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Breakaway battle

Duke and MPs unite to oppose super league ‘greed’

Banner at Liverpool

Banner at Liverpool’s Anfield stadium

Prince William and MPs joined football authorities, players and fans to condemn the planned breakaway European Super League amid warnings that it could prevent a number of top Scottish players participating in the Euro 2020 tournament.

Six English clubs – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur – have signed up for the ESL which critics claim will seriously undermine domestic football and existing European competitions.

The 14 English Premier League clubs not involved will meet today to consider their response, reports thatt Chelsea and Manchester City could be “losing their nerve” amid mounting pressure from fans and Government.

Liverpool’s team coach was greeted with protesting fans at Elland Road ahead of last night’s game against Leeds United, while demonstrations took place outside other grounds. Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp expressed his own opposition to the plan, along with Manchester United striker Bruno Fernandes.

Prince William tweeted his concern

Governing bodies UEFA and FIFA are seeking legal action over banning players from international tournaments, an outcome that would see those Scots playing for English clubs such as Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney and Scott McTominay unable to compete for the national team.

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster condemned the Super League plan as “a cynical and very worrying attempt to thwart the core principle of sporting merit which rightly underpins European football.” 

Prince William, who is president of the English FA, said he “shares the concerns of fans” and urged relevant governing bodies to “protect” the integrity of the sport.

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“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 of Cambridge wrote on Twitter.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said he “doesn’t like the look of these proposals” and vowed to intervene to block the breakaway league.

Boris Johnson: ‘it is not good for the fans’

He added: “We are going to look at everything that we can do with the football authorities to make sure that this doesn’t go ahead in the way that it’s currently being proposed.

“I don’t think that it’s good news for fans, I don’t think it’s good news for football in this country.”

France’s President Emmanuel Macron also said he would support football authorities in opposing the league.

Fans protest over the plan

Conrad Wiacek, head of sport analysis at GlobalData, said the Super League proposal is a direct challenge to UEFA club competitions, with the owners of the 12 clubs looking to consolidate power within a closed-league format – much like the US leagues such as the NFL and NBA.

“With a number of these clubs having US owners, it is perhaps no surprise that the format of the proposed Super League resembles the US market, with the NFL’s ten-year $100bn TV contract now an obvious target for replication,” he said.

This will be a disaster for the English Premier League, which is due to go to market with its new media rights tender in the months ahead

– Conrad Wiacek, GlobalData

Streaming service DAZN denied reports that it was looking to pay $3.5bn for the first set of media rights.

Even so, Mr Wiacek says the willingness to pay such dizzying sums is good news for the teams involved.

“This will be a disaster for the English Premier League, which is due to go to market with its new media rights tender in the months ahead – and with its current multi-billion-dollar deal is expiring at the end of the 2021/22, no less. 

“With six of its top clubs contemplating potentially joining the Super League, the collective bargaining position of the English Premier League will be severely weakened, leading to a cratering of the value of media rights for the Premier League, which currently generate in excess of £5bn domestically. 

“Much like UEFA, the English Premier League will be looking for clarity from the six clubs threatening to break away, ahead of its next rights cycle – so as not to undermine the value of its competition.”

Tim Westcott, senior principal analyst, channels & programming at Omdia, noted that Italian media baron Silvio Berlusconi was linked with rumours of breakaway leagues when he owned AC Milan, while Rupert Murdoch’s Sky was instrumental in the foundation of the Premier League.

“Given the importance of broadcasting (which accounted for around 85% of UEFA’s revenues in 2018/19 and more like 100% now), who buys the media rights and how much they pay is crucial,” he said.

“Is there a US partner like Disney, NBC or Discovery waiting in the wings, looking for premium sports content to drive their D2C services into more European homes? Or would the clubs launch their own channel? It seems unlikely the European anti-trust regulators would like that idea much and neither, it seems, would the UK.”

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The potential rewards for the 12 founders – which include Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus – are already eye-popping.

They will receive a welcome bonus worth between €200 million and €300 million ($240-360 million). This compares to the €130m last year’s winners Bayern Munich received – a sum that is of course not guaranteed. The league is being underwritten by the US investment bank JP Morgan, which is prepared to commit €3.25 billion in debt to get things underway. 

The clubs’ argument is that their larger support base, better infrastructure, brand value and social media presence mean that they are justified in expecting a larger share of the revenue pie.

The timing of the announcement – just as UEFA was poised to unveil a new format for the Champions League, with a 36-team league replacing the current 32-team group stage and each team playing ten matches – could mean this is a negotiating tactic to gain more control over European competitions, says Mr Westcott.

Listed football clubs saw their values rise on stock markets following the announcement on Sunday. Manchester United’s shares rose 10%.

Last year, the six leading English clubs tried to get their peers to agree to Project Big Picture, which would give them more say in the division of Premier League spoils.

However, that proposal met with fierce resistance from other clubs and was shot down in flames. The English clubs are trying again, this time with backing from the big Italian and Spanish clubs – but not, so far, the French or Germans. 



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