European Super League idea arose because global fans not interested in tradition

Outrage. Complete and utter outrage. That’s how the notion of the European Super League was greeted earlier this week.

How dare 12 of the biggest clubs in Europe, six of them right here in England, act like they are so big that they have become immune to the principles of competition the beautiful game was founded on a century and a half ago.

For once, fans of rival clubs were united in protest. Players got together to make their voices heard. The media was angry and demanded blood. The noise was deafening.

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The chutzpah of the ‘greedy dozen’ was maddening, which made the unravelling of it all on Tuesday night all the sweeter.

GLOBAL BRAND: Real Madrid have millions of fans all over the world not interested in the tradition of competitive spirit. Picture: Peter Byrne/PA

But – and there should be a but here – was there merit in what these clubs were, and still are, looking for?

In the interests of balance The Yorkshire Post has sought the opinion of two leading academics who, while not necessarily agreeing with the manner in which the concept of the European Super League was introduced, can at least see the reasons behind it.

Dr Paul Widdop, a sports business lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, believes these breakaway clubs are no longer community clubs, but global brands with fanbases that extend far beyond the cities where they belong.

“Sport is an entertainment industry and that’s how a lot of businesses see it,” says Dr Widdop. “The way we look at the world is changing, media consumption is changing rapidly, and football will change with that.

CATALYST: Michael Owen’s goal for England against Argentina in 1998 sparked a new generation of Liverpool fans. Picture: Sean Dempsey/PA

“I’m not going to use the word ‘legacy fans’ because that’s an awful concept but inside these clubs they’ll be thinking ‘we already have a core supporter base that is socialised into the culture of the pyramid system, familiar with the Wimbledons rising to the top etcetera’. That’s a way of life to us, a norm that has been created, it’s our European system and we will fight to save that system.

“But if you think of someone like Real Madrid, they’ve got millions of fans around the world, a lot of those fans haven’t been brought up in that tradition of the pyramid system, sense of place, sense of community and the sense of localised history.

“Young people from China, India, the Middle East, they’re not socialised into the tradition.

“These are global clubs, in global cities in a globalised world. Different fans have different needs and values. I don’t think we’ve talked about it enough how there’s new fandom and that fandom has rapidly changed the way we consume content.”

BAD IDEA: Real Madrid President Florentino Perez Picture: AP Photo/Claude Paris

Dr Widdop’s colleague at Leeds Beckett University, Dr Renan Petersen-Wagner, falls into the category of academic but also this breed of ‘new fan’.

For his PhD, he studied Liverpool supporters in his homeland of Brazil and also in Switzerland. He now follows Liverpool because of that.

“Some of the people I interviewed were Liverpool fans because they liked playing video games,” says Dr Petersen-Wagner. “They saw Michael Owen score against Argentina in France ’98 and wanted to play with him on their video game so they ended up supporting Liverpool.

“They then want to see Liverpool against the best teams. They don’t want to see them against West Brom.

“People cite the German model of 50+1 of fan ownership. But who is that fan? Is that local ownership or is it a million people from China who became members of Liverpool, and now suddenly they are owners of Liverpool.

“These international fans are the ones they are trying to attract.”

Another motivation of the breakway 12, believes Dr Petersen-Wagner, is the saturation of football and the increased competition football faces from other content streams. The new 36-team Champions League format was approved by UEFA only this week, at the height of the outcry over the Super League. But what the bigger clubs want is more games between the top teams and fewer, if possible zerogames, against unmarketable opposition.

“If there’s so much there you lose the value,” argues Dr Petersen-Wagner.

Dr Widdop feels that with international owners, particularly American owners bred on the closed shops of the NFL and the NBA, it is inevitable that football will continue to explore this route. “They want stability in the market so they can invest in talent, knowing that you will not be penalised if you fall out having spent big,” he says.

“A super league would be huge, it would rival the NBA, the NFL, there’s no doubt about it.

“We’re so outraged now, and yet you, me, every fan that has watched Sky Sports and paid money for replica shirts is complicit in this move towards where we’re going.

“We’ve sleep-walked into this situation for the last 30 years.”

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