A breakaway 12? We need jaw jaw

Published: Monday, 19 April 2021

One thing is for certain - change is coming; and change is positive. Its progress. But, it shouldn’t be rail-roaded, bullied and briefed through by a cabal of elites – let alone failing elites who are trying to bail themselves out - and without a moment to consider who really pays the bills - fans.

I refer you back to my blog when I discussed Project Big Picture – the first suggestion that change was coming. I was one of the very few (when it was first announced – not one of the retro-fitted flip-flop opinions that came a few weeks afterwards) that saw a lot of sense in it. It wasn’t all acceptable – far from it - and it wasn’t all going to happen – nor should it. But there were a lot of things about it that I felt could be considered and perhaps accommodated in order to satisfy the demands of the Big 6. And pause right there – before you get ready to lynch - the majority of us might not like them – and have no association with them – but we’ve got to accept that, in some ways (not every way), they are Box Office. They disproportionately drive PL sales overseas, year on year, country by country. They’re the teams the world wants to watch – the shirts that youngsters from all four corners of the globe want to wear. With them, we’re all stronger. The collective parts make a whole – but the bigger parts are more of the whole. So let’s find a way to make them happier and have them stay at home.

Saying that is not a sell-out. It’s a solution. It’s also sensible. The big clubs are going to have their own way - one way or another.

The Super League is their answer. I can’t see it possibly happening – you don’t disenfranchise every single stakeholder group in sport (and world political leaders) in a matter of hours – like the remarkable few hours of yesterday evening – and survive.  But I’m certain of this – eventually change is coming.

Why? The big boys are in trouble – so we’re all in trouble. I’ve said it before - the media rights bubble has burst. They’ve all overspent - on transfer fees and wages. None of them - not one of them - planned for the COVID disaster that has decimated them, nor the piracy pandemic (long-COVID) that’s slowly corroding the entire sports economic.

None of us saw COVID lurking – but a few of us have felt and said for years that the gravy train was running out of track, precipitated by piracy. And that’s happened.

So what now? Well - it’s panic stations isn’t it? They’re all desperate - and desperate people do daft things. Perhaps signing up to a Super League is one such daft thing.

Or is it? What actually do we know about their plans (ever seen such a world-defining plan without public plans?!)? Who’s behind it and what are their true intentions? Does Gianni Infantino – who must be driven mad by the fact that the CL is the biggest club competition in the world and he has no part of it - have a back-channel open to the breakaway clubs? (if so, that’s absolutely scandalous – no comment from FIFA at the time of writing – curious, given it’s a world-defining moment). What about the execs who are on boards of federations, who are - seemingly - actively undermining those very same federations - then saying it’s nothing to do with them? Where is the consideration for the average fan in all of this?

However back to change being progress. It isn’t just for financial reasons that I’ve always believed we were heading for ‘evolution’. This ‘revolution’ isn’t entirely unexpected either – that happens when you don’t do evolution, which is why we are where we are today. I’ve talked about it before - with venues worldwide - games being played on a Friday evenings in neutral venues - New York, Beijing, Mumbai, Riyad, Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo. Who knows where? The creep of the commercial giants. The ‘evolution’ I thought more likely was because of the number of big clubs now in the hands of American owners. Americans don’t get promotion and relegation. They don’t get a ‘pyramid’ system. They don’t get why big clubs should feed the little guys. All they see is spreadsheets - and where to get the next big deal from. Richard Scudamore, the former Chief Exec of the PL didn’t care less who owned our clubs - as long as his TV bonus came in at the end of every cycle of contracts. He now sits in his sprawling American mansion – no doubt chuckling at all this. Perhaps advising the breakaway 12. He walked away a hero to many - but I never knew why.

Where will this end? If you burn all your bridges, you end up on an island. With no-one on it. And it will be interesting who resigns over the coming days and weeks – duplicity never ends well. As an aside, I’m proud that PSG has been a giant amongst men – it’ll pain some to say that I’m sure, but enormous credit where it is due. Maybe UEFA will retrench and call the 12’s bluff – it would be tempting. But perhaps good sense will prevail and UEFA will be able to satisfy some of the reasonable demands of the 12 – keep the whole as a whole, with all its parts. I hope they do - but if they do, be sure that it won’t be the end of the matter. We’ll be back here again for sure. I repeat what I said in my blog referenced at the top – there is no point opposing change simply because it doesn’t immediately help us. Sometimes you need to give a little to get a little – even if you can’t quite see it. One thing is for sure - ranting about stripping titles and arguing for revenge on the 12 won’t work. As Winston Churchill once said ‘jaw jaw is better than war war’.