Charlie Stillitano, what a guy. By putting forward a ludicrous proposal for a European Super League that only contains those clubs that have invested millions in football, and in his opinion are likely to generate millions of pounds from participating in football, he has managed to alienate the whole football world against him. The media, the pundits, the fans, former professionals; everybody. Not helped by his equally ridiculous assertions about who invented ‘soccer’.
But wait a minute. Even though his proposals are absolutely ludicrous and would be the end of football as we know it, effectively acting as a closed shop for the super rich clubs, has everyone who has expressed indignation at the idea the right to criticise it? Newspaper sports journalists, TV football presenters and pundits, former professionals have all jumped on the bandwagon of vitriol towards the man and his idea, but not one of them realises the irony of them doing so.
Those same journalists, TV presenters and former professionals and their employers have all been happy enough taking the devil’s dollar ever since the Champions League and the Premier League came into being in 1992. These two competitions were both borne out of the desire of an elite number of clubs to make money for themselves and to hell with the rest of them. These were the first ‘money first, football nowhere’ decisions to be made and year after year those in charge of football and in charge of the media have increasingly made more ‘money first, football nowhere’ decisions to line their own pockets. And those clubs at the top have happily gone along with it. And those journalists, pundits and their employers have all done very well out of those decisions, thank you very much. But football itself hasn’t done so well.
Don’t be fooled by those faux complaints. If this stupid idea is to come to fruition, it will only do so by being financially profitable to the football decision makers and the media companies. Only then would they embrace it. And you can be sure that they will embrace it once the price is right, because maximising money is the only thing that matters to these organisations. Football itself doesn’t. And who’s going to write about this new Super League? Who’s going to present it on TV? Those self-same journalists and presenters who now are so vocal about the insanity of it, that’s who. And they will do all right out of it, too, but football won’t.
Don’t believe me? Then consider Gary Lineker and his response on Twitter and beyond to the idea that there should be a European Super League that excludes his beloved Leicester City. Oh, suddenly he’s up in arms about a decision affecting football that was made out of maximising profit because his boyhood team wouldn’t be part of it. But where were his objections when profit maximising decisions to form the Premier League and the Champions League were made? Not only did he not object to them (and these decisions have been far more detrimental to football than this latest proposal would be because the irreparable damage has now already been done), but he has positively embraced them. A regular presenter on Match of the Day for the Premier League and this season a new presenter on BT Sport for the Champions League. Not doing too badly on the back of those two money obsessed competitions, is he? But football isn’t.
To highlight his duplicitous position the following is a Tweet by him in response to a criticism that he had forgotten the name of the stadium that Arsenal play in, a Tweet which epitomises everything that is wrong with modern-day top-flight football and why he has no right to be appalled at the latest proposals.
A presenter for a TV station that has paid millions to broadcast the Champions League is not allowed to mention the sponsor’s name of the stadium for the home team in the match that the TV station is broadcasting. And why not? Because that sponsor is not one of the official sponsors of the Champions League itself. How utterly ridiculous, how utterly farcical, how sad for football that it has come to this. How far removed from what football is supposed to be about is it possible to get? How willing Gary Lineker is to kowtow to the money men when it suits him.
Despite what one may infer from my blogs and posts in the past I’m not actually against generating money in football. I recognise the importance of it in enabling football to have the worldwide appeal it does, and without money many nations and millions of people may never have been able to play the game or to have been given the chance to become a success in the game. But there is a massive difference between that money needed to ensure growth of the game, generate opportunity and provide accessibility, and that money secured just for the sake of maximising the amount of money acquired. It is this position of maximising money without regard for the game itself to which I have always been so opposed.
The reason BT Sport could not mention the Emirates as sponsors of Arsenal’s stadium was because of this approach of maximising profit. Those running the Champions League had decided to take a higher level of money on offer from their sponsors, a higher level which prevents TV companies from mentioning other brand names. Instead of just seeking the money needed to present and organise the Champions League whilst making a good profit, a sizeable fortune in its own right, those involved in the decision making process chose to be greedy and take a higher amount of money on offer for exclusivity rights. It is by taking this unnecessary extra money that proves that those in charge of football worldwide think of money first and football nowhere. And why eventually the idea of a European Super League closed shop is likely to come to fruition. Everything has a price to these people.
Of course it’s always dressed up as ‘the more money we can raise, the more we can put back into the game’, but it is clear to see that only a small proportion of money generated through this exclusive sponsorship actually goes into supporting the game itself. Most of it is used to puff up the way the Champions League is presented. All those bells and whistles, all those luxurious hotels, all those extravagant draw ceremonies, that’s what the majority of the money goes on (as well as lining the already thick pockets of those involved in running the game). All of which, and this may surprise those Champions League organisers, is neither wanted nor needed by those who watch and play the game.
The irony of the pursuance of these exclusivity deals is that BT Sport will also have paid an extortionate amount to have exclusive rights to show Champions League matches meaning they have to toe the line when it comes to what they can or cannot say with regards to other sponsor’s names. The Emirates also will have paid over the odds to have exclusive rights to Arsenal and everything they do ensuring their name is used as the stadium name and expect it to be mentioned any time a broadcaster mentions the ground where Arsenal play their home matches. Both BT Sport and Emirates would have paid a higher amount to get for those exclusive rights and both the Champions League and Arsenal will have agreed to those exclusive rights in order to get that extra money, even though the money on offer without the exclusivity and the demands that go with it would still have enabled them both to do the things they wanted to do. It’s not as if either would have suffered without those exclusive deals, but ironically the Emirates ‘suffers’ because of them in this instance.
Look further down the football hierarchy, though, and you will see clubs, leagues and football organisations all struggling for the lack of money. Not for them the difference between whether they can sell many different carbonated soft drinks or just one brand of soft drink. No, for them sponsorship can mean the difference between offering football to their community or not offering football to their community. And the amount of money needed to make that difference is minuscule in comparison to the extra money sponsors pay for their exclusive rights.
So when it’s time for the Champions League to renew its sponsorship deals, instead of trying to maximise profit by kowtowing to sponsor exclusivity demands that are not beneficial to the game, take a lower amount of non-exclusive money and allow the game to be presented how it should be. Then take a greater proportion of that money and funnel it down to grass-roots football across the continent where it is needed the most. A small, percentage lost by the top end of the game will not be noticed, but this would convert to a large percentage increase to the bottom end of the game. And that definitely would be noticed.
And when the increasingly lucrative deals are put on the table for the European Super League that doesn’t allow for promotion and relegation, and they will surely come, then the decision makers should think about the effect that taking that money will have on the game overall. Football thrives on hope. If that is taken away then the whole concept of competition is taken away and football becomes less of a spectacle at all levels. So say ‘no’ to the silly money that’ll be on offer to create it and say ‘no’ to the sponsors prepared to give extra money for exclusive rights. Maybe a ‘football first, money second’ approach?
And maybe then grass-roots football will thrive and those making the decisions at the top level football will be much less thought of as being so out of touch with those who love football.