APRIL 21, 2021
3 min

The Super League Nobody Wants

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Monday was a fun day at Founder + Lightning. We had a board meeting in the afternoon, giving us our first opportunity to meet face-to-face since September. Over a beer in the sun afterwards, the main topic of conversation was general horror about the breakaway European Super League that had been announced the day before to widespread condemnation. 

I joked that they'd have saved a lot of money and embarrassment if only they’d invested a few thousand pounds in a discovery project. Everyone laughed and said “you should write a blog on it”. Then, the following day, some 48 hours after it had been launched, the ESL was dead. The joke became reality in hours, not days. So I decided to write the blog. 

It’s staggering to think just about the money that must have been blown on this. JP Morgan had to find $3.5 billion to divvy up amongst the founding clubs. Lawyers would have been drawing up contracts and poring through existing ones. Accountants would have been making projections. Top PRs were appointed. All on a vanity project that was doomed from the start. 

I don’t need to tell you the embarrassment and shame the clubs should be feeling from their avarice and hubris. The announcements we woke up to this morning said it all. The contemptuous and presumptuous nature of the Sunday (to minimise scrutiny?) press release was staggering in isolation. That it was made to a backdrop of a global pandemic that’s killed millions, a looming economic crisis that will cost millions more their jobs, and grassroots football being devastated by lack of income, is beyond reprehensible. 

So how could a discovery project have prevented this? Here are just a few of the areas we’d have investigated to try and validate the problem and the proposed solution. 

  • Buyer Personas: we’d have struggled to find personas that weren’t more than catered for by the status quo; what niche of football fan cares nothing for history or variety, and merely desires a closed shop of elites playing with themselves every year?

  • User Surveys: this would have put quantitative research in place – this is not something that the fans want. We could have run a player survey and discovered quickly that they hated the idea too. 

  • Stakeholder Interviews: we would have discovered, even from a small cross-section of interviews, that all other clubs, the lower-leagues, broadcasters and governing bodies would not be in favour at all (even if it was to protect their own interests and revenues). 

  • Competitor Analysis: this would have uncovered that the major competition is a monopoly – FIFA and UEFA – who also happen to run the sport. Would they be happy to see their product damaged, or say “it’s my ball, you boys aren’t playing anymore”? It would have been clear that it would be the latter. The other side of the competitor landscape is the broadcasters who pump billions annually into elite football, have long-term contracts in place, and also would have zero incentive to weaken their offering (but some more lawyers would get paid). 

  • Market Opportunity and Positioning: it would have been difficult to find any 'blue ocean' here. On top of that, the danger of being kicked out of domestic leagues, the risk of fan boycotts and the certainty of being banned from other European competitions would make any meaningful opportunity analysis flawed from the start. The necessity for the entirety of the remaining football world to roll over and have its belly tickled by 12-15 big clubs just to make the basic business model work is a risky hypothesis that would need to take into consideration - to put it politely.

  • Value Proposition: would fans want it? Would TV subscribers want another subscription to pay for? How could we appeal to them if there’s no history, no prestige, and little value beyond that of a preseason tournament? The critical savaging from fans, players, clubs, broadcasters, other sports and the average person on the street shows that no matter how long you plan something and how much you spend on PR, sometimes an idea is just bad. If the only beneficiary is a small group of billionaire owners, that’s not a viable business model.

This would have covered of the “why” and the “who for” before we moved to “what” and “how”. For an investment of >£6,000, we’d have discovered in no uncertain terms that this isn’t a product the masses want before they'd ruined their own reputations and those of the clubs involved.

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