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Super fail: Plans to create an European ‘Super League’ in soccer backfire on team owners

Earlier this week, a group of wealthy owners of European soccer clubs announced plans to create a new, closed "Super League" of just the biggest and richest teams. But following global protests from fans, government officials, and even members of the British royal family, the plan is now a super fail. Amna Nawaz speaks with Roger Bennett, co-host of the Men in Blazers tv show, about the matter.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    It turns out being the biggest and richest does not mean you always win.

    As Amna Nawaz tells us, this week, football fans united globally to block a secret super soccer league.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, imagine in pro baseball that the Yankees, Red Sox, and the Cubs broke away with other profitable teams to set up their own league.

    That is what these European soccer clubs were trying to do, and their failure is a stunning 180 for some powerful team owners, who aren't used to the word no.

    Just days after the so-called Super League was unveiled, the architects of the scheme scuttled their plans and apologized, facing enraged fans and governments.

    For more on exactly what happened, and why it matters, even outside the soccer world, we're joined by Roger Bennett. He is the co-host of the "Men in Blazers" TV show, and the author of the upcoming book "Reborn in the USA: An Englishman's Love Letter to Adopted Home."

    Roger Bennett, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    And help us understand how, in the span of five days, we went from Super League to super fail. What exactly happened?

  • Roger Bennett:

    Amna, it's been a historic, shocking, remarkable week for global football.

    It all began Sunday night, when 12 of the biggest teams in Europe announced they'd signed off in secret to a breakaway Pan-European league, the Super League, backed by J.P. Morgan, in which the six richest teams in England would join three each from Italy and Spain, and they'd play each other on an annual basis, a bit like, as you say, if Duke, North Carolina and Kansas announced a breakaway from March Madness in which they were guaranteed participation every single year.

    This would have transformed the complex European footballing pyramid, which has taken 140 years to build up, and turn it really into a WrestleMania-style, profit-maximizing, blockbuster event.

    And you had oligarchs, European industrialists and four American sports investors making AN Augustus Gloop-level power grab. And, astonishingly, it felt unstoppable Sunday night, but, on Tuesday, it had all fallen apart.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And how did it fall apart? When it came to the opposition, where was the loudest, most vociferous opposition coming from to this?

  • Roger Bennett:

    It did do something remarkable for a moment, the Super League. It united fans, it united players, it united James Corden. Even the royal family weighed in.

    And it turned out to be a rollout, which, really, it was the sporting version of New Coke, a massive money plan put together by billionaires who hired a cross-continental P.R. specialists, lobbyists, whole troll forums.

    And of all the scenarios that they thought about — and they really did plan for this — the possibility of their own fans turning on them clearly never crossed their minds. They thought the only challenges would come from supporters of the lesser clubs that they'd left behind in the dust, which proved to be a historic misread, perhaps the biggest in global football club history, because above all, English football fans are tribal.

    They are passionate. The clubs are so deeply rooted in the community, such an expression of the fans' identity. They're not afterthoughts. The fans are not customers. The teams are not franchises. And the American owners who drove the Premier League plan in England didn't realize just how much their own fans cared.

    They didn't really understand the heart of football. And in not recognizing that, they stuck a dagger straight into that heart.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You mentioned some of those American owners. There are familiar names for folks in our audience, right? John Henry, who owns Liverpool Football Club, also owns the Boston Red Sox. The Glazer family, who own Manchester United, also own the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    I think it baffles people that they misread the fans so deeply. Help us understand. Is there a sports culture divide there, that the American and foreign owners just didn't get what was going on, on the ground?

  • Roger Bennett:

    It is truly remarkable to me that they own something that is so wildly popular and that they have no sense of exactly what they own.

    One of the American owners, Stan Kroenke of the L.A. Rams, owns Arsenal Football Club. They are playing as we speak. Their fans, over 1,000 of them, surrounded the stadium — football is currently in a fanless state — and demanded that he sell up immediately.

    It's like a scene from "Les Mis." Do you hear the people sing, singing the song of angry men? But it's not so simple. There's not that many individuals who have $3 billion lying around who can replace these gentlemen. And that is now the ensuing battle. What now for these Premier League teams?

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, what now then, Rog? What happens now, not just for the sport, but for the business? It's been growing rapidly across Asia, certainly here in the U.S..

    With all this plotting and scheming and these leaders being called traitors, how does this move forward?

  • Roger Bennett:

    Well, on Tuesday, when one of the teams, Manchester City, pulled out of their plans to join the Super League, UEFA, the governing body in Europe, issued a statement welcoming Manchester City back into the European family, which was predictable, but still incredibly shocking, because, 24 hours earlier, Manchester City were turncoats, defectors trying to destroy everything.

    But they will be welcomed back. There's so much money at stake. And while this Super League mistake has stained the reputation of many in a way that won't be forgotten, the American owners have already started to undertake their versions of apology tours.

    Josh Kroenke apologized to Arsenal fans. That predictably didn't go well. And Liverpool's John Henry, the Boston Red Sox owner, released a video in which he apologized, accepted full blame. And it was kind of as effective as Fredo Corleone apologizing for betraying the family.

    A fan outside of Arsenal Stadium this afternoon held up a sign saying "Fans 1, Billionaires 0." But, for now, it's important to recognize the bodies of football, UEFA, FIFA, remain more corrupt than Tammany Hall. Racism still stains the game. There's going to be a World Cup in Qatar.

    So there will be a lot of talk about reform. But this is just one war that's been won, like the battle for Endor, and there are many battles to come.


  • Amna Nawaz:

    No, a "Star Wars" reference, a "Godfather" reference, and "Les Mis" all wrapped up into one, we can't ask for much more from you.

    That's Roger Bennett, co-host of the "Men in Blazers" show.

    Rog, always good to see you. Come back soon.

  • Roger Bennett:

    And I will send my love to Judy Woodruff. Courage.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you, Amna.

    We love any "Godfather" reference. And we need more Roger Bennett on the "NewsHour."

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