What a fascinating, bewildering 48 hours it has been in the world of European football. Swashbuckling billionaires fused with the global elite money men came together to completely mis-read the room and propose an audacious Super League that collapsed the funding pyramid of the sport and drove a wedge between the clubs and their supporters. The timing was terrible. The announcements chaotic emanating a complete disconnect seemingly between the owners, the players and their own communications teams with Machiavellian characters and derided individuals revealing more about themselves and their real motives than they should.
Unsurprisingly surprising, the proposal collapsed under the sheer weight of discontent with avid supporters beating a march to their club grounds to protest loudly at the sheer injustice of what was before them, the Duke of Cambridge even piped up (and he never usually says a word) and the Prime Minister bumbled about fighting with every ounce of his considerable legislative might to defeat the want-awayers despite obvious enormous issues if his bluff was called and the Super League proceeded unchecked.
One by one, the clubs reneged on the proposal and extricated themselves about as tactfully as elephants whilst casting those responsible to the wayside and under the bus. Electric stuff. The football pundits were surgical in their dissection and a wave of fan power won against seemingly unshakeable, certain billionaires eyeing the main chance. The mega bucks of a showpiece event in Europe with the big clubs muscling out the ambitious and the deserved was canned and consigned to a historical footnote of avarice and stupidity.
It’s been amazing to watch but I can’t help but think about the top end of sailing where similar characters swim. The America’s Cup makes the Super League politics look trifling in comparison and although us pundits would love to think we have sway (we don’t) and the loyal supporters that line the docks would like to think that their needs are listened to, in reality the billionaires can pretty much get away with whatever they like. It’s wonderful to watch and debate and when the next AC announcement comes through in a month or so’s time we will salivate at the proposals and set the countdown clock for the next hurrah.
At the elite end, let’s be honest here, we are all grateful that there are those with such vast bank balances that see the Cup as a worthwhile goal to fight for and are willing to invest so much to win. We welcome their largesse. It’s a wonderful addition on the sporting calendar no matter what the format is be it a packed Challenger-based event or a Deed of Gift Match. The Cup is everything and I would hate to think what the total investment in striving to win has been through the ages and all for mostly little or no return.
In a global sporting sense however, the Cup is cheap, especially if you are at the Larry Ellison, Jim Ratcliffe, Patrizio Bertelli, Ernesto Bertarelli end of the scale. Let’s assume that say $150m is required every cycle, that’s three years at $50m a year give or take. In football terms that meagre sum will pay roughly three, maybe four players at Chelsea FC for the 2020-2021 season where the total wage bill plus bonuses is an eye-watering £258m ($359m). And remember you’ve got to pay roughly $100m to $300m (as Chelsea did) in pretty much every transfer window to bring in the good players.
Sure it’s a completely different model with TV revenues, sponsorships, fan revenues etc but for your $150m commitment in the America’s Cup you get a team of unbelievable professionals ranging from designers who could, and should, be designing the Mars Rover to athletes shorn with Gold at the peak of their powers and not a word of discontent, just gratitude for the opportunity. You get two unbelievable cutting edge flying machines that pass as yachts, an armada of chase boats and three years of utter intrigue in trying to play one of the classiest and hardest games in the sporting world. And the parties are pretty glam too plus you get to use your superyacht and PJ in anger. Nobody complains. Nobody counts the bucks. Everyone’s intrigued at this window into your fabulous life. It’s a no brainer surely? You can be brash, awkward, shy, rude, litigious, aloof – pick your poison, we’ll drink it.
At one level it’s grotesque spending but seen through the lens of soccer, and I have no doubt my American readers will point to the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball as equivalent lenses, the Cup is a steal. And you have no fan unions to listen to and no shareholders demanding success and detailed accounts (thank goodness). You won’t get revolts at the base doors and your character called into question nor will your Cup foray haunt you forevermore. It’s the game to play when you know what’s what.
If you want to propose an equivalent ‘Super League’ and race around the Isle of Wight for the Ewer, no-one is going to bat an eyelid especially if you invite the Italians, the Americans, the Swiss and anyone else who fancies it. You might get a bit of push-back from some quarters if you go one-on-one but the likelihood is that you’ll get away with it and have some bright m’learned friends to sort out the legal shenanigans if the going gets tough.
Largely you will be applauded, lauded and feted for breathing life into a post-pandemic sailing economy and providing a much needed tourism boost. And let’s be absolutely honest here (this is a sailing blog after all), we all know that the America’s Cup beats soccer, NBA, NFL, MLB and even F1 hands-down in pretty much every department – intrigue, politics, sportscraft, sportsmanship, photography, videography…the list goes on. We just need to nail a proper year-round circuit and a permanent seat at the top table of sport is guaranteed.
So whilst football eats itself, the America’s Cup is looking like an attractive place for classy billionaires to play. No wonder the super-brands are lining up to join the 37th edition. The once dirtiest game in town now looks like the safe option for the seriously rich and as spectators we will be richer for their patronage and participation.
Those embroiled in the Super League breakaway would be well advised to consider a tilt at the Cup. Can it be long before we see serious Middle-Eastern or Russian money coming in? I’ll bet someone’s making the call right now…