Late on Sunday afternoon the world of football was thrown into chaos by the news that an announcement on the formation of a new ‘super league’, formed by 11 European clubs with varying levels of contemporary and historic success, and Tottenham, was imminent.
The concept of a European Super League has long been discussed, with the notion often used in a game of brinksmanship between wealthy club owners and the international sporting federations that divvy up broadcast revenues, but Sunday evening’s announcement is without a doubt the greatest statement of intent that we have ever seen. Having bluffed for so long, it seems that Europe’s elite football clubs have now gone all in.
The reaction in Britain has been widely and emphatically negative; a snap poll undertaken by YouGov found that 79% of British football fans oppose the creation of a super league with 75% of fans saying that they are not interested in watching it. Prince William, the President of the Football Association has made his opposition clear, while Boris Johnson has stated that the British Government is looking at “everything that we can do with the football authorities to make sure that this doesn’t go ahead in the way that it is currently being proposed.”
But if the proposals are universally unpopular within the home markets of the various clubs that are aiming to strike out on their own, why are they so set on carrying out the plan?
The answer lies in football’s complicated relationship with globalisation.
Football has changed drastically over the last 100 years, but it remains, despite the billion pound international broadcast deals and the eye-watering wages, a game of localities. We might have an affinity for Messi or Ronaldo, the teams may be sponsored by Chevrolet or Samsung, and they might be owned by parasitic sports shop owners or sovereign states, but we support Manchester United, Nottingham Forest or Woking.
While football remains rooted in locality, for now, as clubs and leagues compete for greater revenues and greater profits, they have increasingly begun to look outside their locales and outside their national borders in order to access global audiences. The potential audience for the Premier League, or for Serie A, is far greater in Nigeria, China or India than it is in either the UK or Italy. In Spain, this has seen big games that would traditionally take place at 10pm taking place at 1pm to suit Asian time-zones and attempts to play matches in the United States. In the UK, the advertising we see on the shirts of our favourite players or on hoardings is not targeted at British consumers, but rather the Asian audiences of bookmakers like Sportsbet.io, W88 or ManBetX.
This trend refers to the tension felt within local markets as global sensibilities increasingly come to dictate the way in which businesses and organisations act. Just as the films we watch are commonly tailored in an ‘effort to avoid antagonising Chinese officials’, the sport we watch is likely to be increasingly influenced by the sensibilities of audiences in emerging economies.
The relevance of locality to football – compared to touring sports like tennis, golf, cycling or Formula 1 – has seen this shift deferred and delayed, but with the announcement of The Super League it feels as though we have arrived at a tipping point where for elite football clubs, global audiences have become a greater priority than their local ones.
This is likely to become an increasingly frequent phenomenon, with the emergence of a vast global middle-class likely to see Western dominance of a wide range of cultural forms increasingly diminished as businesses and organisations seek to develop relationships with large, untapped generation of consumers.
If you don’t like The Super League, you might not like what’s coming next.