By J Hutcherson (Sep 27, 2016) US Soccer Players – Call it a Transatlantic coincidence, at least for now. We’re hearing that National Football League television ratings are dropping in the United States. We’re also hearing that soccer fans in Europe are saying thanks but no thanks to another slog through the Champions League group stage. With the soccer, we’re supposed to nod along with the idea that everyone is smart about the Champions League these days. If your club isn’t involved, wait until February when the knockout round begins.
It’s far too early to consider either of these anything more than a concern. The predictions about sports TV rights bubbles, growing ennui among fans, and the willingness of the audience to do something else aren’t new. They also may not even be any louder. The NFL at the top of the table for American pro sports is an easy target for predictable decline. For that matter, so is the Champions League.
Not a lot of insight into the state of European soccer is necessary to see the Champions League as a collection of stopgap measures. UEFA trying to address the threat of a breakaway super league is the Champions League origin story. Not a lot has changed over the years. The super clubs make noise about having things their way and UEFA responds with alterations to their Champions League. Repeat as necessary. There’s no more push to the threat of a breakaway now than there was the last time, or the time before that. You get the idea.
Meanwhile, it makes sense that the super clubs would jump. That’s also been in play since the early 1990s, with the volume level rising and falling over the decades. Making sense isn’t the same as going ahead and doing it, something those super clubs have shown over and over.
Fans in numbers deciding they’ve had it with the facade of the group stage also is nothing new. The Champions League used to double the group stage, providing even more opportunity for games that didn’t count. We’ve been here before. UEFA creates a setup that gives us a schedule that’s too predictable. Then they make another series of changes.
The looming changes to give the biggest leagues more Champions League spots is just more of the same. UEFA’s new president might have issues with what his organization has already decided to do, but there’s the collective “so what” he’ll need to recognize. The Champions League exists as a compromise measure with the clubs most likely to go their own way. It’s not now and it’s never been the ideal way to find the best club soccer team in Europe.
We’ve seen this before. Clubs talking about breaking down the domestic league structure to form regional leagues. The better to compete with the top leagues in Europe. The biggest teams in those leagues letting everybody know they could just do it on their own. Audiences sick of the hegemony among a handful of clubs and longing for anything else. All of a sudden, being one of many supporting a global brand that happens to play soccer doesn’t seem as life affirming as watching a semipro team with a couple hundred supporters. Especially if that team plays in a run down stadium. Even better if it’s in the rain.
Is any of this real? Are we finally seeing the break with what was and that step toward something different? Is that what the people want?
None of this is new. It’s not even revitalized based on a series of current events demanding a response. It’s just European soccer as usual. So far, that’s a brand that works well enough to keep the current structure in place. There’s lots of talk but little boldness with the super clubs. Not to mention the former super clubs now slogging it out in the lesser leagues of Europe. There’s not enough pressure for change right now.
A few weeks ago, LA Galaxy coach Bruce Arena made an offhand comment that eventually we’d see a global soccer league. It’s an easy enough thing to say. It makes sense that at some time in the near future there will be the infrastructure and demand to support it. The NFL is already taking steps at turning their league Transatlantic. That said, there’s one thing the spectre of the super league has shown over all of these years. It might make sense, but that doesn’t mean it will happen. At least not on a predictable schedule.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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