Rage Against European Super League Is Muffled by Our Cheers

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For the dozen founding members, the appeal of a super league is that it is predictable. There would no longer be any need to worry about qualifying for the Champions League — it is possible that at least four of the signatories will miss out on next season’s edition simply through not being good enough in their domestic leagues — in order to have access to soccer’s most lucrative prize pot. The income would, instead, be guaranteed.

The problem with that, of course, is that unpredictability — what is rather grandly known in the sport’s argot as competitive balance — is at least part of the secret of soccer’s appeal. In March, F.C. Porto knocked Juventus out of the Champions League in the round of 16. Its elimination came in the same week that the Juventus president, Andrea Agnelli, had ill advisedly gone public with his latest harebrained schemes for improving the sport he purports to love.

From a business perspective, his club’s exit was bad. Juventus is the champion of Italy. It is one of the most popular teams in the world. It has far more box-office appeal than Porto; the longer it stays in the Champions League, the better not only for Juventus itself, but to some extent for the competition as a whole. From a sporting perspective, though, its demise was compelling, spellbinding drama, and at the center of the plot was jeopardy: Something was riding on this. Remove the stakes, and it is highly likely that the product will suffer.

To American sensibilities, of course, none of this is alien. The major professional leagues of North America all function as closed shops, unencumbered by the specter of promotion and relegation, and they are doing quite nicely, thank you. Their example has percolated into the thinking of not only those European clubs whose owners have interests in the N.F.L. or Major League Baseball, but of those who look on enviously both at the broadcast deals they can command and the cost control measures at their disposal.

Here too, though, there is a misunderstanding. Soccer is, as the historian David Goldblatt has written, a global cultural phenomenon of almost unparalleled scale. Cristiano Ronaldo is by some distance more famous now than the Beatles were even in their heyday. To the major clubs, this is a point in their favor; they are the teams, after all, that people across the planet pay to watch. Why should they spread the wealth they generate to everyone else?

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