What happened in the football world after Sunday’s big shock was no surprise. The fraternity stood united – save for the 12 owners that had signed their clubs up to form the European Super League (ESL). Thereon, the backlash from fans wasn’t unexpected. Nor was the sight of players, current and former, standing up against the idea. But for La Liga president Javier Tebas, the creation of the controversial competition itself was no surprise.
“After 20 to 25 years of threats of setting up a new league, a competition outside the football (world as we know it), the threat has come to reality,” he said at a press conference attended by presidents of five other La Liga clubs. “Within 48 hours, it’s dissolving.”
The ESL was announced on Sunday. By Wednesday, all six teams from the Premier League that had signed up had withdrawn, as had Inter and AC Milan from Italy, and Atletico Madrid from Spain. All that remained from the original 12, and still remain, is Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus.
It all stems from the vision of Real Madrid president Florentino Perez – the key figure behind the breakaway league – that the ESL will save football from the monetary losses suffered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That argument however, was quickly rubbished by the five presidents present at the meeting on Thursday.
🎙Javier Tebas [LaLiga president]: “The English and German clubs will never enter this competition so they can’t create what they want to create.”
“The Super League, as it is, is dead. Let’s be realistic it is dead.”
— RouteOneFootball (@Route1futbol) April 22, 2021
Need to budget smartly
Based on data provided on Real Madrid’s website, they were expecting a revenue of USD 984 million during the 2019-20 season. Once the pandemic struck though, the figure came down by USD 128 million. Still the club reported a profit of USD 378,000. This when their home ground, Santiago Bernabeu, is undergoing an expensive renovation project. It just makes the pandemic pinch a bit more painful. Real, according to accountancy firm KPMG, had a USD 205 million debt on their books at the end of last season.
Villarreal president Fernando Roig argued that teams need to budget wisely.
“We all do the same things (as the big clubs), but we have tighter budgets. Companies have to adapt to these situations. We do well now because we travel in economy class,” Roig said. “The salaries paid by these clubs are high, but it shouldn’t be 14 times higher. Instead of having three or four Ferraris, just have one Ferrari.”
According to business data website Statista, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid (the three Spanish clubs that signed for the ESL) had the highest annual player salaries in Spain in the 2019-20 season – USD 12.28 million, 11.15 million and 7.04 million respectively.
By comparison, Sevilla, currently fourth on the La Liga table, paid USD 2.5 million. The three teams vying for the two Europa League spots, Real Sociedad, Real Betis and Villarreal paid USD 1.6 million, 1.5 million and 1.73 million respectively, according to Statista.
Overall, according to Deloitte, the 12 ESL clubs earned USD 6.61 billion in total in 2019-20, down from USD 9.89 billion a season earlier.
Another of the 12 teams that has heavy debts is Tottenham Hotspur, who have recently built a new stadium. Their debt is USD 827 million, according to KPMG data published by Reuters – the most for any ESL club.
The major lure for the 12 teams was the promise of a whopping USD 425 million each (Bayern Munich won USD 155 million for winning the Champions League last year). A chunk of this money, it was expected, would come through television rights. Yet Tebas claimed that wasn’t a realistic estimate.
“The figures (Perez) put up are not real, there is not that much money in audio/visual rights in world football to pay what they’re asking,” he said flatly.
Perez’s argument was that football now struggles to capture the attention of youth, and it can be regained only through regular matches between top clubs – which would otherwise only take place in the Champions League based entirely on a random draw. Levante president Francisco Catalan claimed that “the product might work in the short term, but it will be a failure later,” as regular matches between big clubs will be subject to the law of diminishing returns.
No chance to rise
Playing in the Champions League – the biggest club competition in the world – is what lesser clubs aspire to.
“We always dream about getting right to the top, we dream of playing in the Champions League, and our fans dream that too,” said Roig. “This can only be earned on the pitch. You need to aspire to get to the top. To limit that, (as the ESL proposes), that’s not good.”