Breakaway league kicks up a storm

Editorial | Mary Ma 21 Apr 2021

Anything that unites also divides.

The power of this could not have been better demonstrated than the announcement that 12 leading football clubs in Europe – including six from the UK – will form a breakaway known as the European Super League in collaboration with Wall Street’s largest investment bank JPMorgan.

While the clubs may have drawn some loyalists from their towns and cities, this new venture is being viewed by many as an act of betrayal.

An instant poll by the British media has shown that over eight in every 10 interviewees objected to their clubs joining others to form a league elsewhere.

That’s an absolute majority that includes Boris Johnson who, speaking more as prime minister than a fan, has pledged to resort to every possible means to stop this from happening.

Anyone who isn’t into football may fi nd it diffi cult to comprehend since the “betrayers” have not really betrayed anyone in the strictest sense.

While they will play an extra mid-week match under the banner of the ESL, they will continue to adhere to their traditional domestic football calendar – thereby continuing to play in the UK’s Premier League and Europe’s UEFA Champions League.

So why are the fans so angry? For a kick-off , football holds a very special power over masses of fans.

Perhaps the most stunning part of the fi asco is JPMorgan’s commitment of billions of dollars to clear the way for the super league to take off against all odds – regardless of opposition from local fans and, more critically, government heads.

For example, French President Emmanuel Macron beat Johnson this time by saying he’s proud that, unlike their British peers, French clubs have refused to join the ESL.

The whole saga is really about money and power. Leagues that are well established are bound to see their power chipped away, along with lost revenues. But this isn’t the fi rst time the football landscape has faced reform.

In 1992, the Premier League was created after clubs in the Football League First Division broke away from the Football League to take advantage of a lucrative television rights contract, which initiated the demise of the latter.

Three decades later, history seems to be repeating itself.

Top performing clubs want to share a bigger slice of the pie. Negotiations have been under way for a while and promises have also made to pacify the clubs.

The industry knows that, without participation of these clubs, revenues would plummet.

But the coin’s other side is no less brutal for the clubs. The pandemic has kicked some of them into deep debt.

A table compiled by the BBC shows that 10 of the 12 ESL founding members had accumulated considerable debts in 2020, with Tottenham Hotspur’s piling up to almost £600 million (HK$4.6 billion).

Chelsea was the only club reporting some surplus last year, while Liverpool did not give BBC the data.

JPMorgan’s package is truly attractive, letting the clubs to share €3.5 billion (HK$32.71 billion) immediately.

The question is why JPMorgan is so bullish about football when even the top performers have to fi ght to stay afl oat.

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May 2021

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