MLS Expansion Will Result in a European Super League
I tried to explain the structure of European football leagues for two reasons. First, I don’t think that many American sports fans understand it and I believe that failure to understand it is an impediment to appreciating the game. But more importantly, I do so because I believe that the future of MLS will rest at least in part on the steps that the European leagues take to counter the rise of MLS as a legitimate player on the world stage.
The Massive Clubs of Europe will eventually see MLS as a rival. While MLS obviously has some serious disadvantages to the European game, it also has a few not insignificant advantages. The most important of these advantages is that MLS will eventually find a national scale that is similar to that of the Big Four American sports leagues. The current structure of European soccer leaves the Massive Clubs economically disadvantaged as compared to an MLS that spans the entirety of the United States, Canada (and Mexico?).
In order to stomp out MLS as a competitor, the Massive Clubs will need to take an action which they’ve been wanting to do for a long time but from which the world’s governing football bodies have so far prevented them from taking: the creation of a Pan-European Super League.
The Super League
The Massive Clubs have wanted a Super League for a long time. The growth of MLS might just be the catalyst they need to get it.
At some point, near or far in the future, the Massive Clubs of Europe will begin to see MLS as a threat. MLS will steal one too many star that is not quite past his prime. MLS will scoop one too many prospect (who will eventually be sold to the Massive Clubs for tens of millions). MLS will get a not insignificant contract from a European television operator looking to bolster its summer schedule.
Eventually, all this will prove too much and the Massive Clubs will have to do something about it. The Massive Clubs are self-interested. They will look to defend their own economic interests. The perceived threat from the States will require them to create a European Super League. A Super League to rule them all.
Unfortunately for the rest of the teams in Europe, the creation of a European Super League will do irreparable harm to current domestic European leagues. A European Super League would increase even further the income disparity between the haves and the have nots.
Already, television revenue received by the Premier League in England has created an ever-widening gulf between teams in the Premier League and teams in the tiers below. Perennial participation in UEFA Champions League by Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool has exacerbated the revenue disparities between those teams and the rest of the teams in the Premiership.
Revenue disparity creates significant disparity on the field itself.
A Premier League Without Man U?
What happens to the Premier League if Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool leave it to join a Super League full time? If Aston Villa, Everton and Fulham were fighting it out for first place in an English first division that didn’t include the Big Four, would anybody really care? Would anybody care who won a Serie A title if the league didn’t include Milan, Roma, Inter or Juventus?
Yes, some Italians would continue to care about their local Serie A team. English fans would continue to follow the Premiership at some rate. Even today, the second and third division teams maintain some sort of fan base.
But for the most part, all eyes would turn to the Super League. In Europe, in the Americas and in Asia, the Super League would become the only league that mattered. The only European league garnering significant television revenue.
And if the fan’s aren’t watching and the television dollars aren’t rolling in, why would a young player from Africa or Belgium or Costa Rica want to go to Fulham? Why would you want to play in a depleted Premiership if MLS was a viable alternative?
And if the Premiership is depleted without its big clubs, how do the remaining clubs continue to pay their bills if revenue is declining? They’re barely paying the bills as it is.
|Club||Revenue (2007-08)||Wages % Revenue||Profit||Debts|
|Stoke City||(Championship) £11.2m (up 41%)||106%||– £5.6m||£2.3m|
|Wigan Athletic||£43m (up 59.2%)||89%||-£11.2m||£66.4m|
|West Bromwich Albion||(Championship): £27.2m (up 13%)||80%||£11.3m||£8.9m|
|Portsmouth||£70.5m (up 75%)||78%||-£17m||£57.7m|
|Hull City||(Championship) £9m (down 5.6%)||77%||-£2m||£1m|
|West Ham United||£57m||76%||-£22m||£36m|
|Newcastle United||£100.8m (up 16%)||74%||-£34m||£106.2m|
|Fulham||£53.7m (up 35.2%)||73%||£3.2m||£197m|
|Blackburn Rovers||£56.4m (up 30%)||70%||£3m||£17m|
|Chelsea||£213.6m (up 12%)||68%||-£84.5m||£701m|
|Aston Villa||£75.6m (up 105%)||66.7%||-£7.6m||£73m|
|Bolton Wanderers||£59.1m (up 16%)||66%||-£8.4m||£52m|
|Manchester City||£82.3m (up 44%)||66%||-£32.6m||£147m|
|Everton||£76m (up 50.1%)||59%||£26,000||£39m|
|Sunderland||£63.6m (up 144%)||58%||– £4.9m||£69.2m|
|Manchester United||£256.2m (up 22%)||47%||-£44.8m||£699m|
|Tottenham Hotspur||£114.7m (up 11.34%)||46%||£3m||£65m|
|Arsenal||£222.5m (Up 11.4%)||45%||£36.7m||£416m|
Making Losses Out of Nothing At AllIn case you cared: Liverpool, Manchester United, Aston Villa are owned by Americans. Stan Kroenke, who owns the Rapids, the Avalanche and the Nuggets might make it four after he recently became Arsenal’s biggest shareholder.
Compare the shape Premiership Clubs are in to those in the NFL. NFL owners, who have mandated debt limits of $120 million (£72 million), are very seriously considering locking out the players two years from now because payroll has reached 60% of revenue.
All this can really only lead to one conclusion. If the top clubs in the Premiership join a Super League, the remaining clubs will be in receivership and their players will be out on the free market looking for jobs.
Looking for jobs in MLS.
The creation of a Pan-European Super League would be the second greatest thing that ever happened to MLS. The first best thing? If the Massive Clubs didn’t create a Super League.
Either Way, MLS Benefits
No matter what happens to the European football, MLS stands to benefit. Remember these old adages?
- A house (Europe) divided against itself (into domestic European leagues) cannot stand
- The enemy (a Super League) of my enemy (domestic European leagues) is my friend.
If the Massive Clubs of Europe attempt to fortify their places at the top of the food chain through the creation of a Pan-European Super League, MLS will become the default alternative to that league.
If the Massive Clubs of Europe fail to create a Super League, MLS competes against fragmented, weakened competition. As MLS climbs the football ladder, MLS will continually weaken the middle tier European clubs, increasing on-field disparity, and making even more domestic league games unwatchable.