It’s an interesting time of year for fans of both Major League Soccer (MLS) and the various European soccer leagues. European teams are just returning from an extensive international break and plunging back into domestic leagues, domestic cups and, for a select few, international competitions such as the Champions League and Europa League. Back stateside, the MLS playoffs have only just begun, providing us with thrill and heartbreak—as seen in D.C. United’s loss to the Columbus Crew this past Thursday.
I wrote my last article critiquing the structure of the MLS playoffs, on what I saw as a lack of competitiveness that potentially allows mediocre teams to qualify for the postseason due to short bursts of good form. I would like to add a brief extension to this, relating to recent developments in European soccer which I will explain below.
As of now, the MLS maintains a high degree of parity. There are no dominant teams, so no team has yet been able to exploit the playoff system through their own excellence. By comparison, in domestic European leagues, each team plays their competitors twice, once at home, and the other time away. The winner of the league is the team that has the best total win-draw-loss record at the end of the year.
I will admit, in the various European leagues, the process of deciding a champion is less suspenseful than in the MLS. Playoffs certainly make for better television.
This is exactly what (a few) European clubs have picked up on. Documents obtained by the whistleblowing website Football Leaks and published in a report by the German newspaper Der Spiegel on Nov. 2 reveal intentions to create a “Super League” for Europe’s biggest, best clubs. For these top clubs, the Super League would presumably supplant their participation in domestic leagues and in international competitions. Furthermore, this league would have a playoff format similar to that of MLS, abandoning the format that every single European league currently uses.
As I mentioned earlier, playoffs are exciting, tense and emotional endeavors. They are fun to watch, no matter the sport. While I would not consider myself an avid fan of sports besides soccer, more times than not, if given the opportunity, I will tune in to a MLB, NHL, NFL or NBA playoff game.
This draw is exactly what the top clubs in Europe are hoping to tap into with their Super League idea. The English Premier League is one of the most widely watched professional sports leagues in the world—and with that distinction comes incredibly lucrative deals for broadcasting rights across the globe. But even then, casual fans in the United States or Malaysia don’t tune in to watch Newcastle vs. Burnley on a Monday evening. They want to watch a game between Arsenal and Liverpool or Manchester City and Chelsea. They tune in to watch the teams that have the largest brands and the most recognizable players.
If the top teams from each European country grouped together in their own exclusive league, the potential profit from the broadcast rights, to be sold across the world, would likely be astronomical. Having weekly high-profile matches between the likes of Paris Saint Germain, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Barcelona would draw millions upon millions of viewers for every match. Now, in this already boisterous grouping, imagine the energy that playoffs bring to players and fans alike.
While I can fully understand the financial desires that are pushing clubs—specifically Bayern Munich, who proposed the idea according to the Football Leaks—I cannot emphasize how terrible this change would be.
The biggest European clubs would not hold their current pedigree without their domestic leagues. Sans their recent success in the Premier League, teams like Manchester City have no claim to be a part of any Super League. Bayern Munich has historically dominated the Bundesliga in part because it is able to sign talented German players from other teams in the league.
Most important, the Super League would render the matchups between Europe’s elite meaningless. The Champions League and Europa League are special because the participants always evolve and change. There are certainly clubs that consistently participate, but even then the individual matchups remain unique. Games between Paris Saint Germain and Liverpool rarely occur, which is what makes them so special. The Super League would guarantee these matches, and thus take that special atmosphere away.
The creation of the Super League would certainly lend European soccer a new facet for fans to enjoy. But in doing so, it would spit on the history of its participants, and possibly destroy one of the parts of the European game that already makes the sport so special.