Digital Disruption and the European Super League in Football

Sunday night was unveiled that twelve powerful football clubs across Europe – six of them from the English Premier League {Liverpool; Manchester City; Manchester United; Arsenal; Chelsea; and Tottenham} would break away and form a new European Super League in football (The Guardian, 2021a). While most of the analyses on the media are concentrating on upcoming legal battle with UEFA and FIFA – and with EPL in England – or the public outcry from football supporters across the continent (The Guardian, 2021b), and even how politicians such as the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron are opposing it (The Independent, 2021; Reuters, 2021), what I want to do in this post is to use the theory of digital disruption to understand the rationale behind this breakaway league (for a financial-only point of view see David Conn here).

On a traditional linear media model quality content was conceived more of a means to an end – such as reaching particular audiences – for media conglomerates as broadcasting scarcity dictated that the power resided on who controlled the means of distribution (the medium) (see Hutchins and Rowe, 2012). In a digital plenitude scenario where the so-called digital revolution has sparked transformations and blurred the lines between producers, audiences, publishers and distributors, controlling the content becomes even more important as accessibility is pulverised across multiple digital platforms. In a way, the power balance now resides on who owns or control the content rather than on who can distribute it.

If we look at professional football the content – the games, players, drama, special moments, etc – is actually created by clubs. As such, football clubs are content creators as much as social media influencers are on Instagram, YouTube, Twitch. Thus, the creation of a breakaway European Super League is the realisation by football clubs that there are increasing digital business opportunities in taking back control of their own content. In a way the EPL, UEFA and FIFA are seen as further intermediaries who are taking cuts of the content created by the clubs.

Digital transformation not only means that content producers do not need intermediaries such as traditional media outlets to distribute their content to audiences, but above all means that content producers do not need any intermediaries to connect to advertisers. At the end of the day the traditional role of mass media was of being the conduit between content producers (mostly themselves according to Daniel Boorstin), audiences, and advertisers; whilst now with the disruptions caused by digitalisation that gatekeeper role performed by traditional media seems to be eroding.

Above all, what those football clubs are gambling on when proposing to form a breakaway European Super League is that they do not only control the content, but that by owning the content they do also own the audience – their loyal supporters. To certain extent quality content equals loyal audience, and a loyal audience that generates multiple data points is a gold mine for advertisers.

So, what the football clubs are doing is tightening even more the grip on supporters loyalty by squeezing the last ounce of information they can get so to sell it directly to advertisers.

Let’s see what will be the outcome of all this conundrum. But, ultimately there are no saints in all this: they are all capitalists fighting for individuals’ data.

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