Wednesday, 21 April 2021

Thoughts on ESL (1): the European football model

It was 6:30 a.m. and I was preparing for a late sleep. I know it will be Chelsea vs Brighton in 30 minutes, but I don't really care. Semi-final in 7 years? It's nothing comparing with what Chelsea, along with 11 other clubs, planning for something that could potentially destroy football as the most popular sport in the world. I rolled on the bed scrolling over Reddit, Skysports, BBC and all other new sources and forums and simply failed to sleep. I have so much to talk about the European Super League (ESL) --- I failed to squeeze out the time to talk about that, but maybe it is a good time right now.

As I am writing we have received some good news -- Chelsea and City are leaving. Ed Woodward resigned. Altetico and Barca are there to leave. We will see more in the coming days, but I will try to cover my thoughts about ESL in general.

The American sport model is something that I never appreciate with because competitiveness has to give way to entertainment and commercial consideration. When we say sport we mean competition. Entertainment comes from players doing the best to win, not by placing cheerleading girls or MC warming up the games. Wrestling, boxing and MMA is merely a comical joke trying to make up stories among players. 

The four American leagues -- are closed on their own with all the smaller leagues withering. Recently we observe a reform of the baseball minor leagues (MiLB) shutting down a number of teams. They were down so easily because minor teams are simply not sustainable in the American model. They hang on the poor little money from the Major and squeeze the most out of their players -- overnight bus trips to the field, salary lower than most normal office workers, and of course no pay during the off-season. Taking a step back the NCAA model is not even sustainable without the help of the colleges and the government. All we see is a greedy league sucking the blood from the youth ladders for their money and glory. There is no need to doubt the players' professionalism, but what can you do when those sports are designed to entertain in ways other than pure competition? (There is no room for cheating and violent plays though -- they shouldn't be part of the game and should not be counted into competitiveness.)

Close leagues and the drafting system making things even worse because team can benefit from intentionally play bad/not playing the their best. We have seen that happening in MLB over and over again: Rays, Cardinals, Marlins...and even the Cubs team that broke the curse and won WS! Why is it possible for a team to benefit from being bad? There are similar operations in the world of football as well. Arsenal with her owner Kronke is one of the best example: the investment is calculated to be just enough to keep their commercial value while making consultant company that "gives advices" about the players' market (which doesn't seem to be helpful after all). But the borderline is they must perform up to a certain level (top 4 and CL spot, or top 6 with EL spot) -- that's why EPL is always fun to watch on teams around such ranks. 

Of course I watch baseball, but that is more of a substitution when football's off-season. I enjoy the number and science behind baseball, and I appreciate how off-speed pitches work. But at the end of the day I never feel the same passion from baseball as from football. Football is the culture, identity and religion of those who love it. (Another reason I prefer football than baseball is that baseball is discrete in nature and too easy to quantify -- sports lose part of their sacred or romantic mask with numbers, but that's a topic for another day).

Football in Europe takes the pyramid model instead. The pyramid means that lower teams provide variety and base numbers, while the top teams provide attractiveness and money which part of those will be transferred down the pyramid.

For example lower teams are not under the upper teams (slightly different in Spain but that does not happen in the top division so we will overlook that), but they are still motivated to breed good players. For the sake of their team result for sure, but good players also bring important revenues by selling them to higher teams. Often there are clauses that the original team gets a small portion of the transfer fee if the player is sold again -- which is often to an even bigger team -- which brings more money to the lower teams.

Instead of a single closed league, there are multiple divisions of leagues within a country, divided just like a pyramid. That pushes teams to do well to be rewarded, and at the bottom-line fight to survive. There are also continental and domestic cups that reward teams who performed well over a short period of time. Top leagues like the Premier League (EPL) sells the most because it is quite famous even overseas but not the lower leagues, but they have been funding and supporting the lower leagues significantly (although that's part of the agreement on 1991). Lower leagues even without the money from EPL are also live with esteem: ticket sales, broadcasting revenue (especially they do well in cup matches) are already good enough for them. 

It's just a free market with some protection, and it is way healthier than the American model. The whole industry is sustainable and everyone's happy by getting their bit out of it. The difference in sports model perfectly reflects the difference between American capitalism and European capitalism. It may be hard to tell which capitalism is better, but in the world of Football or sports industry, the European way is much preferred.

To be continued --- I shall cover the football aspect of ESL in the second half, after having some good sleep. That's 10 a.m. here after the 0-0 game against Brighton...

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