Most football fans will agree that the most contentious aspect of the sport is its intersection with big business. Even the Premier League, which has a reputation for defending the culture and artistry of football, now sees half its teams owned by foreign investment groups and individuals.
Slowly but surely, the greatest game is looking to be the subject of boardrooms. Even the latest slew of Premier League stadiums, from Etihad to the current construction of the City of Manchester Stadium, look at risk of being sterile, empty vessels of football as a business venture.
Still, this doesn’t mean the future of football has been compromised. The emphasis on revenue makes sense; at the end of the day, leagues need to make money in order to cater to fans, develop young players through academies, help provide resources to underrepresented teams, and shell out those big checks that attract star players to legacy teams.
But players today face immense challenges that the old guard of the 70s and 80s never contended with. First and foremost, fixture congestion is a huge issue for players, coaches, and team infrastructure. Players face higher rates of injury and burnout, while also dealing with time changes.
Second, there are transfer issues. A growing number of players and fans have brought into question the global trade market for players, which regularly sees players shipped off teams as far as the US’s MLS or China’s SuperLeague.
In both cases, big money seems to be behind fixture congestion, as leagues look to cash in on extra content and cross-continental trades, which clubs agree to for huge payouts from teams like the New York Red Bulls to Shanghai Shenhua.
For context, Ezequiel Lavezzi, a decent striker who spent most of his time in Ligue Un, raked in £798,000 per week after moving to Hebei China Fortune (which is a team, not a holdings group). Clearly, domestic leagues will need to reevaluate their business model with such changes in store for the global football industry.
However, not every idea hits the ground running; many crash and burn before seeing a rehashed model that fans will accept. And the European Super League is only one of many of football’s recent missteps.
The (Old and New) ESL
For decades to come, football fans will remember the two-day period when twelve clubs from the Premier League, Serie A, and La Liga attempted to launch a brand-new league of super-elite clubs. The ESL’s first draft was quickly torched, with multiple clubs issuing public apologies.
The proposed league was seen as a cash-grab that would see powerful teams only extend the gap in resources from smaller clubs around the continent. Though some were pleased to hear that FIFA wouldn’t be involved with the new project, the ESL was almost unanimously seen as being fueled by foreign interests in football as capital, rather than culture.
ESL fans, fear not! Multiple publications from around Europe have speculated that ESL executives will be back with a revamped proposal. Expected changes include an open format for other teams to join, as well as a more transparent financial plan that will address the growing issue of wealth gaps between clubs… though neither are expected to be enough to endear fans to the league.
LaLiga North America
Back in 2018, La Liga raised brows of local fans, who wanted to know what potential the Spanish league saw in the North American market. LaLiga North America signed a 15-year deal with the US and Canada’s football-centric Relevent Sports group, which includes La Liga fixtures in both countries.
However, the partnership has since shifted to focus on the Mexican football market instead. Apparently, LaLiga has been facing trouble building its reputation in the US and Canada, and will now shift to develop its existing brand primarily in Mexico.
UEFA Europa Conference League
Like LaLiga North America, the UEFA Europa Conference League went ahead irregardless of early questions posed by fans. Despite clubs around the continent facing fixture congestion, UEFA launched a third-tier league for eligible clubs this year.
The formation was designed to make up for the cutting of 16 teams from the UEFA Europa League… which brings up the question of whether UEFA is actually trying to tackle fixture congestion issues. Though the league will help smaller clubs win invaluable prize money, it will bring hundreds of millions more for UEFA through broadcasting deals.
Some fans have proposed a UEFA Europa Conference scheme that prioritizes smaller countries that struggle to make it to the Champions or Europa Leagues, such as Iceland or Estonia. This could be a more desirable direction.