ALEX BRUMMER: UK can be dominant force as football reshapes

ALEX BRUMMER: The economics of sport is changing rapidly and the UK has the opportunity to be a dominant force as football reshapes

Among the more irritating aspects of the ill-prepared JP Morgan-backed £3.6billion European Super League in April was how it allowed deeply flawed football organisations to claim the high moral ground. 

One doesn’t need to be a supporter of the Super League concept to recognise that the main opponents such as European football chiefs Uefa and the Premier League were in effect reinforcing their monopoly power. 

The European Commission which has been bold in taking on the might of Apple over tax shifting and Google over advertising preferences could have a field day. 

Under pressure: Uefa is pressing for Covid restrictions to be lifted for the semi-finals and final of Euro 2020, which are scheduled for London

The case for examining how football groupings have seized control of TV rights and the multi-billion sums which go with them, without any attention to supporter rights, would be overwhelming. 

The abuse of money and power by Uefa knows few boundaries. In the weeks before the all-English Champions League final on May 29 it became obvious that the sensible place to hold the event would be Wembley. 

This would inoculate against tens of thousands of fans from the UK having to take to the skies and Porto. The Government declined to ease Covid-19 isolation rules for up to 3,000 Uefa hangers-on, guests and sponsors, so the game was held in Portugal in the interest of organisers, not fans. 

These were the same supporters it claimed to represent when it came to the Super League. Now Uefa is at it again. The semi-finals and final of Euro 2020 have long been scheduled for London. 

Uefa is pressing for Covid restrictions to be lifted for the sake of fans. What it really means is not to inconvenience elite members and sponsors. 

Even the players are exasperated with the mercenary tactics. Ronaldo had no wish to be seen anywhere near a Coke bottle, as someone who disdains fizzy drinks. He moved the display out of shot. It was also insensitive for Uefa to send the traumatised players of Denmark and Finland back onto the field of play to finish a tie after they witnessed Christian Eriksen’s heart failure.

It gave the impression of being more concerned with fulfilling TV and sponsor contracts than player and fan welfare. 

None of this is intended to dampen enthusiasm for the current competition, coming as it does after a long delay and lockdowns. Every glimpse of an enthusiastic crowd and brilliant player skills is a delight.

Of concern is that often-mismanaged football organisations have been empowered by fan opposition to the Super League. A well-resourced newcomer might have weakened an oligopolistic grip on TV rights, sponsorship and seats. 

Much of the discussion around the Super League was misinformed. The ‘Big Six’ clubs involved in the UK were accused of blocking the dreams of less wealthy contenders such as Leicester City. 

The Midlands club is owned by Thai oligarch Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha whose wealth stems directly from privileges granted by the king. The two Spanish clubs involved, Real Madrid and Barcelona, are technically fan-owned. Another line of attack was to criticise closed sports systems with limited access. 

This is similar to charges made against the Premier League when it broke away from the Football League, seeking to keep the spoils to itself. There is no reason why a mechanism for changing membership could not have been built into the Super League. The market would have sorted that out. 

Much of sport is run by closed shops. Among them are the Six Nations Rugby, Formula 1, India’s IPL cricket and the United Rugby Championship in the southern hemisphere, owned by private equity firm CVC. 

The economics of sport is changing rapidly and the UK, through the technological excellence of Sky, has the opportunity to be a dominant force as football reshapes. 

In England, the FA argues that its fan consultation and delivery of defibrillators and user-training will help it build back amid a reputation for financial haziness. But football organisations and fans need to get real. Having allowed oligarchs and sheikhs to bail them out, buy and train the players, they need to be exposed to free markets. 

That means transparency and meeting obligations to all stakeholders, but also accepting that current arrangements are not set in aspic and must adjust to a fast-changing, global, digital environment.