How much TV money could the European Super League command?

Portuguese soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo plays for the Italian club Juventus.
Portuguese soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo plays for the Italian club Juventus.
Image: Reuters/Massimo Pinca
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A dozen elite European soccer clubs announced plans yesterday to create a new league that would upend more than a century of the sport’s history. The primary reason for the proposed league, according to a statement from its founders, is, essentially, “money.” Most of that money would come from TV networks aching to broadcast the league’s matches to the world.

Top clubs from England, Spain, and Italy—including Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Juventus—are involved in this so-called Super League, whose matches would take place midweek between the participating clubs’ domestic league games. It would likely replace the existing UEFA Champions League (UCL), with one key difference: The proposed league has a fixed set of 15 teams, plus five more that would rotate in and out, based on factors the league hasn’t yet determined. UCL has no permanent members: Any European club can qualify if they play well enough in their domestic league seasons.

At the core of the planned league is television. European soccer leagues already command massive TV rights deals: The English Premier League (EPL) total broadcast rights, for instance, are worth $12 billion over three years. That revenue gets spread out amongst the league’s 20 teams. The same is true for the $2.4 billion in annual TV revenue generated by UCL.

The Super League clearly sees an opportunity to negotiate historically lucrative contracts with broadcasters, given the level of competition that would be included.

“The new annual tournament will provide significantly greater economic growth and support for European football via a long-term commitment to uncapped solidarity payments which will grow in line with league revenues,” the super league said in a press release. “These solidarity payments will be substantially higher than those generated by the current European competition and are expected to be in excess of €10 billion during the course of the initial commitment period of the Clubs.

The cost of European soccer on TV

The move is being met with near-unanimous criticism from other clubs, players, commentators, and even government officials. They argue the rich clubs would get richer by sharing in the wealth of this insular new league, while everyone else could struggle to even stay financially viable. The traditional domestic leagues, like EPL and Spain’s La Liga, would suddenly lose importance. Every club not involved in the super league would suffer. Leagues have threatened to ban teams and players that agree to join the super league.

TV networks could renege on their contracts with UEFA to focus on the super league. And all of that money would go directly to the 20 participating clubs, rather than trickle down to the rest of European soccer—a system that has allowed lesser clubs to stay competitive with the sport’s giants. If domestic leagues followed through on their threats to ban Super League teams, they would not be able to demand the same huge TV prices. Networks will want a discount of Ronaldo isn’t suiting up for Juventus in Italy’s Serie A.

That’d all happen because soccer on TV is an enormously rich business. UCL is getting $2.2 billion from BT Sport in exchange for the rights to broadcast the organization’s matches in the UK for the next three years. DAZN, a sports streaming service, was awarded the main domestic rights to Serie A matches for $3 billion over a period of three years. (DAZN was been rumored to be in talks with the super league about broadcast rights, though the company has denied any involvement.) La Liga’s five-year international TV rights is worth around $5 billion.

The Super League, with most of the world’s top clubs guaranteed to play each year, would likely command significantly more than the $2.4 billion the UCL generates annually from its media rights. For comparison, the National Football League (NFL) in the US recently inked an 11-year, $113 billion deal with broadcasters—or about $10.3 billion per year.

The super league teams would get to hoard that money, enriching themselves at the expense of the rest of European soccer for the foreseeable future.