There is no question this idea has been floating around for quite some time. Yet, there are many unanswered questions of logistics, traditions and more importantly, money.
As we enter into Champions League week, everyone feels how special it is to see teams from different countries play for European dominance and lay claim to the title of the best Futbol club in the world. Since its' inception in 1992, the competition has grown into one of the most watched sporting events worldwide. The current format, since last year, will have up to 5 clubs in competition, as Spain did this year. Currently, we are stuck with what we have and are excited by the Champions League even though it might be flawed. Critics will point to the watered down competition we see in the group stages, to the non-seeded format in the knockout stages. However, the biggest criticism is the amount of football played by Champions League teams throughout the season. By the time the eventual teams play the final in the beginning of June, they would have to go through an exhaustive 10+ month season and a league cup (or two).
It starts becoming a war of attrition rather than a culmination of the top two teams in Europe. This year if Barcelona reach the Champions League Final, it will be their 65th game of the season! In the summer of 2015, most Barca players participated in Copa America and European qualifiers, while this season sees players play in Copa America Centenario, the Rio Olympics, or the UEFA Euro 2016.
The number of games which players play is really quite astonishing given the internationals are required to play at such a high level for club and country. Players no longer have an off-season in which to rest, enjoy their families and decompress from an arduous schedule. Yet, the trend isn't likely to stop either as club teams continue to grow and establish worldwide exposure, they schedule pre-season friendlies which allow them to reach those extended audiences. If 65-88 games doesn't seem to harsh, there are only 52 weeks in a year so at some point the body starts to wear down running at various speeds, 6.5 miles almost bi-weekly.
The ever increasing need for a European Super League starts making much more sense, simply from a player investment stand point. So what would a super league even look like, would there would be significant change yet maintain some sense of balanced competition and fairness with respect to clubs as well as players?
How it would work
A Super League would have to consist of 8 divisions and each division is formed by country. This is hard because what countries would be included and which would have to play and/or pay to gain admittance is tricky, but not a deal breaker. Clubs would see the financial benefit in fighting for a spot into the league when we look at revenue and structure.
The Super League would be split into two conferences: Eastern Conference and Western Conference (in name only).
In the Eastern Conference: There would be 4 divisions
The Italian and German Divisions would get four teams each. Two other divisions (which is where it gets interesting) would also be comprised of four teams each. A Dutch and Russian Division with two teams each.
In the Western Conference: There would also be 4 divisions
They would play a schedule of 2 games (home and away) against every team in their division for a total of 6 games. Every team in their conference once (random, but even on the amount of home and away games) which would be another 12 games. They would also play every team in the opposite conference with the same random home and away format. These games would be chosen at random for the first year but after it would become easier to schedule because the teams would rotate their home and away schedules. The additional games would be 16. For a grand total of 34 regular season games. Compared to the 38 games clubs play in their current league formats.
After the regular season, the top 8 teams in each conference by record (wins/losses/ties) would enter the playoffs. Division Champions would be automatic bids regardless of record. The other 4 teams would be chosen by best record there after. Winning your division is important because it places huge significance in those intra-divisional games. They would have a playoff like atmosphere and would surely satisfy the countries hunger for in country games. Tie breakers would be taken by head-to-head games, followed by goal differential, and followed by win% against the top 4 teams in their conference. The importance being on playing well against divisional rivals and same conference teams.
Basically, assuring the competition the top 8 teams of the conference getting into go to the playoffs every year. The formatting afterwards would be based on seeding based on records, followed by the tie breakers mentioned, turning it into a 1v8, 2v7, 3v6, 4v5 formatted playoff system. Division winners would be automatically given a playoff seed. Winning your division means a lot regardless of overall record.
In this format, the division games would become critical and each game would be crucial!
The playoffs would continue much like the NFL, so as the #1 seed has the best chance of going to the Final game, playing the worst record team which advances. Playing to win every game in your schedule also weighs heavily on teams as they would play every game to achieve the best possible record they can for home field advantage.
During the playoffs, a best 2 out of 3 series format would be adopted. Win two games outright and your team advances. Each game would also need a clear winner which would mean going to penalties if need be in each game. The home field advantage would be given to the best seeded team. Rendering the away goal rules obsolete and giving fans an opportunity to see their clubs really challenge every playoff game equally. However, this would exclude the Championship Final.
It would be held at a neutral field and would be a winner take all game driving the stakes even higher. The total amounts of games (theoretically) for a championship team would be playing 34 regular season games plus 12 (theoretical) playoff games, for a total of 44 games.
