On 18 April 2021, twelve of Europe’s leading football clubs announced the creation of the European Super League, breaking away from the Champions League and, indeed, the entire European football pyramid. The plan was met with instant and intense backlash from fans, players, other clubs, football governing bodies, and even the UK Government, prompting many of the clubs—including the six English founding clubs—to withdraw within 48 hours.
Research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies on Wednesday, immediately following this stunning 48-hour period, reveals the extent to which the British public rejected the plan: of those who had heard of the league, 60% say they are opposed—with 47% saying they are strongly opposed—to the European Super League, while just 14% are supportive. Among those who say ‘yes, absolutely’ they are a football fan, an overwhelming 74% are opposed, including 66% who are strongly opposed.
As developments surrounding the league quickly unfolded, much of the British public watched on intently: a third (33%) of respondents say they had heard of or followed the news ‘a great deal,’ 27% say ‘quite a bit,’ and 23% say ‘some,’ with just 17% saying they had not heard of or followed the news at all. Meanwhile, 70% of football fans say they followed the news ‘a great deal.’
Now that all six of the Premier League clubs involved in the European Super League (Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham Hotspurs) have withdrawn, some have questioned whether the clubs should be penalised for their attempted participation in the breakaway project. The British public is split on the topic: 41% say the clubs should be welcomed back, and 39% say they should be penalised, whereas a further 20% don’t know.
The belief that the clubs should be penalised is heightened among ardent football fans, 53% of whom believe the English Premier League clubs should be penalised for their involvement in the Super League.
One of the criticisms of the proposed European Super League is its lack of a promotion and relegation system. The idea of competitiveness is important to many in English football. Indeed, perhaps remembering Leicester City’s incredible 2015-2016 Premier League title, 55% of respondents (including 65% of football fans) say yes, they think that any professional football club in England, if it is run well, has a chance of winning the Premier League.
But even if relegation were included in a future Super League, a plurality (46%) of all respondents—and 61% of football fans—say they would oppose a European Super League with relegation while just 21% say they would support such a league. As such, it appears a European Super League with relegation would be met with slightly more support, but opposition would still be large.
The announcement of the European Super League drew responses from many European leaders, especially Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who vowed to do everything possible to ‘thwart’ the league. This threat of a political backlash to the project might have persuaded some of the English clubs to withdraw from the project. When asked if the British Government should have the right to regulate Premier League football clubs in this manner, 42% of respondents say yes, 29% say no, and 30% say they don’t know. Football fans (61%), in particular, appear more in favour of the British Government being able to regulate Premier League football clubs.
In fact, 50% of all respondents and 64% of football fans would support the UK Government more strictly regulating the finance and governance of football clubs, something just 13% of the British public would oppose.
Boris Johnson’s Government announced that a review into football governance will be conducted, with one area of exploration being a potential rule requiring English clubs to be majority owned by their fans, as in Germany (whose top clubs notably did not opt to join the European Super League). Half (49%) of all respondents and a majority (61%) of football fans say they would support the UK Government or the English Football Association introducing a rule requiring clubs to be majority owned by fans/members. 29% would neither support nor oppose, and 10% would oppose the introduction of such a rule.
Reaffirming the support for fan-owned clubs, 47% of respondents say the ownership of the best teams in England by rich, billionaire, or multi-millionaire investors has generally been a bad thing for English football. A fifth (22%) say it has been a good thing, and a third (32%) say they don’t know.
A further 55% believe it would be better for professional football clubs to be owned by their own fans even if it meant the clubs may be less likely to afford the very best players, while 18% say it would not be better and 26% say they don’t know.
Among football fans, a majority believe rich investors’ ownership of the best English teams has generally been a bad thing for English football (54%) and that it would be better for the clubs to be owned by their fans/members, even if they may consequently be less likely to afford the best players (65%).
A majority of all respondents (53%) and football fans (58%) in particular also think football clubs should be run as community assets, as they used to be, rather than as for-profit enterprises, as they are now (19% of all respondents, 24% of football fans).
If football clubs were to revert to such a model of operation, football players would be unlikely to make as extensive of salaries as they currently do––something that may be a welcomed outcome for many Britons: a large majority (71%) thinks the very best football players are paid too much. Alternatively, 11% think they are paid the right amount, and only 5% think they are paid too little. The perception that the best football players are paid too much is greater among those who say they are not football fans at all (76%), but it is still a belief shared by 69% of football fans as well.
The announcement and subsequent collapse of the European Super League has sparked many discussions about how football clubs are currently governed in England, along with how they may be governed differently and better in the future. Our research finds that many Britons would support stricter Government regulation of clubs’ finances and governance, and would also support clubs being run as community assets. Indeed, a significant proportion of respondents (and an even greater proportion of football fans in particular) think clubs would be better off being owned by fans and would support the introduction of a rule requiring this ownership structure—a rule which may one day be a reality if the Government’s review deems it necessary.