European Football: Champions League Revamp or European Super League?

By Jonathan Copping, Lawyer, Stone King LLP, London, United Kingdom

In November 2018, it was revealed by the German weekly news magazine, ‘Der Spiegel’, that a number of football clubs in Europe had discussed the possibility of leaving their national leagues and setting up a European Super League.

At the time, both UEFA and the European Club Association (ECA) were quick to dismiss the idea.

UEFA’s President, Aleksander Ceferin, stated:

“”The Super League will not happen. It is in a way a fiction now or a dream,” 

And Andrea Agnelli, the ECA Chairman and also the Chairman of Juventus FC, stated:

“I can confirm we have never seen, never discussed, never been involved in the creation of this document”. 

“We are fully engaged with UEFA in shaping the game going forward.”

Notwithstanding the above comments, the talk of a breakaway European Super League has remained.

Certainly, from the position of a club that would join a newly created Super League, the idea of such a league would be very appealing.

The current top clubs in Europe have proceeded to influence UEFA to amend the composition of the Champions League. From the start of the 2018/19 campaign, England, Spain, Italy and Germany have four direct entrants into the group stage of the tournament. Those nations have the highest commercial revenue generating domestic leagues. Champions from different European Countries have to face the prospect of undertaking up to 4 rounds of qualifying to enter the group stage, meaning the branding “Champions League” is something of a misnomer.

For the top clubs that enter the Champions League, they may well look and say, what is the next step to increasing our revenue? One answer would be a European Super League. Another answer might be further reform of the Champions League.

In May 2019, Europe’s domestic leagues rejected proposals put forward that would have resulted in a nearly closed door to enter the Champions League. The board of directors of the European Leagues Association (ELA), which represents 35 domestic leagues in 28 European countries, met in Warsaw to discuss proposals put forward by UEFA regarding reforms of European competitions.

It is understood that one of the proposals that was rejected by the ELA, would have resulted in only four places open to the winners of Europe’s 54 domestic leagues; the number of winners would actually be higher because a number of teams that gain automatic entry would also win their domestic league.

After rejecting the proposal, the ELA released the following statement:

The European Leagues retain the strong opinion that the presented proposal for reforming the European Club Competitions benefits just a few rich and dominant clubs but damages the leagues and the great majority of clubs playing in the domestic competitions.

The European Leagues are working on changes which contribute to the long-term sporting and financial sustainability of both European and domestic club competitions.

UEFA must come to an agreement with the European Leagues and the other stakeholders to safeguard the interests of all professional football clubs in Europe.”

It is also understood that at the meeting between the ELA and UEFA a proposal was put forward for a three-tier European League with promotion and relegation. Such an idea would no doubt see the top European clubs play each other more often and appears to be similar in design to the European Super League, as revealed by ‘Der Speigel’.

UEFA has insisted that talks on reform of the European competitions are at a preliminary stage; however, UEFA does not have a significant amount of time to act and is faced with a tricky dilemma: it needs to satisfy the demands of both Europe’s top clubs and those clubs that aspire to be top clubs in Europe. That is where UEFA’s President, Aleksander Ceferin, is going to have to use some extremely well-honed mediation skills to reach an arrangement acceptable to both sides.

In June, the President of Germany’s Bundesliga, Reinhard Rauball, stated that the Bundesliga would block any attempt to create a Super League.

The English Premier League also released a statement confirming that it would take similar action.

This is hardly surprising, as both the Bundesliga and the English Premier League would lose out significantly if some of the most popular teams left to join a European Super League.

Notwithstanding the statements of the Bundesliga and the English Premier League, it is difficult to see exactly what they could do – certainly legally speaking – to prevent teams leaving the leagues.

Since last November, there has been no further talk about setting up a European Super League; however, the idea is unlikely to disappear, if UEFA cannot find a solution that keeps all parties happy.

Time will tell whether that, in fact, can be achieved!

Jonathan Copping may be contacted by e-mail at ‘jonathancopping@stoneking.co.uk’