September 27, 2021

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European Super League is a PR disaster – might it turn out to be a giant bluff?

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It’s not often that the world’sd biggest commercial operators come together in a new venture that – to us ordinary mortals – looks like one the biggest PR disasters in business history. But that’s what the football giants who have formed the European Super League seem to have done.

And they appear remarkably unfazed by it. UEFA’s threat to kick the ESL members of out this year Champions League may change this, of course.

The ESL consists of British clubs Manchester City, Man Utd, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham; Italy’s AC Milan, Inter Milan and Juventus plus Real Madrid, Athletico Madrid and Barcelona from Spain. So far Paris St Germain and Germany’s Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund (slated to make up the 15) have declined or not committed.

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The ESL is funded, initially anyway, by giant US bank JP Morgan with $4bn of debt finance. American owners at Arsenal and Liverpool have clearly had an influence, envisaging top class club football as a largely closed shop, along the lines of the American NFL. Real Madrid president Florentino Peres has been pushing this for ages as he sees Real’s hegemony (it’s won far more European trophies than any other club) threatened by the British, boosted by their bigger TV deals. This way he gets a bigger share.

All the ESL needs is a broadcaster with deep enough pockets to ensure that JP Morgan gets its money back and the US, again, has two candidates: Disney (with its ESPN sports network) and Amazon. The UK’s Sky is also a contender and that’s now owned by Comcast.

So is it done and dusted, despite the ferocious noises emanating from the likes of UK PM Boris Johnson, not a noted follower of the beautiful game for most of his career.

Fans in the UK anyway may be up in arms but the ESL doesn’t care about them. There’s a much bigger audience in China.

But PR does matter. Abu Dhabi invested in Manchester City (which only signed at the last minute it seems) as a PR exercise. Owning a winning team is an alternative to handing over $5bn a year to Edelman or Weber Shandwick and more fun to boot. Pissing off your home fan base, the football establishment and serried politicians isn’t good PR.

Which may be why PSG owner Qatar has, so far, declined. Qatar has more PR issues than just about anyone outside China and Russia. Anyway, it’s somehow or other nabbed the next World Cup so certainly doesn’t want to upset FIFA and the rest of them.

Or is all this really a huge bluff to win more of the revenues from an expanded Champions League, agreed before this emerged?

That’s a possibility too. It’s now become a gigantic game of chicken, largely concocted in the US of A. As well as a PR disaster.

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