While the final decision from the European Union Court of Justice is not expected until mid-December, there have been a number of noteworthy developments in the legal fight between UEFA and the remnants of the European Super League over the last few months. While they may not be a perfect indicator, they do give us some idea of which way this legal battle may be headed.
Initial Spanish Commercial Court Injunction is finally flushed
After the ESL suffered a massive PR implosion within hours of its unveiling, the remaining few hardcore members were successful in getting an initial injunction preventing UEFA from punishing the various breakaway teams (primarily by not inviting UEFA to the hearing). For those of you who don’t recall the initial legal skirmishes that got us to this point, we covered the not-so-sound reasoning of Judge Manu Ruiz de Lara in some detail.
While Florentino Perez and the executives at Juventus and Barcelona crowed about this initial decision to prevent UEFA from punishing the ESL founding teams, a more recent decision from the Spanish Courts on this front has gotten much less coverage. In April of this year the initial decision by Ruiz de Lara finally made its way up in the Spanish Court system and it was overturned in its entirety, removing all barriers to UEFA punishing the breakaway clubs.
As reported by The Athletic (and many other sources) Spanish Judge Sofia Gil ended the flawed injunction holding that the evidence did not support the findings that Ruiz de Lara had initially made. Thus the initial decision (criticized heavily both here and by many other legal analysts) was overturned in its entirety.
European Court of Justice Arguments
The ESL case against UEFA’s punishments of the rogue clubs and challenging UEFA’s and FIFA’s position as both regulators of the sport and organizers of competitions was heard by the European Union’s Court of Justice in front of the grand panel of 15 judges in July of this year. With a 15 judge panel, the court has authority to do just about anything it wants with the issue.
While the legal arguments would take too long to detail, many observers believe that a key indicator of which way the wind is blowing are the positions taken by the 20 EU states and Norway (not an EU member but granted standing nonetheless). The court often gives serious deference to what governments suggest is good policy. Of the twenty-one countries making arguments, 20 were opposed to the ESL and supportive of UEFA/FIFA’s position. The remaining country (Germany) did not support either side, making one wonder if their lawyers simply wanted a free vacation in Luxembourg for a few days.
Liverpool hands veto to the fans
In another blow to Florentino’s dreams, Liverpool has effectively taken itself out of the ESL running for the foreseeable future.
During the fan relations nightmare that followed the announcement of Liverpool joining the ESL project, the club floated the idea of a supporter’s board to have input on the running of the club. After 16 months of negotiating and consultations, that board became a reality in August of this year.
With only a consulting role on many issues (ticket prices and fan experience for example), the board at first blush appears to be a bit of a paper tiger. But the one legal stick that has been given to the supporter’s board is a full veto right over any effort by Liverpool to join any new leagues.
The new board and its critical authority has been enshrined Liverpool’s articles of incorporation which means that the decision is binding on any new owners if the Fenway Sports Group sells the club.
CBS bets on UEFA
Also in August of this year, Paramount Global entered into a massive new broadcast agreement for the Champions League, committing 1.5 billion dollars for six seasons through the 2029-2030 season. This covers U.S. English language media rights. At 250 million a season this represents a massive increase from the current deal of 100 million a season, although it will cover many more games when the Champions League changes to its new format.
Industry experts speculate that in doing their due diligence on this record breaking agreement, the lawyers for Paramount Global (CBS parent company) must have effectively “handicapped” the outcome of the court case — and based on the number involved, seemed to have advised the corporations that the UEFA/FIFA product is likely to retain its dominant market position for the foreseeable future.
Predicting court decisions like this one can be a very tricky business. The case could go either way. One distinct possibility is that the court will confirm UEFA/FIFA’s right to regulate and organize the way they do currently, but rule that some of the draconian measures levied against players — e.g. being banned from playing for their national team if they are under contract to a club playing in a breakaway league — is too harsh and not enforceable. While this would still effectively put the final stake through the ESL’s heart, it would also allow the court to stick up for the “little guy”, the players who were caught in the middle of this distasteful fight.
Feel free to give us your predictions on the outcome of the ESL v. UEFA court battle below.