The first version of the European Super League had the lifespan of a fruit fly, imploding in just 48 hours last year in the face of fan outrage and horrible press.
Despite that debacle, the ESL is on the comeback trail. Its new CEO told the Financial Times he’s hoping to relaunch in less than three years — but does it stand a frozen football’s chance in hell?
The ESL goes to VAR
It happened very fast, so you may not recall all the furor surrounding the ESL’s spectacular failure to launch, but let us refresh your memory with some post-match analysis: The ESL was designed to be a breakaway league from the long-established UEFA Champions League and consisted of 12 of the world’s wealthiest teams financed by banks including JPMorgan. Those teams were guaranteed never to get relegated from the league regardless of how poorly they played, and no scrappy underdogs would ever get a chance to break in. The teams announced their participation in the ESL in April 2021, and the backlash was so intense that nine out of the 12 teams backed out within 48 hours.
The ESL’s proponents said it would generate revenue for participating clubs to the tune of $12 billion per year, as opposed to the $4.2 billion UEFA was doling out. The ESL maintains it’d be good for soccer’s finances, though its new boss did signal it might be open to a few changes from the original, catastrophic format:
- The three remaining ESL clubs are Spain’s Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Italy’s Juventus, each represented by a company called A22 Sports Management. A22 announced Wednesday it’s appointed Bernd Reichart as CEO, who was previously the chief of German media company RTL Deutschland — so dealing with an inevitably hostile press could come easily to him.
- Reichart signaled the ESL is willing to make some changes to the original, and reviled, format, and conceded that permanent membership was clearly “off the table.” He didn’t address whether the league would remain invite-only, a key point of distinction between itself and the Champions league.
We are the champions? Reichard says the ESL wants to change the landscape of European soccer, but the Champions League is already undergoing reform. The number of teams that can enter the early group stage of the Champions League was increased from 32 to 36 and the new format will allow for more games between the big teams — which was the ESL’s big selling point to fans. We’ll see if their pitch flies on the pitch this time.