What went wrong with the Super League

4/22/2021 |
New York Times DealBook |
Andrew Ross Sorkin, Jason Karaian, Sarah Kessler, Michael J. de la Merced, Lauren Hirsch and Ephrat Livni
What went wrong with the Super League

The Super League, the doomed effort to create an exclusive new tournament for Europe’s top soccer clubs, was widely criticized — by players, coaches, fans and politicians — as an effort to import American-style competition and economics. Frank McCourt, the American owner of the storied French soccer team Olympique de Marseille, told DealBook that the league — which he publicly denounced — never made sense.

The Super League would have created a closed competition with guaranteed places for 15 clubs, and would have introduced revenue sharing and spending caps. That more closely resembles U.S. leagues like the N.F.L. than the more freewheeling system of European soccer.

A key criticism raised by fans was that the Super League largely eliminated the possibility of underdog teams going on a run and becoming improbable tournament winners (like Porto in 2004).

“It felt like imposing an American flavor on a different culture,” said Mr. McCourt, who previously owned the L.A. Dodgers before buying control of Marseille (l’OM to its fans) in 2016. JPMorgan Chase’s role in financing the Super League bolstered this notion, though its architect was Florentino Pérez, the Spanish president of Real Madrid.

For all their money and brand clout, the clubs didn’t take into account what fans wanted, which became clear when public outcry prompted many founding members to drop out. “There is no football without fans,” Mr. McCourt said. “What is their perspective?” (Fan demands are something that he knows well: He met with several earlier this year after supporters stormed Marseille’s training grounds to protest the club’s performance.)

Mr. McCourt said he favors plans by UEFA, the European soccer overseer, to expand its Champions League tournament, a much-debated move that gained new urgency as the Super League became a threat. “There’s a process that UEFA is going through with all of the stakeholders,” he said, contrasting the approach with the more limited decision-making behind the Super League.

As Rory Smith of The Times put it: “It was all, in some way, unserious: There was a cobbled-together website, an uninspiring logo and an American banker, but no broadcaster, no suite of sponsors and, in the end, no commitment to see any of it through.”

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