The European Super League: a microcosm of the global economic system

For a couple of days in April, all anyone could talk about was the European Super League, which was essentially an attempt by Europe’s richest football (soccer) clubs to create a closed league that would make them even richer. The fans rose up in protest and the scheme was very quickly abandoned. The backlash came from an understanding of the importance of the smaller clubs in people’s lives and from a sense of fairness. Can we apply those lessons to our society to address soaring inequality? Mel Young and Alex Matthews discuss in their latest conversation-blog.

Alex Matthews: Perhaps the biggest news story of last couple of weeks – although it was really just a huge flash in the pan, and disappeared as soon as it appeared – was the creation and then disintegration of the European Super League (ESL). I’m not a big football fan at all, and I don’t really understand the ins and outs of football competition and team ownership, but it certainly seemed to me that the whole thing stank, and was a huge indication of what’s wrong with football and even with capitalism!

Mel Young: Well, I do follow football and understood what was going on. Basically, it was an attempted grab by the rich owners of the big clubs in Europe to create an organisation which had the potential to make a huge amount of money. The owners completely forgot about their customers – the fans – who were unanimously opposed to the whole concept and it fell apart. What was astonishing was just how out of touch these owners were. One positive thing which has emerged during the pandemic is a sense of community and football clubs were founded by communities, so their intervention was badly timed and it also showed just how out of touch with reality the owners were. But in a sense it was a microcosm of the global economic system where the rich simply want to make more and more but in this case it went badly wrong. At The New Ism we talk constantly about the need to create a much fairer economic system and in some ways this story illustrates why. The challenge for football now is how to move on and the question for the world, post-pandemic, is what will a fair economic system look like?

AM: What I found so interesting about the whole thing was the reaction of the fans. My husband is a passionate Manchester United fan and I had assumed that he would be excited about the potential to see more matches against the other big European teams – but actually, he says the magic of football is the true competition and the ability for smaller teams to rise to the top through sheer skill and determination. Sadly, that is already being lost in football, and the ESL was the natural conclusion. 

As you say, it’s a reflection of our society – it’s always big business that ‘wins’ because they have the lion’s share of the money, while ‘little people’ and small businesses are effectively dismissed as of secondary importance because they don’t have the money and therefore the power. And yes, I think the pandemic, when people have started to rediscover the importance of community and local businesses, has made us realise that things need to change. 

MY: It is a key question for a fair economy in the future: do giant global companies exist? And if so, how are they regulated? If we are saying that local communities are vital for any future economy, then we have to protect them against the big boys who can simply use their muscle to get their own way. Let’s take Google as an example. It’s huge and we all use it because it is a great tool – we have information at our fingertips and we like it. But we are worried about its control over our lives and the fact that it uses smart accountants in order not to pay tax. So, do we ban the Googles of this world? If not, how do we regulate them and make them become a responsible member of the global community. How do we stop the obscenity of the type we saw from the ESL, but encourage creative innovation at the same time?

AM: If I could answer that I might have the riches of Google! Although social enterprises could hold at least some of the answers. Many of them are run as self-sustaining businesses, by highly creative and innovative people, but with the interests of the community, society and indeed the planet at their heart, rather than purely profit for its own sake. I don’t know if it’s realistic for governments to start mandating that the likes of Google and Facebook are run as social enterprises, but could there be a way that these huge corporations are obligated to introduce elements of this more responsible way of operating? Or is that not enough? Do we have to dismantle them and limit the size of organisations?

MY: Good question. I do think there is something about the future structure of big corporations which needs to be looked at. I can imagine how to create exciting models of ownership which allows for development and innovation whilst at the same time being of a huge benefit to society. It is quite possible to create sustainable business models like Google without the need to end up with massive profits. These companies have one goal: creating money on a daily basis rather then focusing on their goals as businesses. But I can see how models could be developed where everyone is a winner!

AM: It’s important that we do, because in the current system a very few people are getting ridiculously rich, while many people languish on the bottom rung of the ladder. We need to create structures and systems which incentivise people to be creative and to work hard, without creating the vast inequalities that exist today. This will certainly come up in our discussions over the coming months. 

MY: Inequality makes the world unsustainable and the situation is getting worse. We need collective thinking from all sectors including the big corporations about how we close the inequality gap and change the system. 

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