Competition

Too many forgetful in Brussels: the SuperLeague is a direct result of the European Bosman ruling

There is something wrong with the statements of various representatives of the European institutions who distance themselves from the football Super League project. In fact, it was precisely the disruptive force of the European project that shaped football as we know it today: a competition in which football teams can avail themselves of all the best players available within the EU, with no nationality limits, and therefore they reflect less and less their country of origin.

At least this was brought to us by the 1995 Bosman ruling, which paved the way for the free movement of football players between European countries, undermining the football model we knew until then, that is to say, the one based on purely national football leagues.

The new pan-European model has certainly helped football to grow and become a billionaire business, albeit with sometimes surreal situations: for instance, the Italian match of 2016 between Inter and Udinese in which the two teams took the field with 22 foreigners and no Italians was famous. European law did not cancel the sporting exception, understood as the set of solidarity and educational objectives that allow you to deviate from the market mechanisms, but it strongly restricted its areas.

Thus, the Super League project looks fully coherent with European context that has shaped football over the last 25 years. Having a European super-championship seems to go more in the direction of European integration than deviate from it. What is more European than a continental championship in which the national context disappears and supporters cheer on teams from other countries, as if the old national borders were no longer there? It is not difficult to find continuity between the disappearance of the borders for the players then (as it was for the Bosman ruling), and the overcoming of the national championships today.

The only part of the SuperLeague project which does not fully reflect the European project is that half of these football clubs are out of the European Union, because of Brexit. This is probably one of the reason why in Brussels are not so happy with the idea.

Of course, it is not the European Union imposing the continental football competition on us, it just allows it. The Super League’s reasons are not due to a bureaucratic choice, but a business decision of a commercial activity based on global revenues from TV rights and merchandising, and no longer on stadiums and supporters located in the territory as it was the case in the past. In particular, what counts is the TV rights that football super clubs would like to collect entirely and directly, and no longer share with smaller teams and federations.

Few figures* why the Super League sadly makes sense for the Italian football championship (il “Campionato”), at least in economic terms. Juventus, Inter and Milan (so called “JIM”) total 40% of the turnover of the entire Serie A, but have 65% of the fans. And if Rome and Naples are added to these three, the number of fans, of these only 5 teams, reaches 85%. The calculation about TVs rights makes the deal very simple to understand: if JIM landed in the Super league, they would bring with them 2/3 of the fans (and spectators) and therefore, in theory, they would pay 2/3 of the TV rights to the Superlega, while the rest of remaining teams, between Serie A and lower leagues, would just get 1/3. In doing so, the disparity between the football teams would explode: the big ones getting bigger and bigger to distance the others. If today Juve’s turnover is about 5 times that of Fiorentina (the football team of Florence) , if the project goes through, it would risk becoming 10 times, if not more, in a few years. For other national football leagues in Europe, figures and results are likely similar.

Therefore, television users matter more than fans. Nowadays it is not strange to find Japanese cheering for Spanish and Italian football teams, or English betting on German matches, and therefore the business has gone global. This, however, only applies to about twenty clubs, that is to say the 12 who are promoters of the Super League plus those who are thinking about it. For the other left, just crumbs will remain.

Technology has also had its part: online platforms, networks and streaming have been the vectors of this globalization, allowing the real-time and global use of sporting events that were once known only by reading the newspaper of the day after. The Internet has globalized football, or rather a part of it, the most successful and even the most annoyingly crapulent.

What can the European Union do in such a context?

Paradoxically, all the rules on the European Single Market, from free movement to competition rules, seem to reward the rebel clubs. The sanctions threatened by the federations could prove to be boomerangs, because competition and antitrust rules could be more in favour of the rebels.  It now seems too late to resurrect the principle of the sporting exception, after 25 years of football liberalization: the Bosman idea was good in the beginning, but the combination with the TV business and technological development have led to results that perhaps in 1995 did not were predictable, and now it seems too late to reconsider. Therefore, it is impossible to recreate barriers, so solidarity must be imposed by law, and here the European Union would not oppose it: after the web tax for the Internet giants, maybe we will start talking about a football-tax for the most prestigious football clubs.

* Source: Maurizio Vitale

Categories: Competition, Sport

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