Perhaps JPMorgan Chase is just too rich and powerful to care. It was certainly caught unawares. Presumably, executives in Europe failed to warn the bosses back in New York that a multi-billion-dollar plan to change the face of European football for the benefit of a dozen or so super-rich club owners risked igniting a political firestorm.
As the financial backer for the European Super League, the bank might now draw some comfort from the fact that the idea collapsed so quickly under the weight of protest. It is not often that Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president, agree on anything, but the view from Downing Street and the Elysée was the same.
Here were a bunch of Wall Street globalists seeking to reorganise Europe’s most popular game without the slightest regard for the views or interests of its managers, players and supporters. At least JPMorgan Chase can now set about limiting the reputational damage.
But you have to wonder what the bank was thinking when it agreed to underwrite the new competition to the tune of €3.25bn, with each of the members promised an initial payment of between €200m and €300m. Twelve clubs had already signed up.
No one at JPMorgan Chase apparently had read the letter to shareholders written by its chair and chief executive Jamie Dimon in the bank’s latest annual report. Published only this month, the letter showcased Dimon’s well-publicised efforts to position the bank as a leader in the brave new world of socially responsible and sustainable capitalism.
He placed particular emphasis on the alignment of the bank’s values with those of the “communities” in which it operates across the globe: “As you know, we have long championed the essential role of banking in a community — its potential for bringing people together, for enabling companies and individuals to reach for their dreams.”
Tell that to the players and supporters of such hallowed institutions as Manchester United and Liverpool, and to the communities in which these great teams grew up. The plan to supplant the present Champions League with a “closed” competition between Europe’s richest clubs promised to tear up the game’s traditions, destroy its competitive spirit and mock the towns and cities in which the teams are rooted.
Never mind “communities”. Here was an arrangement that illustrated perfectly everything that is wrong with anything-goes globalisation. The new league was designed with a single purpose: to extract for wealthy owners a still bigger share of the income from broadcasting rights and to ensure that their returns were stable by eliminating the risk of any club falling out of the competition.
The flip side was that it would have extinguished the game’s competitive impulse. This is what makes football exciting — open tournaments that reward success on the pitch with a shot at reaching the top and, along the way, take down the mighty when their performances fade. In the new scheme of things local fans — those “communities” again — would be relegated to second place behind lucrative digital subscribers thousands of miles away. The “left-behinds” the fans might have been called.
The pandemic, which has wrecked the finances of many sports, played its part. And four of the 12 clubs who had signed up have American owners. Perhaps they assumed that a closed system that seems to work for baseball and American football could be transplanted on the other side of the Atlantic. But then that is one of globalisation’s conceits. You should be able to sell the same thing everywhere.
I still hear people profess themselves perplexed by the rise of populism. There really is no mystery. The insurrections against elites have been rooted in a perception — often a fair one — that the system was rigged. The rich pocketed the gains of globalisation and of technological advance while those lower down the scale were obliged to take on the economic insecurities. Unfettered capitalism trampled on tradition and disregarded the interests of local communities.
The Super League club owners proposed to apply this formula to European football. In the description of Aleksander Ceferin, the president of the European game’s governing body, Uefa, the plan was to create “a closed shop run by a greedy, select few”. Just about everyone with a role or a passing interest in what is called the beautiful game agreed with him. Dimon may now like to ask himself just how JPMorgan Chase found itself on the wrong side of this argument.