One of several obvious takeaways from last week's surreal rollout and hilariously prompt retreat of the putative European Super League was that soccer executives have no idea what fans want. Not only that, they have no idea who fans even are. And so Arsenal's director Josh Kroenke, son of the club's owner Stan, purports to speak on behalf of a 'global fan,' which is in itself a brand-forger's fantasy.
This global fan is a modern but mythical construct. In the minds of the marketing executives working to justify their genius (and their fees), he or she is standing in a bar or sitting on a sofa somewhere in Asia or North America, wearing the full official replica kit and ready to subscribe to any game in any league played by, say, Arsenal FC.
The marketing executive thinks the great thing about global fans is the almost unlimited potential of their numbers -- up to 7 billion soccer-loving dupes and their wallets. These fans are so dumbly devoted that they'll buy anything with the club's name on it. Scarves, caps, third away shirts, bed sheets, toilet paper, even a super league with no relegation and games against Barcelona "as often as possible." Heck, just give them the chance and the global fan will sit and watch Arsenal vs. Barcelona all day, every day.
If these global fans exist, I have never met one. While living in the USA I met hundreds of soccer fans, and most of them were as interested in the English Premier League as they were in the U.S. national team or Major League Soccer. Many of the things they loved about English soccer were things they felt were missing from American sport. They loved the same things that English fans love about English soccer. The history and the variety, the rivalries and the personalities, the stadiums and the colors, the swearing and the tears and the cheers. Promotion and relegation. Not once did I hear someone say anything like, "You know, I think I'd be a more devoted follower of Arsenal if they would just play Barcelona more often."
It should barely need repeating, but the whole attraction of a game like Arsenal vs. Barcelona is that it doesn't happen all that often. Kroenke is as clueless and out of touch as the other super league club owners and directors proved themselves to be, with the notable exception of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. These two teams were not moral crusaders for soccer tradition, they were merely smart enough to wait and see what the reaction to the super league would be. They already knew that German fans -- with their tendency to protest about staggered kickoff times, over-priced tickets, all-seater stadiums and soccer's unchecked commercialization -- wouldn't stand for this ill-conceived malarkey.
Around the stadiums and on the street following the super league announcement, it was the outraged local fan that quickly made the difference. These supporters belong to that inconvenient demographic labeled by club owners like the Kroenkes as 'legacy fans.' You can imagine how they would love to confine this legacy to a section of the Superclub Museum, with pictures and piped-in crowd chants. "The legacy fan was a common feature at Arsenal FC up until 2021, when modern trends sadly rendered them obsolete. With their disrespectful chants and anti-social habits (such as wearing last season's replica jersey), they were no longer open-minded and flexible enough to watch 60-minute games played in Shanghai, and moaned on and on about how they missed playing the unglobal likes of Burnley and Southampton (visit our 'Legacy Teams' section three floors down in the basement box-room)."
The local fans have shown that they're not ready to give up that easily. With mass dissent comes a shift in power and a change to the discussion, and that discussion must now be about how to change the sport for the better, not how to wreck it for good. Just because you have a ton of cash and are protected by security doesn't mean you get to say what happens to our game. Arsenal playing Barcelona in a meaningless breakaway money league is not an inevitable part of club soccer's evolution. No matter where they live or how they watch soccer, that's something almost all fans agree upon and understand.
"Global fans" live in distant cities outside of England, are just happy to pay stupid money to attend a summer friendly in NA or Asia. They pay high priced cable packages just to get some EPL or cup matches. Those fans spend more money, are less demanding and need no care and feeding. No wonder the SL teams prefer them to local fans. They are cash cows to be milked.
That's the perception. I think, though, that the majority of non-local fans are often as savvy about soccer and the teams and competitions they follow as the traditional support. I worked on a soccer project for a short while across a number of countries in east Africa, and fans there were nuts about the Premier League - the first thing anyone asks you when they find out you're from the UK is, 'What team do you support?' Again, their love of the English game was never expressed through a wish to see their team (usually Arsenal, Manchester United or Liverpool) play Barcelona every week, it was usually a dream of being able to travel to England and watch a game in the team's home stadium. They love what is already there, they don't want to be sold some fake product dreamed up by greed-driven idiots desperate to pay off the debts they've accrued through mis-management and wreckless spending on a quest for prestige and glory.
What the Super League (SL) created in its recipe is a grill-pit of greed regardless of any consequences directed at the traditional euro-league and cup competitions. The original SL membership failed to analyze what would be the impact and feasability of adding games to an already annual and overweight schedule. Having the best euro-clubs compete against each other is already in place and it could have been modified for greater revenue. Instead, the SL membership concocted a recipe blinded by total greed.
I know what you're getting at, Ian. My post is mostly tongue in cheek. It seem every Irishman I run into in my town is a Liverpool fan who has the same dream of attending a home match one day.
I think I might be a "global fan," as bad as you make that seem, though I don't buy any "team merch" and get as cheap a cable sports package as I can (but it is why I still have cable). I don't think I'm destroying soccer. By global, I mean I have followed (with interest, but not obsession bordering on religious fervor) Arsenal (initially under Arsene Wenger) and Barcelona, and I'm not local to either one.
As an American, I was not exposed to a lot of soccer in my childhood (I first started playing in Jr HS in the 1970s when youth soccer first began to exist in NC). I do remember watching an NASL final with the Dallas Tornado v Phila Atoms (in 1973) and wondering what it was (I'm not sure why I remember, unless it was because it was so strange). Once I started playing, I always tried to watch it whenever I could (Soccer Made in Germany with Toby Charles, Team America in the 1980s). When Fox Soccer Channel came on, I watched the Italian, Dutch and Argentinian leagues because they were what was on (in the early 1990s), and I loved it. Of course, after that there was an explosion and suddenly you could see La Liga, the Bundesliga, the EPL, etc. But that gives me options, because I'm no longer desperate to watch anything.
I watch the best teams I can watch because I enjoy skillful, high level soccer. I am not a soccer snob; I've had seasaon tickets to the local USL team (Pgh Riverhounds) since its inception, and bring others to the game, trying to build support for the US. I watch MLS games, but I have yet to have a favorite team because none, as yet, stand out to me (the way Barca and Arsenal did). Columbus is almost local (2.5 hrs away) so I like them to do well, and Seattle has the best atmosphere (though I don't like the turf).
I appreciate a promotion/relegation battle (love the concept, love the atmosphere), but I'm not going to tune in to watch those games (or the FA Cup games where Liverpool's B team plays some small club), though I'm glad they exist and if I were a local fan, I would love them.
But I want to watch skill and competition, where skillful players are pushing each other to get better and better, rather than a game filled with passion and intensity in spades but where skill might be missing. Nor do I want to watch some outclassed team fight tooth and nail for an away draw, much as I admire their grit in doing it (and like the storyline).
So while the recent effort to form a Champions League was disastrous in its conception, I am not opposed to watching the top 18 or 20 teams in Europe playing each other weekly. The skill and competition would be sublime, and I think there would still be passion in a Man U v Real Madrid match 2x a year. Of course, the devil is in the details.