Europe’s Soccer Elites Took Their Eyes Off the Ball
“On April 18, a new European Super League of soccer was announced. Twelve of the continent’s top teams had joined, including Liverpool, Manchester City, Barcelona and Milan. But the backlash was immediate, with seemingly everyone weighing in against it—the fans; the soccer federations of England, Spain and Italy; even British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Less than 24 hours later the cracks began to appear. Two days after it was announced, the whole thing had come tumbling down. The European Super League was no more.
The outrage against the new venture seemed universal. And it may well have been opposed for different reasons by different parties and vested interests, but the average fan saw the league for what it was: an attempt by the rich and the elites of the soccer world to squeeze out even more money by rigging the game in their favor. This was cronyism at play—and a demonstration of what can happen when any successful enterprise takes its eye off the ball.
….The rejection of the European Super League may well be a necessary check. Twenty teams from across Europe were to comprise the new league. The 12 elite teams that were announced on April 18 (six from England, six from the rest of Europe) were to form the league’s core—but they would enjoy a key advantage over the other eight teams. While the latter had to be promoted and could be relegated from the league if they did not perform, the “dirty dozen” could not. Win or lose, they would remain (like the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China on the UN Security Council) as permanent members.
In Liverpool’s first Premier League game after the announcement of the European Super League, its opponents warmed up in T-shirts with two words on the front: “Earn It.” For many, that was the issue in a nutshell. Liverpool and the rest of the dirty dozen had been handpicked for the new league but had not had to compete for it and qualify on merit. Theirs was success that had not been earned. Soccer fans knew instinctively this was not right.”
The article also warns of the other extreme of stakeholder capitalism where businesses start focusing on secondary causes no matter how worthy they are:
“….Of course, soccer teams aren’t the only enterprises that can make this mistake. A business that does well by providing goods or services that its customers value can decide it also wants to save the planet, combat poverty or engage in some other form of corporate social responsibility. Similarly, a church might hang up a banner at its entrance declaring, “Be the Church: Fight Racism.”
Fighting racism, saving the planet and combating poverty are worthy causes, but if they become the central focus, they can distract from an organization’s primary role. For a business, that’s providing goods or services that people want; for a church, presumably it’s spreading the gospel. And for a business or a church, concentrating on these primary roles might in fact achieve these desirable secondary goals also. By the same token, however, a focus on these secondary goals could undermine the effectiveness of the enterprise in every regard.
….To be sure, the business side will always be important in professional soccer—if only so that the teams can continue to play. But for soccer to remain great, it ultimately has to be about winning on the field. If teams and owners don’t remember this, the fans are there to remind them. Last month soccer fans did—and brought the European Super League house of cards tumbling down. As they lick their wounds, the team owners who devised this crony carve-up should remember: Any venture that puts customers second and the pursuit of profit first will ultimately lose both.”