Country Leagues, League Cups and League Super Cups
The countries would still hold their respective leagues and cups as usual. The leagues, however, would not include the Super League teams. Currently, of the four major leagues in Europe, only the English Premier League has not had a back to back Champion in the last 4 years. This trend will only continue in Spain, Italy and Germany as their best teams are further distancing themselves from the lower level teams. Parity and competition for the countries league championship has become less and less exciting over the last decade. The trend is not likely to end either as TV deals are being made to further enhance the major clubs. The available 4 or 2 slots will see smaller budget teams compete and get a slice of the pie which they would currently miss out on. The middle of the road teams would also have a major incentive to win the country's league title as that would assure a spot in the next year's Super League.
In the country's league cup, the format would not change but a team which is playing in the Super League would start playing in their league's cup games starting in the cup's quarter finals. The scheduling would have to be more spread out than what it is currently but the Super League would allow teams to have breaks so teams could stay home and compete nationally as a whole. Thus giving league cups prominence as well.
The country's league super cup games would still be country league champion vs league cup champion but done in a one game final format. Ensuring the most one team could play is 50-54 games every season. This would cut down the amount of games significantly over the current format.
We could have several scenarios in which we see fierce competition at a league level with teams that normally would not be able to compete for titles otherwise. In La Liga for example, since the 2000-2001 season, we have had only 4 different Champions with Valencia and Atletico Madrid with two and one titles respectively. The idea of allowing a breakaway league would be much more appealing for several fan bases and smaller market teams as they would now have an opportunity to win an important title which they would otherwise be fighting for a spot in the Europa League or stay mid-table.
A country's league would then have more parity and constant new title holders (in theory). Teams would hopefully make more money in title bonuses as well as staving off relegation much easier.
Promotion and Relegation from a Super League
This is certainly not impossible! In each of the top 4 divisions (Spain/England/Italy/Germany), the bottom 2 teams would be relegated to their country's respective league competition. Unless, they won their league cup. Promotion is as follows;
A Country Champion would automatically qualify for the Super League. A Country Cup Champion would also qualify. If the third or fourth place team won their cup they would stay in the Super League. Making every competition equally important but not as prestigious as the Super League.
In the Dutch/Russian and French/Portuguese division;
The bottom 3 teams are up for relegation. The League Super Cup Champion gets in automatically. Followed by League Champion. Thus preventing a Three way cluster you know what. This would also narrow down the field to the play-in format into the Super League by placing importance on country's respective super cup.
In the open division the first year, the automatic bid would go to the Europa League Champion. In future tournaments the Super League's Open Division Champion would be automatically safe. The last two spots would be filled by the other League's Champions in a playoff format to stay in the Super League. The smaller leagues would decide to give entry to the League's winner or Super Cup winner to be included in the Super League play-in games. The final eight or seven (see below) spots would be extremely coveted and be based on merit, limiting the number of small teams that maybe over powered by larger Super League teams.
Europa League Champions
The winner of this Championship gets automatic entry into the open division. Depending on what country they are from would dictate what open division they would be placed (East/West).
If the Europa League winner is also an automatic Super League qualifier by winning one of the qualifying championships, then; they would be included into their respective country's division and the slot for the Open Division would open up for another playoff entry team.
The European Super Cup would be dissolved and the Super League Champion would be placed into the FIFA World Cup tournament. This would eliminate another meaningless international game.
Thus, the minnows would have several chances (7 or 8 depending on the Europa League winner) in making it into the Super League both from league and league cup or super cup. Each tournament would be seen as important and there is constant appeal to compete in every competition.
In a 2015-2016 Super League, the Western Conference for example would have included the following teams
Spanish Division: Barcelona (Treble holders), Real Madrid (second place league 2014-15), Atletico Madrid (third place league), Athletic Bilbao (Spanish Super Cup winners).
French/Portuguese: PSG (Ligue 1 Champions), Lyon (Ligue 1 runners up), Benfica (Primeira Liga Champions), Sporting CP (Supertaca Winners).
Open Western Division (theoretically): Sevilla (Europa League Champions), Club Brugge (Belgian Champions), Basel (Swiss Champions) Gent (Belgian runners up, if they got through a playoff round to get in).
In a 2015-2016 La Liga, this format would feature Villareal as being strong contenders to win the league title, something they have NEVER done. Their team would be ravenous for a title which would be well deserved and a long time coming for a proud and phenomenal fan base. Teams such as Celta Vigo, (tiny) Eibar, Real Sociedad, Betis, Valencia, Malaga, Deportivo, Espanyol and even Las Palmas would be competing for a spot in the Europa League. A major European competition is only something smaller teams can only dream of and out of reach by many mid-sized clubs, even in major countries. Imagine a team such as Eibar hosting a Chelsea or an AC Milan next year in a Europa League matchup or traveling to play at legendary Old Trafford.
