La Liga Chief Slams Plans for European Soccer Super League

Big club Super League breakaway would sink national leagues, Tebas warned at Monaco’s Sportel

FC Barcelona v Granada CF, La Liga football match at the Nou Camp, Barcelona, Spain - 09 Jan 2016
Photo by Joan Valls/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

MADRID — The head of La Liga, Spain’s annual national soccer tournament led by clubs Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, has slammed plans for a multi-billion-dollar European Super League as an alternative to the established UEFA Champions League.

In a presentation Tuesday at the annual Sportel Marketing & Media Convention in Monaco, Javier Tebas called the Super League a “reckless and damaging” idea that threatens to sink national soccer leagues around Europe without ever taking off itself.

Tebas, president of the Liga Nacional de Futbol Profesional, declared that the numbers did not add up, especially what he said was a claim by the president of one of Europe’s biggest soccer clubs that a Super League could yield $1 billion a year for each of its most prominent members. While European soccer does account for 75% of the world’s total revenues from TV-digital soccer rights sales, Tebas said, the turnover only amounts to €11 billion ($12 billion) a year.

For a new Super League to generate from licensing fees anything like the figures being talked about, broadcasters would have to compensate by paying much less for rights to their own nation’s league games.

That seems unlikely given how well-established and popular national leagues are, Tebas said. A match between Spain’s Eibar and Osasuna, two of La Liga’s humbler clubs, recently notched up more viewers in Spain than a Liverpool vs. Manchester United game in Britain. Similarly, a match between Southampton and Tottenham, two Top 10 English clubs, scored better ratings in Britain than the Clásico faceoff between Real Madrid and Barcelona, Europe’s two biggest clubs.

Big clubs in Spain, Italy and Germany fear that their British rivals will poach their best players, on the back of TV rights deals last year that saw Sky and BT forking over a joint £5.4 billion ($6.6 billion) for three seasons of Premier League games.

The Premier League continues to outrank its European counterparts in terms of popularity and brand recognition abroad. In the latest contracts signed, TV-digital rights to Premier League matches sold for a total €3.577 billion ($3.9 billion) per season, taking into account both domestic and international deals. That compares to €1.667 billion ($1.8 billion) for La Liga in Spain; €1.33 billion ($1.4 billion) for Germany’s Bundesliga; €1.252 ($1.4 billion) for Italy’s Serie A; and €759 million ($826 million) for France’s Ligue 1.

In Asia, Premier League rights have sold for €584.2 million ($635.5 million). Serie A and French Ligue 1 rights both fetched only €4 million ($4.35 million) in the region.

“The great majority of Asians support English soccer teams. The Premier League has done its work very well,” Tebas said.

“It’s many years of work. You can’t create a new competition brand overnight,” Tebas added. His fear is that a Super League would go the way of the Basketball EuroLeague, which features Europe’s biggest clubs. “It hasn’t lifted off and has sunk the national basketball leagues,” he said.

Talk of a Super League stretches back at least 15 years. Last January, Bayern Munich’s Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the CEO of Germany’s FC Bayern Munich, put forward two options at a meeting of the European Club Assn. (ECA), a lobby for Europe’s richest clubs such as Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, FC Bayern Munich and Italy’s Juventus, according to Barcelona newspaper Mundo Deportivo.

One of Rummenigge’s proposals was for a Super League restricted to the biggest-name clubs in Europe, with a token presence of smaller teams. Another proposal was a reformed European Champions League, guaranteeing the presence of big ECA members and restricting that of more lowly soccer squads.

Tebas’ relations with big Spanish clubs has sometimes been strained. He sparked a media storm in Spain this week by suggesting the possibility that Barcelona players should be fined for feigning injury.

Last December, negotiating broadcast rights for Spain’s top two divisions collectively for the first time, Tebas raised at least €2.95 billion ($3.2 billion), selling domestic rights to La Liga for three seasons from 2016-17 via a rights auction with Spain’s Telefonica, Mediapro and Vodafone-Orange.

Figures presented by Tebas at Sportel were sourced from Sportcal and Sport Business.