European Super League and the dissimilarities in similarities with Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket

The talks of a dreamlike football league involving the very best clubs in the Europe have been in the air for a while. However, those thoughts gained a bit of tangibility when German publication Der Spiegel, published a report with documents obtained by a paper from Football Leaks – a football whistleblowing website, which indicated the formation of a new 16-team competition independent of the UEFA that would involve the top sixteen clubs from Europe starting from 2021.

There has been no confirmation from any of the clubs that are reported to be a part of the new league, but FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s acknowledgement of such a competition and subsequent comments about a possible ban from FIFA competitions on players who would be a part of this probable new venture suggest that football’s governing body is already preparing its guard against a rebel league.

At the heart of wanting such a breakaway league for the biggest clubs in Europe is the lure of enhanced financial gains. The big clubs who drive the revenue for the competitions they take part in are rewarded with a greater share from the revenue pie, but their growing influence on global football viewers has given them the belief and, perhaps, the power to go on their own and generate even greater revenues.

For readers who are heavy consumers of cricket, this scenario might ring a bell. In 1977, Kerry Packer, the owner of Australian television network, Nine Network organised World Series Cricket (WSC) — a breakaway cricket tournament independent of the national and international cricket authorities, with an aim to make the most of cricket’s resurgence in Australia during the 1970s by broadcasting the game on his channel, which otherwise didn’t have the rights to do so.

Of course, cricket in 1970s is not comparable to modern-day football, but the need for the creation of the two competitions is similar – more financial gains for the stakeholders.

What exactly is the European Super League?

The richest clubs in the Europe are rumoured to be making plans to establish a breakaway European Super League. Reuters

The richest clubs in the Europe are rumoured to be making plans to establish a breakaway European Super League. Reuters

The rumoured breakaway league will consist of 11 core founding members and five guest teams. According to the report in Der Spiegel, the 11 members include, Spain’s Barcelona and Real Madrid, England’s Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool Manchester United and Manchester City, Italy’s Juventus and AC Milan, France’s Paris Saint-Germain and Germany’s Bayern Munich.

The documents reveal that the founding members intend to register a company that will organise the European Super League of which these core members will be permanent members for 20 years, immune from relegation. In addition, five guest teams – Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan and AS Roma – will be part of the league on a rotational basis.

The European League will not just have the most elite players competing in it, but it will also facilitate the biggest clubs in Europe to face each other on a more regular basis. That would mean huge television revenues and enhanced earnings for the big clubs and their owners.

Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket

In 1976, when Cricket Australia turned down Packer’s offer to televise Australia’s Test matches on his channel. despite putting an offer eight times the existing contract at the time, the Australian decided to organise the World Series Cricket and got many prominent cricketers like Ian Chappell, Greg Chappell, Tony Greig, Dennis Lillee, Clive Lloyd on board.

The ICC, which was called the International Cricket Conference at the time, didn’t grant first-class status to the WSC matches and banned players involved in it from playing Test cricket.

Cricketers across the globe were fed up with the low wages they earned and WSC presented a lucrative alternative for those who felt they weren’t been given their due.

Packer appealed against ICC's move to ban cricketers involved in WSC in London High Court and the Court dismissed ICC’s decision stating that the players need to make a living and the governing cricket body cannot stand in their way.

The WSC brought several innovations to cricket and its broadcasting that included limited-overs matches, day-night cricket, the use of white ball and coloured kits. The WSC was also the first tournament to make use of eight different cameras to give viewers on television a better perspective of the game.

After two successful seasons, Australian cricket board decided to give the broadcasting rights of cricket matches to Channel Nine with a view to bring in similar innovations to the broadcast of the national team games. That spelt the end of WSC, but opened up new possibilities for the game of cricket.

European Super League and World Series Cricket: Dissimilarities in similarities

The WSC is credited for sowing the seeds of several elements of modern-day cricket. The growth of limited-overs cricket, the advent of day-night matches, the use of helmets and coloured kits can be attributed to Packer and his rebel competition. The biggest transformation the WS triggered was in the way the players were paid. Cricket boards, thereafter, began tying down players to contracts and the players' earnings became a lot more structured.

"I think it (WSC) traded on the insecurity of cricketers at the time, given that we’d never signed contracts and lot of us lived (financially) game to game. There was a vulnerability there." Kerry O’Keeffe, a former Australian leg-spinner, now known more for his radio commentary told The Sunday Morning Herald 

File image of Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer. Reuters

File image of Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer. Reuters

Packer was the first to make a spectacle out of a simple game of cricket and the modern-day version of the game has all the elements that the WSC pioneered. In summary, the WSC had long-lasting impact on the game of cricket, some of which continue to be today, almost 40 years after the competition took place.

The reported European Super League could well bring with it, its own set of innovations that may enhance football going forward, the current structure of football is such that the hazards of a breakaway league seem to outweigh the possible positives.

If the reported league does come into play, it will spell the end of the Champions League which is the fourth most-watched sporting competition in the history of television. The possibility of the top clubs leaving their domestic leagues remains high if the new competition comes into force, although no information yet suggests such an outcome.

Football will thus become a game of the big clubs who will reap massive benefits and almost the entire chunk of the global football revenue. The lesser clubs who won’t be a part of the league, but contribute largely to the current footballing ecosystem would suffer financially if big teams decide to go their separate ways.

The non-elite players who aren’t a part of the Super League will earn much lower wages and the pinnacle of football would only be accessible to the very talented players who are able to beat the competition. For a mass sport like football, it would be quite a disaster.

While the WSC largely contributed towards providing security to the practitioners of cricket and facilitated their future as professional cricketers, the rumoured European Super League is likely to have an opposite effect on a large number of footballers. Despite similarities in the need to initiate the two breakaway competitions, the dissimilarities in impact are likely to make the the masses view the World Series Cricket and the European Super League in different lights.

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Updated Date: Nov 19, 2018 19:02:58 IST

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