Told Ya So: The European Super League's Incredibly Stupid Attempt to Establish A Football Aristocracy (Cafe Society Quick Bite #7)

Dukes, Counts & Barons went out of style decades ago. Someone should have told the billionaire football team owners.

Cafe Society is Maxwell Social’s weekly magazine on the intersection of community and society — an anthropological look at the underpinnings of what makes the world tick, written by David Litwak (@dlitwak) and the Maxwell team. Maxwell is building a new type of social club.


I’m risking making this a blog about soccer/football but the boneheaded attempt at forming a European Super League (ESL) was just too good of a “teachable moment” to pass up.

Two weeks ago I wrote about how the differences in European soccer vs. American soccer fosters a much better sporting community:

. . . perhaps one of the reasons why soccer culture around the world is so strong is the participatory nature of it, the dream that your local team could one day play in the Premiere league, inspires more lower division engagement, local rivalries and enhanced tribalism. The opportunity for your team to advance and the risk of relegation creates real stakes, a local villain, and gives real purpose to being a fan.

Apparently the teams that formed this Super League don’t read my blog (shocking!) because a few days ago they did what will go down as one of the most out of touch and bone-headed moves in the history of sports — they attempted to form a sports aristocracy, anointing themselves as the landed gentry, the Barons, Dukes and Counts, of European football, power forever engrained.

What Is This Super League?

Essentially the most well known (note: NOT the best) of European football getting together to form their own league so they didn’t have to cut the lesser teams into broadcast revenue, etc. The BBC explains:

Six English Premier League teams had signed up to the ESL - Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham.

They joined AC Milan, Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Juventus and Real Madrid as founder members.

The idea was for the clubs to remain in their national leagues, but also to play each other in a new midweek European competition, which would have rivaled the Champions League.

The ESL would have had 20 teams, of which 15 founding members would be permanent and never face relegation. Five other sides would qualify each year.

Why was it controversial? As ESPN elaborates:

Arsenal could have finished 10th, as they might do this season, and yet waltzed into the Super League, while Leicester, in third, stayed where they were. There really is no place to hide from such a laughable concept. There was no pathway to the top for the likes of Bournemouth and Brighton, either, and no relegation to worry about in a Super League vacuum where you can be as hopeless as you want without having to worry too much.

The reaction was swift and caught the out-of-touch billionaire owners off guard. Friends reached out to me after having read my last post with unanimous opposition.

Leeds United (one of the clubs that was left out) wore shirts that said “Earn It” on the front and “Football Is For the Fans” on the back.

But the truly amazing thing was that some of the most passionate reaction came from the fans of the clubs that were included.

It only took a couple days for the plans for the entire league to collapse:

All six Premier League sides — namely Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham — dramatically withdrew from the breakaway proposals on Tuesday following widespread backlash.

Many fans noticed that not one German club joined from the beginning. Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich were approached to join and declined. Many think that it has to do with their “50+1” rule, a rule that mandates that clubs are majority fan owned, so now in what has to be a win for poetic justice, England is investigating mandating fan ownership.

Destroying the Illusion of Meritocracy

It would be naive to pretend like Football is a genuine meritocracy. As I elaborated on a couple weeks ago, there is literally one winner of the Premiere League that isn’t a marquee name in the past 20 years.

But the ILLUSION of a meritocracy, and the occasional real story of the truly remarkable that work their way up the ladder, keeps the dream alive. It’s rare. Obviously most of them never make it, just like the American Dream is just a dream for many, with structural inequality making it all but impossible to lift oneself out of poverty, the Premiere League trophy is just a dream for Leeds United and West Ham.

But the Super League is like deciding to go from what we have, inequality and all, to reestablishing Dukes, Barons and Counts.

And the billionaires somehow didn’t see that coming . . .

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And check out some of our deeper dinner discussions like why Soho House has had trouble scaling its community (and why we think miniclubs are the future)Possibility-As-A-Product: Superbad, Clubhouse & the Inciting IncidentGatekeepers & The WingInclusive Exclusivity, Sofar Sounds & Self-Cancelling Greek LifeFord Bronco, Blockbuster & Nostalgia Porn For A Simpler World and Amsterdam’s Radical Anarchist White Bikes & Community Hobbyists.

Have a great rest of the week!

David (@dlitwak) & The Maxwell Team