The Super League, finance capital and the 2nd imperialist conflict between Europe and the US over the soccer market

20 April, 2021

Florentino Pérez, President of the Super League
Florentino Pérez, President of the Super League

Yesterday, 12 major soccer clubs released a statement announcing the Super League, a new European club competition backed by JP Morgan. The Super League would likely kill UEFA‘s European competitions, depriving FIFA‘s European structure of a good chunk of revenue. Boris Johnson, Emmanuel Macron and even the European Commission immediately took a stand against it. Meanwhile, the clubs involved – and some candidates to participate, such as Borussia Dortmund – soared on the stock market. Underneath the battle for the Super League lie deep-rooted contradictions between states and financial capital.

In this article

The Super League is a financial business

The Super League is a design by JP Morgan Chase, a Wall Street giant since the days of robber barons and the birth of finance capital and US imperialism
The Super League is a design by JP Morgan Chase, a Wall Street giant since the days of robber barons and the birth of finance capital and US imperialism

Florentino Pérez, figurehead of the initiative, defended the model by stating that the aim of the Super League is to offer more attractive matches for audiences outside Europe to counterbalance in TV rights the losses caused by the closure of the stadiums to the public. He dismissed accusations of insolidarity from the soccer leagues, assuring that the model will also generate more revenue for the domestic teams as a whole.

The reality is that the Super League is a financial business and that the best information today is not to be found in the sports or general press, but in the financial press. The Financial Times revealed that beneath the statement lay a business plan from JP.Morgan Chase, which had already committed €3.25 billion in leverage to the deal and guaranteed each of the 12 signatory clubs a welcome bonus of €200 million to €300 million.

Why would a Wall Street bank, one of the big global speculators get into such a controversial move?

The first effect of the Super League would be to increase the scale of the juiciest product for global broadcasters: the number of matches between big teams with fans outside Europe. Which would incidentally concentrate even more rents on the big teams at the expense of the domestic leagues and the rest of the clubs.

Once the rents are concentrated and increased in a few clubs, the TV rights of the matches they play against each other can be financialized. In other words, the bulk of the European soccer business could be reduced through the Super League to a predictable income on which relatively safe bets can be made. In that way, JP Morgan, and through it the global financial markets, would vacuum up much of the future income from continental soccer. 3.25 billion is small potatoes compared to the business expectations.

For the Super League clubs there would also be a financial deal in sight. The model is that of the US sports leagues. With no promotion or demotion (unlike European leagues), the owners reduce risks and increase both the value of their capital and their chances of financialization, that is, of being able to speculate on their own future income.

Why the fierce opposition from La Liga, UEFA… and the states?

The Super League is the second installment of the assault on the global soccer business by US capital. The first was “FIFA Gate.”

It took little time for UEFA to issue a joint statement with the English, Spanish and Italian leagues and their respective managing bodies strongly condemning the separatism of the big clubs. These entities, like the Spanish LFP demand that UEFA expel from European competitions the clubs that signed the communiqué. And the UEFA and FIFA threaten not to allow participating players to play in the European Championship, Nations League and World Cups.

Political leaders didn’t wait long to take a stand either. Boris Johnson led the way on twitter and ended up declaring on television that he would do everything possible to prevent the Super League from happening while the sports press and tabloids lashed out at the six English teams promoting it. Macron issued a message that, in the form of a congratulatory message, called on French clubs to remain disciplined around the French state’s position.

Why so much fierce resistance when deals of similar size in strategic sectors, such as the Australian fund IFM’s takeover bid for Naturgy in Spain, produce much more tempered reactions from governments and competitors?

In the case of the FIFA and UEFA bureaucracy, it is obvious that they would lose part of their income. But for the governments and the European Commission it is a different matter. And no, their reaction does not come from them being particularly concerned about how it will affect the financing of the rest of the clubs. It is even possible that Florentino Pérez, Ed Woodward or Andrea Agnelli are telling the truth when they claim that in the medium term the move will improve the revenues of the medium and small clubs.

The point is that international finance capital ultimately follows guidelines that have to do with the interests of the national capital of which the big banks and funds managing them are a part. And JP Morgan Chase, which has been so helpful to big European capital for so many things, does not play innocently in this business.

Because the least talked about part of the deal in the media is that negotiations for the Super League TV rights have already begun… with Amazon, Facebook and Disney. That is to say, if the Super League were to materialize as it is proposed, not only Wall Street, but also the big American media companies would suck rents from European soccer. The EU’s major national capitals would not only lose control over some of their big brands… but would be forced to import their own soccer.

Who would have thought that underneath the Super League was a sophisticated imperialist move through which European capital would see its domestic market eroded by billions each year? Actually, starting from a scheme of US finance capital it was hard to envisage it otherwise.

What we are witnessing is the second installment of FIFA Gate, which was nothing more than the US assault on the -inevitably corrupt- global soccer structure to secure a share of the revenues generated by international competitions. Remember Larraín’s El presidente? Now they’re going after the core of the business.

The enemy is always in one”s own club and team

World Cup 1938 poster. Of note is the disturbing imperialist symbolism. The map is centered on the Iberian peninsula, where the revolution had just been defeated and the war was unfolding encouraged by the main imperialist powers.
World Cup 1938 poster. Of note is the disturbing imperialist symbolism. The map is centered on the Iberian peninsula, where the revolution had just been defeated and the war was unfolding encouraged by the main imperialist powers.

This being the case, the calls of Figo and Ander Herrera to uphold the supposed popular character of national leagues and UEFA tournaments are nothing but empty slogans trying to drag us into the umpteenth battlefront of national capital against its competitors and their fractious factions.

They imply that all of a sudden some rich people have come into town wanting to earn more at the expense of grassroots sport… Come on! Big clubs and leagues have long been tied to financial capital. Florentino Pérez is a well-known example in Spain and it is no coincidence that ACS, the construction company he presides, has a long and fruitful relationship with JP Morgan which later extended to the financing of the renovation of the Bernabéu.

This is far from an isolated case. Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward was a JP Morgan banker before taking the club’s top job. In fact he was the bank’s adviser to the Glazer family’s takeover of Manchester. And what about the Agnellis, the main link between Wall Street and Italian capital since the postwar period? Or Manchester City CEO Ferran Soriano, right-hand man to the bin Saeeds – another longtime JP Morgan client?

And is it any different in the mid-sized clubs making up the rest of the big leagues? Not at all. The only difference is the level of capitalization, which in turn determines the size and degree of internationalization of the banks they can rely on. The whole issue the mid-sized clubs have with the Super League is that reducing the number of games they play with the more capitalized clubs will also reduce the value of the revenue they generate in royalties and the value of their season tickets… and they will have access to less capital.

A club, be it a joint-stock company or a sports foundation, is nothing more than an application of capital, a tool for making capital profitable and allowing its accumulation. Medium-sized companies do not have a less intimate relationship with financial capital because of some kind of popular objections, but rather because they have less to offer… even if they strive to achieve it. And of course, grassroots sports, women’s soccer, other sports teams…it’s nothing more than CSR…a marginal investment in PR and self-marketing.

Do we want sport to be freed from fiddling, corruption and extreme commodification?

The way is not to take part in the battles between clubs, because in the end their fights are only those of some financial interests against others, just as the attitude of the states is not dictated by the defense of sport, but by that of national capital against its competitors. To liberate sport from capitalism we must emancipate the whole of society from this anti-human system. And the league in which we have to play is not European but worldwide. It is called class struggle.