The sports governance model, the Super league case and related legal issues

The sports governance model raises legal issues that have also emerged regarding the recent Super League case.

European sport is based on a model of sports governance that arose from the need to provide structure and stability to competitions by establishing both technical and organizational rules.  Therefore, the system of sport was created through sports associations, which have progressively aggregated and “federated” into larger and larger organizations, giving rise to national and international federations.

To function, the sports system is therefore based on self-governing bodies constituted by international federations related to each sport, which collaborate with the International Olympic Committee and are composed of the various national federations.  The national federations, in particular, are called upon to organize and manage the sports product on behalf of and for the benefit of the various entities belonging to a given discipline, to guarantee the regularity of competitions, to regulate the purchase of the sports product by TV and media and investments by sponsors.  In the world of soccer, the issue of sports governance takes on even greater importance.  It raises major legal problems, given that in European markets, soccer is the game that, more than any other sport, is driven by significant economic interests.  It is no coincidence that creating an alternative competition to those organized by the relative international federations stems from the need to revise the marketing model of the same, considered by some clubs to be unsatisfactory.

The Super League project has been set aside for the moment due to the protests of the clubs’ fans and the resistance of some critical members of the football world.  Still, the regularity with which it is being proposed and the possibility that the Super League will be relaunched make it necessary to reflect on the legal consequences that the implementation of such a project may entail.

The thesis of the clubs proposing the project is that, contrary to other sports competition markets, UEFA and FIFA strenuously maintain and defend a monopolistic position in European soccer that goes against competition law, despite the efforts of other players to enter the market.

In contrast, in late 2021, the European Union adopted an EU Council Resolution on the European Model of Sport calling for strengthening organized sport based on European values and protecting it from threats such as closed competitions.  Using UEFA as an example of a governance model, member states recognized the central role of federations in overseeing the organization and operation of their respective sports.  EU member states have, therefore, explicitly confirmed the fundamental characteristics of the European sports model: a pyramid structure within an open system of promotions and relegations, in which the role of sport takes on social and educational connotations and functions.

The basic choice has been clear for the moment.  It is not yet time to give in to a competitive environment in sports on the US model in which: (i) team owners enjoy management autonomy over merchandising operations inside stadiums and collaborate with their competitors to offer the best possible product; and (i) various teams cooperate to improve both the spectacle and the championship in its entirety.

You can read the article “Esports IP rights license agreements among publishers, clubs and sports leagues” on a similar topic.

Photo by Thomas Serer on Unsplash

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Vincenzo Giuffré

Lawyer at DLA Piper IPT Italy, Milan| Gambling and Gaming Sector| eSports, Media, Sports and Entertainment | Bocconi University | University of Minnesota - W. Mondale Law School | Visiting Student at National University of Singapore (NUS)
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