Super League Brexit Amid Backlash Collapses ‘The New Coke of Sports’

European soccer’s proposed Super League has fallen apart less than 48 hours after the plans originally went public.

All six English Premier League clubs, including Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool, announced that they were removing themselves from the 12-team group. In addition, longtime Manchester United vice-chairman Ed Woodward announced Tuesday that he would be leaving his post at the end of the year, a departure that hints at turmoil within the club about its Super League plans.

Late Tuesday, the Super League released a statement indicating it would “reshape” the project. “Despite the announced departure of the English clubs, forced to take such decisions due the pressure out on them, we are convinced our proposal is fully aligned with European law and regulations as was demonstrated today by a court decision to protect the Super League from third party actions,” the statement said. “Given the current circumstances, we shall reconsider the most appropriate steps to reshape the project, always having in mind our goals of offering fans the best experience possible while enhancing solidarity payments for the entire football community.”

Should the league plans completely unravel, it would be a colossal misstep by some of the sports world’s most recognizable brands. The announcement of the Super League, which came in the middle of each club’s season, was met immediately by staunch opposition from fans, players, elected officials and global soccer’s most powerful executives. Now it appears the clubs will backtrack without ever laying out the full plan, or making any concrete steps forward.

The fiasco is reminiscent of another short-lived product. In 1985, Coca-Cola announced it was reformulating its signature soda, its first major change in 99 years. The response was so overwhelmingly negative that it reverted back to the older formula less than three months later.

The Super League “is the New Coke of sports,” said Rick Burton, a sports management professor at Syracuse University.

The collapse of the Super League will bring about as many questions as its original announcement, some of which will likely be answered in the coming days and others that will take much longer. For example, will there any formal punishment for the teams that tried to break away? And will those clubs gain (or lose) any leverage in future conversations about financial distribution as a result of the failed Super League?

The Super League was introduced on Sunday as a challenge to the Champions League, the Europe-wide competition held annually to crown the continent’s best club. Twelve of the richest and most popular teams in the world, including Chelsea, Man City, Barcelona and Real Madrid, announced their plans to create their own continental championship, back by a multi-billion-dollar loan from JPMorgan Chase.

The biggest difference: Those founding clubs would all be permanent members, a massive break from the democratic structure of the Champions League (and each country’s domestic league), where clubs must qualify each year in order to compete. By making themselves permanent members, the clubs would ensure a consistent share of the money generated annually by the league, primarily in the form of media payments, regardless of on-field performance.

The plan, announced in the middle of the domestic and Champions League calendars, was met with vehement and vocal opposition. Critics decried it as a naked grab at money and power, while others lamented the dramatic financial effects a Super League would exact on teams lower in the club ecosystem. In addition to the moral and legal questions, global soccer powers like the domestic leagues and FIFA said they would take steps to punish the teams and players that went along with the move.

(This story has been updated to add information on the departure of the English clubs in the second paragraph and additional context throughout.)

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