By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Apr 10, 2015) US Soccer Players – In the aftermath of the Premier League announcing its latest TV rights bonanza, it’s easy enough to see this as banner times across European soccer. As our English friends would be quick to remind us, they’re not Europe. They’re right, of course, but that carries more meaning than national identity.
The Premier League and the Championship are the healthiest leagues in Europe for a simple reason. Not enough of their clubs are in financial danger to put their top two leagues in the same category as Europe’s topflights. It’s gotten so bad on the continent that picking one at random will do the job.
Serie A? Once upon a time this was the strongest league in soccer but this season we’ve seen big clubs sliding down the table and Parma going bankrupt. Parma, one of Italian soccer’s Seven Sisters.
The Bundesliga? Many pick it as Europe’s best league, but financially it’s no competition. Club ownership is normally inclusive, tickets are cheap, and the stadiums are large, but the money isn’t there for most of the clubs in the way it is for Bayern Munich. FC Hollywood still very much exists. For American fans, the easiest way to see where the Bundesliga ranks in foreign TV rights is to try to catch a game in the United States.
La Liga? Somehow combining the problems of Serie A and the Bundesliga, Spain gave us that plucky upstart Atletico Madrid last season. Instead of becoming the antidote to the free spending twin powers normally at the top of the table, Atletico has its own financial issues. The smaller clubs in Spain might make for good stories, but to have any chance at competing they’re mortgaging their futures in ways that simply aren’t sporting. That means clubs declaring bankruptcy at a ridiculous rate.
In France, the haves and have nots might not be so pronounced that PSG can easily spend its way to the title, but it’s how things work in Ligue 1. PSG gets a huge cash influx under new ownership, and the expectation is that it will only take time before they dominate.
The smaller leagues like the Scottish Premier League, Belgium’s Pro League, and the Netherlands’ Eredivisie are historically top heavy. There was an obvious reason to link clubs from those three countries with the proposed cross-border Atlantic League back in the 2000s. At this point, it’s an open question whether or not they can support their existing topflight clubs. Taking the Eredivisie as the example, Oguchi Onyewu’s old club FC Twente have lost points twice this season for financial issues.
Meanwhile, the Premier League happily announced that all of its legacy teams turned a profit. Those teams that do drop down a level have the comfort of payments from their old friends in the topflight. The complaint in England is over the amount the Premier League spends across the whole of the sport, rather than whether or not the Premier League believes it should.
UEFA, of course, believes they’re reorienting European club soccer through Financial Fair Play. Those guidelines certainly catch clubs as they attempt to spend themselves into oblivion, increasing the risk and shutting off the reward of playing in the two European competitions. It’s an effort European soccer’s governing body had little choice but to take. Without Financial Fair Play, things weren’t likely to improve on their on. In fact, they would’ve likely only gotten noticeably worse.
That’s the major problem for all the stakeholders across European soccer right now. It’s not exactly new, but it comes after too many years of doomsday scenarios for European soccer. The same thing that pushed UEFA into creating the Champions League is what drove those bad tidings over the future of the various European leagues back in the late 90s and early 2000s.
A Super League, regardless of how many divisions, teams, or locations, would remove the massive clubs and take the pressure off of the small ones. Small teams by any definition that played their way into the topflight would no longer face the ridiculous pressure to spend to compete. Things would change. The future might be better for the bulk of the clubs without their brightest lights playing a domestic schedule.
Instead, the Premier League showed what a domestic league can do on a global scale. The Premier League created its own domestic super league, generating the revenue and global appeal for their league as a brand. Sure, there are massive clubs involved and nobody is likely to fill a big stadium overseas to watch West Brom play Sunderland in a friendly. Yet, the Premier League brand and the rights it represents have a value that continues to increase.
Compared to that, none of the European leagues can compete. Even the Bundesliga is getting their late and with a language barrier. Italy has the individual brands, but the Milan contingent aren’t competitive. Spain is always Real Madrid and Barca, the league well down the order behind its two massive clubs.
What this creates is something the early versions of the Super League mainly overlooked. When thinking of the next stage for European soccer, why does it have to involve England at all? England’s league works. Europe’s various circuits don’t. The quick fix in creating a European super league only involving mainland European clubs is almost too obvious.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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