Consumer/Entertainment/Opinion/

Louis Saha: the European Super League doesn’t consider the fans or the players

Business is important in football but just like with any consumer-facing companies, the clubs should not lose sight of their purpose.

By Louis Saha

Credit: Louis Saha

I always dreamed of being a professional footballer and I was lucky enough to be able to live my dream. Yes, I was fortunate to play for amazing clubs, including the biggest club in the world, Manchester United, but the beauty of this game is all of the different matches that you can end up playing. Going from underdogs to champions, the stories of unexpected triumph, last-minute winners and more are the very essence of this game.

I don’t pretend to understand all of the commercial reasoning behind the European Super League — where a group of elite clubs are planning to form their own breakaway tournament that will allow them to compete among themselves. I know that club owners are in business to make a profit and they obviously think that there will be a demand for this new format. But what damage will it do to the game in the long term? Club owners are in football to make a profit and can move onto another industry whenever they want. That’s not the case for the local fans, they support one team their whole life as generations before them have done.

I know, having played myself, just how important the fans are to this game. And this has been further highlighted during the pandemic. I’ve spoken to so many players who just can’t wait for the fans to be back in the stadium, football is nothing without them.

But it seems that football fandom has split into two now – facilitated by the digital age. You have the local fans who are still attending the matches, loyal to the badge and supporters of whoever pulls on their shirt. Then there is the new age of fans – ‘football’ fans in the truest sense of the term, loving the game, the tactics and the stats and sometimes loyal to particular players but not attached to a club. The change in follower numbers on Instagram when Cristiano went from Real Madrid to Juventus is a testament to this new way to follow football.

At a time when loyal fans haven’t been able to attend matches in person, at least the continuation of the Premier League and the opportunity to watch every game on TV has been a welcome distraction from a terrible year. But now it feels like even that has been used against the fans – streaming demand being proven for these matches, even from empty stadia, perhaps has made football club owners think that local fans are dispensable.

Those who are running these football clubs are often not as visible as the players wearing the shirts week in and week out. It worries me that the players will once again be on the receiving end of the fallout from this. Just like at the start of the Covid pandemic when they were scapegoated for not taking a pay cut, it seems that they are held up as an example of all that is wrong with football.

Active players are in a very difficult position and so it is down to me and my fellow football pensioners to speak out. Remember that the players do not run the football clubs, they are not involved in the commercial or finance side. They are there to work hard in training and deliver on the pitch. The clubs are their employers, and they are contracted to them. It is true that there is a lot of money in the football industry, and this move to create a European Super League does nothing for the reputation of greed that surrounds it.

Players pay a membership fee to their union, the PFA to be their support and their voice in exactly these kinds of situations. Again, we know that in recent years the PFA’s objectives were somewhat hijacked but it’s good to see that times are changing there too and I am heartened by the statement they released today.

I am sure that many players, who grew up as football fans themselves, are not happy about the Super League announcement. There are already too many games for those playing Champions League and for their country – especially if they have to travel far for international games. We can see that there are increased injuries due to the lack of recovery time. But what are they supposed to do? Think about if your employer made a new business decision – would you speak openly about it in the press? Would you feel confident that you knew enough of the detail about the commercial reasoning to be able to share your opinion publicly?

The ramifications of this are wide-reaching for players – especially seeing the news about UEFA reviewing options to ban them from the Champions League or the Euros. At AxisStars we are speaking with our lawyer partners to ensure that we can get the best advice and information to members about what they should be looking at in their existing contracts.

There is no doubt that the football industry needs a shake-up both for the welfare of the players and the benefit of the fans. Business is important in football but just like with any consumer-facing companies, the clubs should not lose sight of their purpose. It will not be beneficial in the long term if they disregard meeting the needs of their core customers (the fans) and looking after their key personnel (the players). One of the biggest differences between football clubs and more traditional companies is passion. I know a lot of players who would still be doing this job regardless of the salary because it is what they have always dreamt of. It’s a career where only 0.012% of players make it to the Premier League and one which could be cut short at any minute.

It isn’t just the club management who need to review their approach to the business of football. What are the Media Rights holders or Sponsors doing to protect the beautiful game? It’s great to see the pundits speaking out against this, such as Gary Neville, and their employers are sharing it on their social media, but what do the broadcasters themselves think?

All parties need to work together to improve this industry – it’s ironic that it could not exist without either the players or the fans and yet both these groups are often the last to be consulted on any key decisions.

Louis Saha is founder and CEO of AxisStars, a platform that connects athletes and entertainers to industry professionals. He was a professional footballer for teams like Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.

Join the conversation

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of