After the proposal for ‘Project Big Picture’ was widely derided by the public, before being shot down by a unanimous vote by Premier League clubs, you might have expected the chief architects of the project, namely Manchester United and Liverpool to keep their heads down for a bit. Not so, apparently.
Sky News revealed earlier in the week, that executives from both clubs have held talks over the creation of a European Premier League with more than a dozen clubs from across France, Germany, Italy and Spain.
While murmurings of the creation of such a super league have rumbled quietly in the background for years, this latest story represents the most realistic possibility of such a league coming to fruition – with reports that banking giant JP Morgan is prepared to provide the $6 billion in debt financing needed to launch the competition.
The league would comprise of 18 teams in an NBA-style competition, with no prospect of promotion or relegation and would run concurrent to each nation’s domestic league. It is also thought that the league would replace the UEFA Champions League in its current format, with the highest-placed teams in the European Premier League competing in a postseason knockout tournament.
Who else would be interested in this?
Such a proposal would therefore not only be a power-grab by Europe’s established clubs but an attempt to create a completely closed-shop at the top of the game. It all begs the question, who’s interest is this in exactly?
First, there are those that stand to become founding members. Sky reported that Manchester United and Liverpool would be among these, but does not specify which other European elite clubs would join them. Speculating purely from the point of view of self-interest, it is likely that other founding clubs would be from leagues in a state of mono or duopoly.
A European league would be a tantalising prospect for the likes of Bayern Munich, fresh off their eighth Bundesliga on the bounce. Juventus, who this year will compete for their tenth Serie A title in as many years. PSG, who have grown so gargantuan under their Qatari-backed investment that their revenue is now three times that of their closest competitor, Lyon. Likewise, it would appeal to Real Madrid and Barcelona, who between them have swept up every Spanish title since 2004 barring an interruption from Atletico Madrid in 2014.
There is a feeling that these clubs have milked their domestic revenues for all they are worth and now yearn for a super league that would allow for them to sweep in TV revenues dwarfing those of the eye-watering amount raked in by the Premier League.
Liverpool and United have more complicated motivations. For United, such a league would represent a chance to cement themselves among the European elite, following years of mismanagement since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. For Liverpool’s owner John W Henry, there is a feeling that the club is owed more as a grand old man of the English game and should therefore have more access to TV money – something that was borne out in ‘Project Big Picture’.
There’s only money in it for the ‘non-elite’ clubs
But what of the clubs that sit just below these established clubs in the European pecking order? ‘Well run’ clubs such as Atletico, Tottenham, Dortmund and Arsenal would all reasonably expect a seat at the table, but in a league so clearly set up for the established clubs to dominate, the question is, why would they want a part in this?
The most obvious point is that they would stand to benefit in the short term, gaining access to a huge TV deal and a slice of that massive JP Morgan investment. But once that wore off, what would these clubs be left with? As it stands they are big names in their domestic leagues, but would this ring-true in the European Premier League? Surely these clubs risk competing in a league that would render them at best mid-table teams, and at worst propping up a table that has no relegation. Why would Daniel Levy, for example, swap being the English Premier League’s Tottenham, for being the European Premier League’s Burnley?
Such a culling in status would be compounded by the fact that less-established elite clubs would be unlikely to receive ‘founder’ status. If founder status is to mean the same thing as it did in ‘Project Big Picture’ (and after all, it is proposed by the same people) than those without it would be left with reduced voting rights and revenue.
It’s the latest in a series of baffling proposals floating around the game. You’d hope, as with other attempts to create a European Super League, that this would similarly be a non-starter. But in the crisis that is football’s response to coronavirus, big clubs smell only opportunity.