The European Super League: a super failure of engagement

Posted by: on Apr 27, 2021 | No Comments

The 48-hour life cycle of the proposed European Super League showed the cost of not working with stakeholders, especially political ones. Decisions made behind closed doors are doomed to failure. Politicians, especially, never like to be excluded.

The complete and utter outrage that followed immediately on the late night / early morning official announcement must have been expected by those proposing the breakaway. Any business decision of this magnitude should have been fully worked through and scenarios developed.

I have no doubt that those involved delivered the right sort of communications advice, but it seems that no one was listening. Or maybe there were so many advisers on board that they ended up talking over each other. Maybe the communications considerations came a distant second or third to others, such as financial ones. We may get to know more as various inquiries no doubt start to take place. The Times has a fascinating piece on how the communications played out. There is a golden rule at play which is that if you are going to adopt an unpopular position then be prepared to support and defend it. You cannot wilt at the first sign of outrage.

The US owners of Manchester United and Liverpool have been receiving most of the blame for the proposals and we can expect that to increase as the other clubs involved, in England and across Europe, look to distance themselves from the fallout.

It is the fallout that will dominate, probably for years. There are the relationships between the clubs involved and their fans, between the clubs and those they were willing to leave behind and, of course, with governments across Europe.

The first stage has been to consider apologies. Arsenal got a written one out quickly in an open letter but Liverpool’s owner, John W Henry, at least fronted a personal message. That was though after an initial statement that could only be described as impersonal and lacking empathy. Joel Glazer too has issued an apology. Apologies though should be straightforward to put together and an effective delivery expected of experienced business leaders.

But it is the politics that will come to dominate. The Conservative Party manifesto promised ‘a fan-led review of football governance’ and now Tracey Crouch MP ‘will do a root-and-branch investigation into the governance of football and what we can do to promote the role of fans in that governance’ as the Prime Minister stated. This will obviously cover the whole of English domestic football but not the international bodies that, many would argue, need looking at as well.

So, because of the Super League proposals, government intervention can now be guaranteed, if not the timescale or the exact nature of any intervention. All clubs, not just the breakaway six, need to consider their involvement and responses to the review. Despite the anger aimed at the six, the review outcomes need to work for all levels of football. Some clubs may welcome the current focus on the German fan ownership model but that may not suit all. Others have talked about wage caps and restructuring the funding arrangements. As with any review and potential follow-up legislation there is a danger of unintended consequences.

So, the clubs, the footballing bodies, fan bodies and others need to plan their political engagement and position on the review. They also need to think about the solutions they want to see, how they can be delivered whilst also being ready to counter the position that may be adopted by others. No one should be blinded by the actions of the six or seek revenge. Whatever happens next must work for all.

And whatever happens, don’t ignore the politicians. Their potential ire is legendary.