The Super League came and collapsed super fast. Here's our take on what a proper league of the future could look like for clubs, players, and fans.
It's no surprise the Super League, a league built upon the foundations of wealth, power, and greed, ceased to exists a mere 24 hours after it's official announcement. The fans were upset, the pundits were livid, and players and coaches alike were in the dark about how this decision between some of the world's biggest clubs would actually come to fruition.
While the footballing world has now shifted focus towards the EURO 2020s and Copa America, the masterminds behind this poorly planned Super League will have some time to decompress, check their bank accounts, and remove themselves from the limelight. Let's not be fooled though, these same masterminds are plotting for a Super League return and I do believe it will happen whether we like it or not.
Like any idea, I believe it's important to start with the problem you are trying to solve, outline opportunities, and then action against something you think has the most potential for growth. Super League ambassadors and clubs will argue, "the people want to see the best talent and the best teams competing on a week in/week out basis." True statement, but while this is true for the fans, ownership, and investors, what about the players, coaches, and teams who put their bodies on the line every day to provide 90 minutes of entertainment? The problem we should be trying to solve is, "How can we better manage the minutes and travel of players, coaches, and teams so they can perform at their highest level week in and week out?". Herein lies the opportunity and herein lies how we can foster the best talent playing at the highest level.
Managing a player's minutes in today's world has become increasingly more difficult, not just for football players, but for athletes in general. With multiple matches, tournaments (domestic and international), and shortened seasons, its no surprise we see managers diving deep into their rosters early and often to ensure their teams can make it the full length of a season. The easy fix would be to shorten the season or reduce the numbers of games during any given year, but we all know that's wishful thinking. So, is there actually anything leagues can do to push for innovation, while also taking care of their players?
While the majority of folks will focus on new leagues, or amendments to current operations, part of the fun involved with innovating is finding something so you can do it better. The reason the Super League was met with such opposing force was because it threatened to fundamentally change the way in which clubs associated with their domestic counterparts. It was going to (and may still) reward the rich, perpetuate an elitist mentality, and dismantle the very foundations that got these clubs to where they are today. The ceiling for leagues to innovate has been reached and the proposed "Super League" was anything but innovative. I guess the only thing it did accomplish was instill fear in others and let the world know that change is imminent.
While I do believe competition leads to value-driven innovation, my proposal doesn't go head-to-head with the largest leagues in the world, it complements them and gives players, fans, and owners a new, fresh take, on what football can and should be.
The biggest clubs in the world often play in pre-season tournaments to ease back into things, get in shape, and give their global fanbase something to get excited about. For the avid football fan, the opportunity to get to see your team play on home soil is pretty cool and if you're lucky you may be able to stop by one of your local universities to watch them practice.
Often times, practice is where you really get to appreciate their level of professionalism, technical ability, and team culture. You're able to get so close to the pitch that you can hear the banter, the coaches giving direction, and see first-hand, the speed at which the game actually moves. This has always been where I find the most value as a fan, player, and promoter of the game.
From a players and coaches perspective, pre-season is often used as a time to test out new formations, evaluate performance, and think critically about the health and wellness of your squad going into next season. It's the reason why teams don't bring all their super stars and the reason why you'll typically see new signings and young stars getting valuable minutes under their belts.
For the clubs, going on a pre-season tour is about getting the lads back together, engaging with their global audience, and generating a little bit of revenue to kickstart their season. It's a good opportunity for everyone to get excited about the season ahead, while also enjoying a little bit of sunshine before the real grind begins. So, what if we gave fans, players, clubs, and ownership groups an opportunity to come together for the greater good of the game?
We created a new tournament format for players and fans?
For the first time in the history of the game, what if we created a 7v7, tournament style, pre-season league where the best teams and players in the world compete head-to-head in 60 minutes matches. There are a few reasons this may be attractive for players, fans, and coaches.
For players: It gives them an opportunity to prove their worth, their skillset, and fight for spot on the first team, while getting valuable touches on the ball. Shorter games and less players means more visibility and higher performance so they can give it their all and leave everything on the pitch.
For the fans:
Smaller fields and tighter spaces means technique and vision becomes evermore important. In a world where the game is evolving into a high tempo pace, there would be nowhere to hide for those players and teams who think they can breeze through preseason. It would give fans the opportunity to truly see what separates a world class player, or team, from the rest and I bet we'd see a lot more goals a lot more often.
For the coaches:
Pre-season is already a time for experimentation and when you break down the game into smaller segments, its really about getting groups of 3 to move harmoniously from left to right and from front to back. A 7v7 format would give coaches the ability to work through their entire roster over the course of the tournament, manage minutes because of shorter games, and test out different player combinations to find that competitive edge.
We created a fan engagement ecosystem instead of a destination?
I won't deny it - tailgating and getting ready for that big game between Manchester United and Real Madrid at The Big House is nothing short of extraordinary. But at the end of the day, the game comes and goes very fast. Instead of a one day event, what if we held a week long celebration of the teams, players, and fans in local communities around the world; a host city if you will, where teams would come together, play a few games during the course of the week, and have a chance to engage with fans and celebrities at a much more personal level. Rather than signing a couple autographs after training and hopping back on the team bus to go back to the hotel, we'd center these football hubs around the community, the arts, fashion, food, and drink - something every fan (and player) could get behind.
We created a new way to grow the sport in America and around the world?
Most of my strategic thinking related to football is focused on how we can grow this sport in America and around the world. Sure, you can create the best football academies. Sure, you can nurture young talent. And sure, you can provide pathways to achieving success. But the growth of this sport, wherever you are in the world, comes down to 3 things: The fans. The communities. And the culture surrounding these teams, players, and clubs.
What if, for 1 or 2 weeks during the course of preseason, we worked with local communities, businesses, and thought leaders in the space, to host an event that would inspire, educate, and inform the next generation of football fans around the world? What if we were able to innovate, participate, and guide the future of the sport together, as one voice, without interrupting the rich history of the game? To me, this is possible. To me, this is true innovation.