Plans for the breakaway European Super League were announced in 2021 and would have seen upwards of a dozen English and continental European club teams quit existing European tournaments and instead seen them play each other in mid-week matches. The new elite tournament would not have required the elite teams to qualify each year and would instead have included them on their historical success and financial prowess.
However, the plan lay in tatters within days as the six English soccer clubs that were initially part of the league – Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur – withdrew in the face of negative reactions from government and fans. They were followed by most of their European counterparts, leaving only Real Madrid and Barcelona as league promoters. Top soccer bodies Fédération internationale de football association (FIFA) and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) objected to the project, threatening to impose sanctions on clubs and players who might decide to participate.
The European Superleague Company brought an action against FIFA and UEFA before the Commercial Court, Madrid, arguing that their rules on approval of competitions and the exploitation of media rights are contrary to EU law. On Thursday, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that UEFA and FIFA’s steps to block the league were contrary to competition law and the freedom to provide services.
“The FIFA and UEFA rules making any new interclub football project subject to their prior approval, such as the Super League, and prohibiting clubs and players from playing in those competitions, are unlawful. There is no framework for the FIFA and UEFA rules ensuring that they are transparent, objective, non-discriminatory and proportionate. Similarly, the rules giving FIFA and UEFA exclusive control over the commercial exploitation of the rights related to those competitions are such as to restrict competition, given their importance for the media, consumers and television viewers in the European Union,” the judgement said.
The judgement blows the lucrative European soccer scene wide open. Deloitte’s 2023 annual review of soccer finance estimates that the European soccer market grew 7% to €29.5 billion ($32.2 billion) over the 2021-22 season, due to record matchday and commercial revenues. The television rights for each of the major European territories are valued in billions.