In a move that has rocked the beautiful game to its core and united fans, former players, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Duke of Cambridge – and Football Association president – Prince William among others in their criticism, the Premier League's “big six” have agreed to join a new European Super League.
It was confirmed on Sunday 18 April that Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham have pledged to join AC Milan, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus and Real Madrid as founding members of a "new midweek competition".
According to reports in The Guardian, US investment bank JP Morgan has committed €3.25bn (£2.3bn) to getting breakaway competition off the ground and will offer each founding member club a “welcome bonus” of up to €300m (£214m).
European Super League announced— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) April 18, 2021
Here’s the full official statement released: pic.twitter.com/zUKIyQZOuz
Given the competition will be contested by the same 15 teams each year, with a remaining five qualifying based on merit each season, critics claim the move is driven purely by money, would pull the rug from under domestic competition and fly in the face of sporting integrity.
While the new competition’s founders, including Manchester United co-chairman Joel Glazer – a vice-chairman of the Super League – have claimed the competition will increase financial support for the “wider football pyramid”, 79% of those who follow football oppose to the new venture, including more than two thirds (68%) who “strongly oppose” its creation according to YouGov.
Now, more than ever, we must protect the entire football community – from the top level to the grassroots – and the values of competition and fairness at its core.— The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (@KensingtonRoyal) April 19, 2021
I share the concerns of fans about the proposed Super League and the damage it risks causing to the game we love. W
The Super League is not recognised by football’s governing bodies FIFA and UEFA – which have both threatened to ban participating players from future World Cups and European Championships – and has failed to capture the imagination of pub operators, the vast majority of whom claim they would not broadcast its games.
When asked, simply, “would you screen games from the new breakaway European Super League at your pub?” 77.5% of the 126 polled publicans said “no”.
This comes despite figures from sport pub finding app MatchPint previously revealing that around three quarters of fans are more likely to watch a fixture involving a “big six” club at a pub and that of the 100 most searched Premier League fixtures on MatchPint’s app, all but four involved one of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham.
Responding to the news, Philip Cutter of the Murderers in Norwich – a city that will welcome the return of Premier League football next season – described Super League proposals as “regrettable”.
“It appears that its simply greed,” he told The MA. “Barcelona are currently massively in debt, and Manchester City were investigated for ‘fair play' on their finances. It's also interesting to see that German teams, largely owned by the fans, have not introduced any clubs for this new league.”
Cutter, whose pub has been in the running for the Great British Pub Awards’ Best for Sport gong in eight of the past nine years – winning the top prize in 2015 – added: “For football, and our national game, this is very sad – but appears to me to be much like a game of poker.
“As a business, if this was to progress, it would undoubtedly mean higher prices for broadcasting rights.
“I'm not entirely convinced that the demand will be greater for this league – fans, and supporters’ groups have already said that they are unhappy for their teams.”
‘They just won’t watch it’
Both Danny Grayson of Sheffield-based micro sports bar concept, Sport Shack, and Justine Lorriman of the Royal Dyche in Burnley, Lancashire, are doubtful of the breakaway competition’s appeal among their customers.
“This announcement is becoming an absolute PR disaster and the backlash from the top down to the bottom leagues is incredible,” Grayson said.
“I hope this doesn't happen as it will have a massive effect on all aspects of football here in the UK and its quite apparent it’s just a money spinner with the costs being passed on to pubs to show it and fans to physically watch it.
“The big six have embarrassed themselves and fans are not stupid,” he added. “They just won’t watch it and concentrate on watching the traditional games here in the UK with a pint and a pie in their hands.”
Lorriman, whose pub was named after Burnley manager Sean Dyche after he steered the Clarets into European competition for the first time in the club’s history, added that her customers would be more interested in watching their local side play rather than a closed shop involving the “big six”.
“If the breakaway competition required an extra cost to screen it I would not pay it, but if it was on Sky, BT or Amazon Prime, yes, I would show it as we like to show all the football we can and other live sports,” she explained.
“But this wouldn’t drive more trade in for us, people from Burnley want to watch Burnley unless they have no interest in the sport whatsoever.
“I have mentioned this previously regarding Champions League football, it doesn’t drive people to come out during the week to watch it. But when Burnley played their European qualifiers, it was the busiest Thursdays we have ever had – home and away.”
Reacting to Super League proposals on Twitter, the chief executive of UKHospitality, Kate Nicholls, expressed concerns over additional outlay for pubs already stricken by the financial impact of Covid-19.
According to figures previously published by The Guardian, pubs already pay on average £20,000 per year to subscribe to Sky Sports and BT Sport.
“Super League statement refers to the need to secure additional financial resources – presumably through broadcast rights,” Nicholls said. “A concern for pubs who have seen spiralling costs with a need for multiple subscriptions.”
Commenting on The MA’s Facebook page, a number of pub operators also raised concerns over the additional cost of screening games from the new competition in addition to objections over the Super League’s wider implications for football.
“There will obviously be an additional cost,” Dave Kes of the Victoria in Tilehurst, Berkshire, commented. “We will also review our current subscriptions with Sky and BT Sport.
“Champions league football accounts for roughly half of our football related turnover, British clubs only, without it I cannot justify the combined £2,000 per month cost so would remove it.
“I personally think that football in pubs has had its day anyway and we are moving back towards a sports bar culture rather than every pub showing it.”
Super League statement refers to the need to secure additional financial resources - presumably through broadcast rights. A concern for pubs who have seen spiralling costs with a need for multiple subscriptions https://t.co/4Trrjc3ldB— Kate Nicholls (@UKHospKate) April 19, 2021
Former operator Jason Amos added: “Where does this all stop?”
“Originally screening matches was free (apart from the TV licence) on BBC and ITV then Sky got involved changing the whole landscape.
“Sky then after some years split its package into two, so yet again that increased the monthly subscription.
“After that BT started followed by Amazon,” he continued. “Adding another subscription will be another kick in the teeth for pubs trying to build back after the pandemic.”
'Every single business evolves'
However, a number of responses from operators indicated that they would be open to showing Super League games at their pubs despite the cost and the vehement rejection of the new proposals across both the footballing and wider world.
When asked “would you screen games from the new breakaway European Super League at your pub?” via The MA’s Facebook page, Chris Wiseman stated: “Why wouldn’t you? Cash is king” while publican Alan Howarth simply replied “yes”.
In addition, David Bennett replied: “The appetite for sport is huge and the Champions League and Premier League is a big draw for pubs companies. Can’t see pub companies giving it up”.
Additionally, Kate Stewart of the Sandon in Liverpool – an official Liverpool Football Club hospitality partner and a regular haunt for fans flocking to Anfield – claims that the increased number of home games from the new competition would be of benefit.
“As a business, I would have to say that it’s a good thing for me as we would get more home games,” she told The MA. “We’d have nine guaranteed as opposed to the three that are guaranteed with the Champion’s League.
“Things are changing in football; VAR has changed the game completely and every single business evolves,” she added.
“I’d have to say I’m for it from a professional level and would welcome the new league.”