Europe's highest judicial body, the European Union Court of Justice, heard legal arguments surrounding the legality of the formation of the European "Super League."
In April of 2021, many prominent first-division European soccer clubs across Europe's top leagues banded together to form a loose coalition to tentatively form a Super League that would feature renewed yearly competition among league members without fear of relegation. Initially, the newly-founded concept of a European Super League boasted behind-the-scenes support from twelve noteworthy clubs, including AC Milan (Italy), Arsenal (England), and Atletico Madrid (Spain). However, in the months since the Super League concept became public knowledge, widespread disapproval from smaller clubs, fans, and other vital stakeholders played a significant role in causing most of the original founding clubs to distance themselves from the concept altogether. Across the globe, the ideas surrounding the creation of the European Super League remain unpopular.
Despite the near collapse of the European Super League idea, three holdout clubs, including Juventus (Italy), Real Madrid (Spain), and FC Barcelona (Spain), remain keen on having their day in court against FIFA and UEFA. Both FIFA and UEFA are set on stopping the European Super League from forming altogether.
On one hand, the breakaway clubs argued before the EU Court of Justice that due to UEFA's endorsement of their own European championship, known as the UEFA Champions League, UEFA would never approve of a similar tournament that would effectively act as a competitor league to the Champions League. In addition, Super League attorney Miguel Odriozola Alen argued that UEFA has governed such matters with an "iron fist and beaten away any alternative project that could threaten its monopoly." On the other hand, UEFA's attorney, Donald Slater, countered by asserting that if the Super League is permitted to take form, the league's existence would fracture the European soccer sporting model and consequently cause a "systemic collapse." Moreover, Slater argues, "Competition should be open to all, and merit, not money, must determine the outcome."
During the proceedings, representatives from 21 countries issued their respective opinions to the court. For instance, Denmark's representative relayed that the creation of the European Super League should be restricted because of "sporting integrity" concerns. Now that the proceedings have concluded, the global soccer community must wait for the EU Court of Justice to issue a final opinion on the matter. A decision from Europe's highest court could be released at the end of 2022 or the beginning of 2023.
The Argument for the European Super League
From the perspective of the breakaway clubs, Juventus, Real Madrid, and FC Barcelona, I can understand why these clubs are set on establishing a European Super League under the proposed model. With the current UEFA Champions League model, member clubs are required to qualify for a Champions League bid regularly based on domestic league performance that year. In essence, qualifying for the UEFA Champions League in one given year ensures no guarantee that the same club will remain in the Champions League the following year. For example, in the English Premier League (England), four spots are up for grabs each year for a chance to win Champions League glory the following year. However, due to the vast competitiveness of the EPL from the top of the table to the bottom of the table, England's Champions League members often rotate from one club to the next. As a result, not qualifying for the UCL could mean the difference between millions and the invaluable television exposure that the tournament offers from a broadcast perspective. If the European Super League is formed, the already strong clubs that become members of such a league will secure a long-term position of European Super League television/broadcast rights payouts without fear of losing such payouts due to not qualifying on a yearly basis, as is a hallmark of the current UEFA Champions League model.
The Argument Against the Super League
In contrast, I could see how implementing a European Super League may disproportionately benefit large clubs at the expense of smaller clubs and players. Moreover, the implementation of a super league may even go as far as creating even more of a financial gap between the blue chip clubs, and smaller clubs who could greatly benefit from the valuable television exposure and earnings that are accrued as a result of participating in the UEFA Champions League in a given year. Although the Champions League routinely features several repeat names, such as Paris St. Germain (France), the qualifying and subsequent group stage rounds provide up-and-coming players with a unique opportunity to be noticed by more prominent clubs and allows scouts to evaluate how such players would match up against the best of the best. Additionally, under the current UEFA Champions League model, participation in this tournament allows member teams from more minor European first-division leagues to earn a proportionally large amount of money from television/broadcast rights. If a European Super League is formed, many of the top clubs that attract high levels of viewership would no longer be featured in the Champions League, which would exponentially lower the amount of money that UEFA Champions League teams earn on a yearly basis.
In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how the legal proceedings surrounding the European Super League concept affect the future of European soccer as we know it. Soccer is one of, if not, the most popular sport in the world. Consequently, any significant changes to its underlying structure would surely garner worldwide attention.
"UEFA Battles Super League at EU's Top Court" by Ali Walker
"How Super League Teams Have Performed in European Competition" by Luke Bosher
Mel is a rising 2L sports law school student at the University of Miami School of Law. Mel is a member of the Entertainment and Sports Law Society at Miami Law and is the founding "Miami Law" Chair of the newly-created National Sports Legal & Business Society. Mel can be reached at [email protected]. Connect with Mel on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/melvinstack/