The announcement of a new competition parallel to the Champions League and outside the control of UEFA has caused an earthquake. Despite the fact that the rebellion by the Super League seems to have been put down in just under 48 hours, with the withdrawal of 10 of the 12 founding teams, the project led by Florentino Pérez still has games to play in the legal field. This is what the experts predict. On the one hand, because of the administrative sanctions that may be imposed on the participating clubs. But, above all, because breaking the rules of the football business in Europe is a matter that fully affects competition law and the free market. A very complex issue that can generate numerous legal conflicts.
The idea of the European Super League is not new. The format is similar to the basketball Euroleague, which began to be played in 2000. Ultimately, it is about generating more profits and increasing the amount of money that the twenty clubs that compete in the elite would be distributed.
For now, the first goal has been scored by the European Super League Company SL, a company that brings together the promoters of the Super League, by obtaining a court order that prohibits FIFA and UEFA from paralyzing their project while their lawsuit is resolved. On April 20, a Madrid court issued a series of provisional measures to prevent these organizations from taking actions to stop the project, as well as threats of reprisals or sanctions, especially to exclude clubs or footballers participating in any competition from any competition. her. However, UEFA President Aleksandr Ceferin has continued to threaten not to allow them to play in the Champions League.
In the opinion of Santiago Nebot, partner of Sport & MusicLaw, in principle, these entities could open a sanctioning file. Although, he adds, “it would be difficult to have time to expel them from the Champions League this year, unless precautionary measures were applied.” A corrective that, for Rosalía Ortega, partner of DA Lawyers and award for the best international professional in sports law ISDE 2019, would nevertheless be taken with a grain of salt. “Neither in the UEFA nor FIFA regulations currently exists a specific norm that would allow sanctions,” he says. According to the lawyer, this would only be possible “by abusing the typical mixed bag rules.” However, it is not clear to him that a Madrid court can prevent these two private Swiss entities from applying its regulations.
In any case, the lawyers rule out that, for the moment, and given that the Super League is in a state of lethargy, Real Madrid or Barça are going to be punished. “Both institutions are not going to initiate this path, but to demand as a registration requirement that they abandon this project,” says Nebot. It would be a rule anti-super league to protect themselves from future private adventures such as the one recently incorporated by the Italian Federation. Even so, the rules would have to be endorsed by the competent entities, “which, strictly speaking, should not happen with the recent European jurisprudence on skating,” adds Ortega.
The lawyer refers to the ruling of the General Court of the European Union that endorsed the nullity of the rules of the International Skating Union (IPU) that banned skaters for life who participated in unauthorized tournaments for violating the rules on freestyle competence. A precedent that, for Nebot, is not transferable because, in that case, the championship in discord was open.
In any case, the jurists agree that the heart of the matter lies in the analysis of whether or not the conduct of both parties is anticompetitive: Does UEFA abuse its monopoly position? Is the Super League a viable alternative?
For Pedro Callol, partner of Callol, Coca & Asociados, it must be assumed that “both UEFA and the Super League are agreements between sports clubs with probable market power.” Although, Pedro Suárez, a partner at Ramón y Cajal Abogados, clarifies that not all collaboration between competitors is prohibited, the behavior of UEFA and FIFA “has been provisionally considered as suspected of restricting competition by a Spanish court.” The lawyer recognizes, however, a certain value to the arguments put forward by these entities that appeal to the peculiarities of sports activity. Among them, Callol points out, “the safeguarding of the integrity of the competition and its economic balance”. That is, explains Nebot, that the measures are adopted “for the benefit of football and the most modest clubs.”
On the other hand, it must be analyzed whether the creation of the Super League could mean removing the smaller teams from the football business. For Ortega, “the sports entities involved in the project are nothing more than selling a product that is his: his football show.” Nothing prevents, adds the lawyer, that the rest also do it. However, that consideration could be staggered from the point of view of competition law. Although, in principle, this launch increases competition, “it may raise doubts derived from its nature as a closed club, not necessarily based on sporting merit,” says Callol.
Given the magnitude of the interests at stake, the lawyers do not consider the initiative buried, and do not rule out the intervention of European justice. However, regardless of the legal strategy adopted, what has happened so far reveals, according to Ortega, that the situation must change. “Over time we will be as used to the Super League as to the NBA or the Euroleague,” he predicts.