Currently we are saddled with the huge issue of scheduling and having to choose what Champions League game to watch because games run simultaneously. Having a Super League would eliminate that very problem because games could be scheduled Friday through Monday and the occasional Wednesday game. The league would have a weekly 16 game schedule allowing for a lot of flexibility in terms of various start times every two hours Saturday and Sunday. Fans would never miss a Super League game and the viewing options of some scintillating match-ups would immense. Imagine being able to watch a Barcelona vs Real Madrid, Bayern, PSG, Juventus and other English team games (among others) at least 10 times a year?
There are some downsides however because in a 2016-2017, variation of a Super League we could not see some major teams because of their dip in form or early exits from league cups such as Real Madrid and Chelsea. With Real Madrid's exit in this years' Copa Del Rey and a third place in a Super League, they would be up for relegation and go back to La Liga for the 2016-2017 season. All the while we would fully anticipate a team like Leicester City coming into the Super League as Premier League Champions. The idea of major clubs being relegated would make for interesting dynamics as they try to compete in their domestic league but their players being tempted to leave for the Super League teams.
Due to a clubs new influx of money or lack thereof would paint a scenario in which we could see a Leicester City making moves to attract a player or players from Real Madrid. This would completely change the futbol world in terms of player signings and team strategies for long term success in a Super League.
Players, Transfer Windows and Salary Cap/Minimum
Wages would become a huge issue when thinking about the amount of money being generated as a member of a Super League. The richest and biggest teams would eventually get bigger and richer. Implementing a Salary Cap, would be absolutely necessary for both the teams in the Super League to stay sustainable and profitable. Also, the non-Super League teams would also need to have an opportunity to compete during the transfer windows. Otherwise players would only want to play for teams in the Super League. Which is what teams want but it would discourage teams from breaking the bank and amassing a huge collection of stars and dynasties. A Super League without that could crumble under its' own weight if there is only 1-3 teams every year that can actually win the competition.
The salary cap would have to account for at least 5 maximum paid players for each team and a sliding scale thereafter. Teams would also be encouraged to play their countrymen also allowing them to sign up to more 3 national side players to maximum deals. There would also have be a maximum amount of International players or a minimum amount of national side players on each team. Players that have played professionally would also be required to be paid veteran minimums (so as to not have aging players stack a team to simply win a Championship in a given year). The sliding scale could be similar to what the NBA currently has so as to allow teams to supplement their squads with a mix of veterans and young players.
Teams would also have to maintain a salary minimum. It would force teams to stay competitive throughout the Super League competition and not have fire sales in January. This would also maintain the integrity of the game and discourage teams from simply buying high one year, selling during the summer and making profits off of Super League revenue.
Teams would split revenue evenly until the playoffs, where their would be bonuses for Division Champions, Conference Champions and Super League Champions and runners up.
The transfer market for Super League teams would have to be much more transparent and contracts would be fully subject to the league so players, agents and teams stay all accountable for any misappropriations of funds.
The Super League would also need to distribute TV rights deal money to Country Leagues so as to offset slightly the depreciating value their leagues might suffer.
A Super League with transparency and good structure and a stable plan would make too much money not to eventually be conceived. UEFA and FIFA would have to be willing to change and evolve otherwise there is no chance something of this magnitude would ever happen.
Last season, Premier League teams earned £50m each, but in Spain, for example, Barcelona and Real Madrid earn a larger proportion of TV money than other clubs although that is set to change this year.
From next season, when a new TV deal kicks in, the Premier League's bottom club will earn £99m, with the champions taking in excess of £150m in TV money.
According to Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, "You can't rule out that, in the future, we could create a European league with the major clubs from Italy, Germany, England, Spain and France, under the umbrella of UEFA or a private organisation," Rummenigge said. "It would be a competition with 20 teams and perhaps we would play some matches in America and Asia. "The best teams are becoming stronger and stronger in relation to others in the main leagues and another league is in fact already being born beyond the Champions League."
Juventus president Andrea Agnelli backed Rummenigge, citing the possibility to increase revenue as a motivating factor. "The Champions League is worth 1.5 billion euros in television rights compared to almost €7 billion for the NFL. However, market studies show that of the two billion sports fans worldwide, 1.6 billion are football fans with American football accounting for just 150 million fans," he said. "This must make people think about the untapped potential regarding the format of current football competitions."
...And in the end, isn't money always the driving factor or the bottom, line when it comes to large corporations like Leagues, TV rights, FIFA, and UEFA?