The proposal of the Super League led by Florentino Pérez It is a clear example of how power works in this age. It is not a question of whether the content of the initiative, a league with the most important European teams, can be attractive or not for the fans, which is basically a secondary aspect. It is also not particularly useful to focus on the people at the forefront of the initiative, which is attractive on a communication level, but little else. The important thing is the way it reveals the great tensions between structures of our societies and the people who accumulate more power and resources in them. The problems generated by this dynamic are manifested in the economy, in politics and, ultimately, in the social sphere.
In short, the proposal led by Florentino Pérez is the attempt of a group of privileged actors to establish a structure outside the existing ones that allows them to channel in his favor a good part of sector resources. It is a closed competition, or open only to a very limited part of the possible participants, which would take place outside the institutional architectures of football, such as UEFA, FIFA and the corresponding national leagues.
If a large company discovers potential in a smaller one, or sees it as a possible rival, it acquires it and the competition is over
One of the most interesting things about football, if we compare it with other sectors of the economy, is not that a team with a small budget can beat one of the richest in the world, because in the end, they are eleven against eleven on the field. What really sets it apart comes later. Competition in our age works in a peculiar way: If a large company discovers potential in a smaller one, or sees it as a possible rival, it acquires it and the competition is over. Large technology monopolies are a clear example of growth from the muscle that offers the ability to acquire innovative initiatives; thus they are insured against possible risks. In other sectors something very similar happens: if an insurance company, or a bank, or any other example that occurs to us, wants to increase its income, buys from the competitor, absorbs its technology, or its network or its clients, and closes the acquired company. The still growing wave of mergers and acquisitions, eventually creating oligopolies, stems from the full adoption of this perspective. And usually with paradoxical arguments: it is very frequent that this type of purchase is affirmed as essential to be able to compete better in a global environment; namely, so that there is competition, the competition ends.
Solutions to problems
In football you can’t do exactly that. If Leicester win the English league, the Manchester City he cannot buy Leicester to disappear and remain with his partners and his supporters. The big teams sign the most relevant players from the smaller ones, but they don’t buy the clubs. And if it were possible, it would not be useful either: the competition would lose all interest.
For these problems, there are also solutions. The history of contemporary capitalism has been its ability to adapt to circumstances, to transform what exists to generate more advantageous situations, to move structures so that the most relevant actors acquire more power. Barriers to entry are one of those tactics often used when competition is unavoidable. There are many types, such as the control of distribution networks, the consolidation of oligopolies that completely discourage new firms, orsame disparate access to capital and credit, which defines very well who are today in a position of power (Archegos can obtain huge amounts of money to gamble on casino bets without providing guarantees, but if a common citizen wants to start a business, he has to carry all kinds of guarantees, even excessive, for the bank to grant; central banks buy bonds of listed companies, but do not provide capital to help SMEs; and so on).
The aspiration of the owners of wealthy clubs is natural: it is part of the daily life of the economy of the last decades
One of these tactics, common in sectors where competition cannot be eliminated, is the establishment of private networks, sometimes express, in other informal ones. An example of these is found in university degrees. When many people, thanks to their talent and effort, can obtain academic credentials, the next turn of the screw appears through new selection channels in which securities are depreciated. The doors that give access to the best jobs are those of elite universities, generally Anglo-Saxon, which not only offer knowledge, but above all facilitate the appropriate network of links. But entering them, and their high cost, causes that, in fact, they become an almost exclusive stronghold (in the manner of the Super League) of privileged classes. This situation has been highly criticized in the Anglo-Saxon sphere, but the modifications in recent years have been in the sense of making these environments even more elitist.
Why not football?
An express form of closed network is found in the Super League project. The promoters of this new structure include investment funds, American millionaires, Arab sheiks, presidents of large construction companies or descendants of powerful European families, who are currently governing the destinations of the clubs with the longest global tour. Its purpose is to launch a new competition with which these clubs ensure the highest income and acquire even greater visibility. In reality, the aspiration of the owners of these clubs is natural, because it is part of the daily life of the economy of the last decades: the most powerful actors try to separate themselves from the rest to achieve greater benefits and, with this objective, they form a new structure that separates them from the existing organizational obstacles.
This is not the secession of the elites, but the fight for resources between two types of elites
We have seen this repeatedly during globalization: the institutions that exercised control have allowed large companies special operating conditions, in general arguing that this was conducive to competition. The general disruption of surveillance and supervision instruments that we have experienced in these decades has been constant. Paradoxically, when Florentino and his team have tried to do the same, they have been told no, not with football, since there are many fans against it, which is part of the culture, etc. It is true that these arguments could have been used for sectors much more important than football., starting with the technological one and ending with that of the same culture, but what was ignored in those cases, in this one has generated enormous resistance, also state.
It is easy to understand these movements as the attempted secession of an elite trying to escape from common structures and forge a world apart. But it is not strictly true, although it has some truth: what we are witnessing is the confrontation between two classes of elites that have long lived in a reality far removed from that of all citizens. So to speak, they split a long time ago, only now they’re fighting each other.
There are no angels in this war
In the case of football it is evident: let us remember that UEFA, FIFA and the national leagues have been subjecting sport to insistent pressure in recent years aimed at obtaining more and more resources, with more games, more sources of income, more of all, often going against the same competition, the footballers and the fans, who have to pay much higher prices. There have been leaders of these institutions immersed in processes of corruption, strange decisions have been made, such as celebrating the World Cup in Qatar, and very opaque structures have formed. So now they can come out in defense of the fans, of a purer and more honest football, of popular sport, but those who are in these organizations are businessmen doing business, just like the Superliga. There are no angels in this war.
The funny thing is that there is a tension, and in football it is perceived because it is structured internationally, between the richest clubs and the managers of the structure: that is, between the money elite and Who they constitute the elite because they dominate the structure. It is a fight for the money that football generates, and it has little to do with the wishes of the fans. Both appeal to them, but they are nothing more than a source of income, and the greater sense of belonging and more loyalty to their club, the more money they leave behind.
From this point of view, it is likely that the Superliga proposal will make things worse, that it will take football on a worse path because it gives almost all the resources to a handful of clubs to the detriment of the rest. But avoiding the materialization of Florentino’s proposal does not solve the problem.
The battle has been won, for the moment, by that part of the football elite that has known how to put the fans, the people, on their side
The Super League is nothing more than another step forward in moving away from football from its fans and of converting these into simple sources of income, of the loss of the possibility of competing for the clubs of small and medium-sized cities (it is not the world for SMEs), of the increasing difference between the big ones and all the others. But that was not brought by the Super League, we were already fully immersed in that dynamic. Now they have wanted to give one more turn of the screw, as has happened in the rest of the economy, and with the typical methods of the rest of the economy.
The battle has been won, for now, by that part of the football elite that has been able to put people on their side. In other sectors, the appeal to risk (‘the sector dies if there are no changes’) works continuously, as happens to the banking system with the ERE (‘you have to lay off to save employment’). Here there are clear identities, strong emotional ties, unmistakable belongings that show displeasure and indignation when they are ignored or, as is the case, despised, and that is why the project has been able to stop.
However, none of this avoids the underlying problem. Soccer institutional structures, like the richest clubs, only want to squeeze the cow to the fullest. And it is not that they do not give enough milk, but that they want much more. That is what should be stopped. And not only in football: the real economy is doing exactly the same, with the problems that this is causing in the West. And of course, all this contains a political lesson, but we’ll talk about that in tomorrow’s article.