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European Super League creates unfair monopolies

Tsjalle van der Burg, assistant professor in Economics at the University of Twente, has issued a strong warning about the prospect of a Super League for European football. In an article published in December in the scientific journal Managing Sport and Leisure, Van der Burg argues that the plan for a European Super League goes against European competition law. He urges the European Union to intervene. “An elite league from which clubs cannot be relegated means that some of those participating – a Dutch club like Ajax, for example – will end up with a monopoly on top European football in their own country.”

At national level, the competition between football clubs to attract fans and viewers is growing ever more intense. At the same time, the number of clubs with a realistic chance of winning the highest honour in European football has decreased in many countries over the past 60 years. “If as a Dutch fan you want to see football from a club that still has some chance of winning a European title, Ajax is your likely choice. In the long run, this means that clubs like Feyenoord and PSV will be less able to compete with Ajax when it comes to attracting new fans. Ajax will gain market power and competition will be reduced. And according to general economic theory this can only result in higher prices for fans,” Van der Burg warns.

Greater advantage

A European Super League will reinforce this process. Each country will have at most one or a handful of clubs playing in this elite league. The Netherlands’ only participant may well be Ajax, which would give the Amsterdam club a monopoly on top-level football in the Netherlands. Even a more ‘open’ version of the Super League – incorporating the possibility of promotion and relegation – would stifle competition. That’s because the clubs that play most regularly in this elite competition, earning big money in the process, will steadily gain a greater advantage over the other clubs.

A Super League is created when several clubs agree to start it. “That’s means we’re talking about agreements that restrict competition, something that is contrary to competition law. The European Commission should therefore move to prohibit a Super League before it even starts,” Van der Burg argues.

Threats

Even the threat of starting a Super League disrupts the laws that govern fair competition. “A number of major clubs have been threatening to leave UEFA jointly since 1998. This prospect prompted UEFA to take measures in their favour,” says Van der Burg. As a result, those clubs became stronger on the pitch, which further increased their market power in their respective countries. “Threats of this kind, like the Super League itself, amount to coordinated actions that restrict competition. Such conduct is prohibited under Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. If the European Commission acts to put an end to this now, as it should, the power of the top clubs will diminish and UEFA will once again be able to pursue a policy based on democratic principles. And that will result in more exciting competitions and lower prices for fans.”

Further information

Tsjalle van der Burg is an assistant professor in Economics for the Department of Change Management & Organisational Behaviour at the University of Twente’s Faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences. He has published his findings in the article ‘EU Competition law, football and national markets’ in the scientific journal Managing Sport and Leisure. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/23750472.2020.1863851

K.W. Wesselink (Kees)
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