Happy Sunday to all. This week featured the rise and fall of a European Super League of football (soccer) teams followed by swift and powerful reaction- all negative- from fans, media and even governments, putting an end to the League before the ink was dry on the announcement. I find it fascinating, and address it here. I am also talking about the NFL Draft, specifically its top pick; the exam I gave my students regarding Deshaun Watson, and the bigger picture following the Derek Chain verdict. Enjoy this week’s Sunday Seven…
1) What I’m thinking about the European Super League… The idea, in many ways, was the “Americanization” of European soccer, with a group of 15 soccer clubs across Europe deciding to have their own “closed” league, without promotion or relegation, that would ensure guaranteed revenue sharing with fixed and reliable revenue buckets, both from media and underwriter JP Morgan. The equal revenue sharing idea was straight out of the NFL, where my former team, Green Bay, has equal broadcast revenue with New York and LA. It reminded me of NFL meetings where Jerry Jones, owner of the Cowboys, would get in the face of small market owners who he thought were simply collecting their 1/32nd check every year. As to the Super League, within hours of its announcement, an uprising happened among several bodies: (1) fans of teams both included and excluded; (2) UEFA, (3) FIFA and (4) the British government. There were lawyers galore. I am still scratching my head, though, at this rollout: a simple press release, no owners speaking out in support of the idea, no plan to anticipate the inevitable backlash. And within 48 hours, the league was all but dead, with only Real Madrid hanging on through life support. It was a fascinating display of private money trying to usurp more power versus public sentiment and regulatory bodies.
2) What I’m thinking about competitive balance…As said above, the Super League idea seemed more in the American model of sports, with competitive balance baked into it: Salary Caps, Drafts, restraints on free agency, etc. The European model, from what I can tell, is the Wild West; teams can buy the best players if they have the means. Sure, there are the occasional stories like Leicester from a couple years ago, but there is not much competitive balance in European soccer: the same teams tend to do well in England, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, etc. There is no Salary Cap, only vague spending guidelines from UEFA that, I am told, are routinely ignored by the richer clubs. There is no Draft; top players developed by small clubs are routinely scooped up by larger clubs. There are no limits on free agency or transfer fees. There are no player unions. I know it is a scary word, but the American model is more “socialistic;” giving all teams a relatively equal playing field both player personnel (Draft) and economics (Cap). And speaking of America, there is some serious backlash against American owners of these teams, even cries for them to sell, and names such as John Henry (Liverpool), Avram Glazer (Manchester United) and Stan Kroenke (Arsenal). Stay tuned.
3) What I’m podcasting…Same topic, but more than just my musings; I brought on an expert. Taylor Twellman is ESPN’s soccer analyst and a good friend and former colleague. Twellman talks about the failed Super League with a twist: he does not think this is the last we hear from it, as we have been hearing about this concept for forty years. He senses frustration from the team owners about the regulating body — UEFA — taking its cut off the top and having such regulatory and financial interference (and corruption). One of the premises behind this league was, as Twellman says, to cut out the middleman (UEFA) and keep the money for themselves. As to not anticipating the negative fan reaction, yes, there were some major PR gaffes by this group, leading Twellman to think that maybe they even wanted to fail, setting the stage for the next one with a better rollout.
4) What I’m writing…On Thursday night, with some 12 million people watching, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will announce “With the first pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Jacksonville Jaguars select Trevor Lawrence, quarterback, Clemson.” Lawrence has been the presumptive top pick in the Draft since, well, 2018, when as a freshman he led Clemson to the College Football Championship. I took a deep dive into the “what ifs” on Lawrence from the financial side. What if the NFL didn’t require a player to be three years removed from high school to enter the NFL? What if the pending name/image/likeness (NIL) earnings for student-athletes were around for Lawrence? What if Lawrence played in the “Sam Bradford Era” before the league and union restricted earnings at the top of the Draft? What if Lawrence entered the NFL in a year with a “normal” Salary Cap, not one diminished by pandemic-related losses? I know that no one is going to feel sorry for what Trevor Lawrence will make on and off the field; the point is he could have made more. A whole lot more.
5) What I’m thinking about the end of the semester… As mentioned least week, I gave an oral exam in my “Business of Sports” class where groups of students presented to me (and my TA Connor) about their plan of action regarding Deshaun Watson. They had to assess the morals clause in Watson’s contract, “Conduct Detrimental” language for both the team and the league and Commissioner and team discipline precedent, all the while balancing public perception and “innocent until proven guilty.” As for the recommendations? Well, one group said to terminate him immediately (his contract, not him). Two groups said no discipline, simply to wait and see. The other groups would have imposed some sort of discipline, ranging from four-game to indefinite suspensions. It was hopefully a valuable experience for the group, one that many Twitter followers asked about enrolling into. Sorry, you have to be a student at Villanova Law School to take my classes. However, I’ll share the Deshaun Watson exam prompt here.
6) What I’m thinking about Simone Biles’ apparel endorsement… News came this week of Simone Biles, one of, if not the greatest gymnast ever, turning her back on the largest sports apparel company in the world, Nike, and signing with the smaller brand of Athleta. This comes on the heels of Vanessa Bryant terminating her relationship with Nike after being at odds with their handling of Kobe Bryant’s image since his tragic passing. These are watershed moments for both Nike and sports business as there was a time in the recent past where no prominent athlete would consider leaving Nike and its vast marketing and promotional machine. But endorsements are different now; they are not as simple as an athlete getting money to make commercials and promote shoes. Athletes have different goals and causes with endorsements, and there are different options. Biles remarked that the Athleta brand will give her a platform to influence young women much more than the Nike platform would. Her choice of Athleta over Nike was purposeful and impactful.
7) What I’m tweeting… @AndrewBrandt Annual tweet: on this day 16 years ago, this guy fell in our lap at the 24th pick in the NFL Draft. He turned out ok:
8) Quote I wish I said… “If you want your children to improve, let them overhear the nice things you say about them to others.” -Haim Ginott
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