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A supreme lesson

When soccer fans spoke, a proposed Super League died a quick death

Chelsea Football Club fans outside the team's Stamford Bridge stadium in London this week.
Chelsea Football Club fans outside the team's Stamford Bridge stadium in London this week.Rob Pinney/Photographer: Rob Pinney/Getty I

The European Super League has gone the way of Guinness Light and “The Godfather Part III,” dubious ideas whose only ostensible purpose was to make bundles of money based on the popularity of previous incarnations of the product.

The putative soccer league, which imploded under the weight of its own hubris within 48 hours of the announcement of its formation, was harangued to death by those who in other circumstances might be dismissed by the suits in the boxes of Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge as hooligans.

Ordinary English soccer fans dispatched the Super League with a populist putsch even before it had scheduled its first game. Those fans went into the streets, demonstrating loudly and insisting they would abandon teams to which they had professed life-long fealty.

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The owners of six English clubs, including Liverpool Football Club, which is owned by John Henry, who also owns the Red Sox and the Globe, joined three teams each from Spain and Italy to form the Super League. Given that teams in Germany and France gave the league a pass, calling it the European Super League was a marketing conceit on par with Major League Baseball calling its championship the World Series.

The billionaire owners aimed to do to professional soccer what others in their income bracket have done to the tax code: create rules that specifically benefit them at the expense of everybody else.

Since 1955, the best teams in Europe have faced off in the Champions League competition. The top four finishers each from England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, and Italy’s Serie A qualify for the Champions League, the final for which draws a TV audience four times the size of the Super Bowl.

Under the pyramid paradigm, in which teams stay put, are promoted, or relegated depending on how well they perform, teams have to earn their way into the Champions League, no matter how rich they are.

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The Super League founders created a guaranteed place in the Super League competition for their teams, with guaranteed money. No risk, great reward.

Super League owners didn’t consult with their managers, players, or, most crucially, fans to see if they were on board. In that vacuum, a narrative of greedy, aloof owners quickly took hold, and some of the Super League’s possible attractions, including a promise to create more financial fair play in the current anything-goes free market and to triple the amount of money spread around lower-tier teams, didn’t get a hearing.

The idea behind the Super League had little to do with established domestic European markets and everything to do with still-emerging markets in America and Asia, markets on display in cities like Boston.

In the Boston area, soccer pubs like the Banshee in Dorchester and the Phoenix Landing in Cambridge, once bastions of ex-pats from around the world, have over the last decade seen an increasing number of Americans park themselves right next to the foreign-born regulars to watch Premier and Champions league games. International soccer is ubiquitous on TV.

Like other Premier League owners who were all in on the Super League, Henry apologized to the Liverpool fans for involving his team in this plan. His language was intriguing.

“I’m sorry, and I alone am responsible for the unnecessary negativity brought forward over the past couple of days,” he said, referring to the blowback in Liverpool. “It’s something I won’t forget. And shows the power the fans have today and will rightly continue to have.”

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Makes you wonder what would have happened if the Red Sox consulted fans before they traded Mookie Betts. Granted, the Sox are first in their division right now, but Mookie should be in right field.

Some soccer fanatics doubt if the owners of the would-have-been Super League teams will ever fully recover from what is seen as treachery by their rabid fan bases. Peter Peyton, a Liverpool supporter who lives in Vermont, is among them.

“They talk about loving the game,” he said, “but it looks to me that they love making money a lot more.”


Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.