An alternative to the European Super League in soccer: The Regional
The Regional is a cross-country league competition that aims to preserve the underlying goals of the European Super League:
- More guaranteed games between “big” teams — Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Barcelona, AC Milan, Inter Milan & Juventus.
- Increased competition in perceived “dead” leagues — where long-term competition had died away and with it interest; Bayern Munich heading to 9 titles, Juventus winning 9 titles in a row, Paris Saint Germain’s domestic domination.
… without the downsides:
- “Closed” league lacking relegation or promotion.
- Crazy workload for players — who in the European Super League proposals would have been playing domestic league & cup competitions + European Super League + Champions League.
Sidebar: what we can’t solve for
There’s one element of the European Super League we can’t replicate without breaking football.
The European Super League put a floor on the valuation of the football clubs involved. In the US franchise system, your purchase of a team gets you more than than the team itself; it gets you one of 30 golden tickets to owning an NBA franchise (32 in the NFL — adjust accordingly). No matter the performance of your team, it still is and always will be, one of the 30 teams allowed to compete in the NBA. That has value that won’t go anyway
That guardrail doesn’t exist in football. Your team can crash to zero. Not only can it crash to zero, but it has the potential to spiral. See Wigan Athletic’s descent from the Premier League to administration. Losing begets losing money begets administration.
The European Super League eliminated this downside risk by guaranteeing a shared revenue for the 12 largest teams. The Regional can’t do that without eliminating the spirit of football.
Source of inspiration
- The Belgian & Dutch top-flight domestic leagues taking steps towards merging
- Despite all the American inspiration found in the Super League, I’ve worked with one of the least popular aspects of American leagues: conferences & coefficient competition scheduling. In short, teams in the NFL play guaranteed games against “close” geographic rivals within their conference, and an annually rotating “rival” conference.
How does The Regional work
Teams remain in their domestic leagues. Each year 2 domestic leagues are paired. Each year the pairings rotate, with the rotation set years in advance.
Teams play a mixture of games within their “domestic” league and their “partnered” league. The results are tabulated in a single combined league table.
The 2022 Regional: La Liga 𝑥 Premier League
In the spirit of how other sports name infrequent bilateral international competition (cricket’s Border-Gavaskar trophy or rugby’s Calcutta Cup), let’s call this the 2022 Catherine Trophy after Catherine of Aragon — the first historical Spanish-English connection I could find on Google!
A team in either La Liga or the Premier League currently play 38 games (there are 20 teams, so 19 games home and away). Let’s keep that 38 game schedule.
✅ A crazy workload for players…
In The Regional teams will play 9 teams from their own domestic league (home and away), 9 teams from the partnered competition (home and away), and 1 extra team from either competition (home and away). That’s a total of 38 games.
To illustrate this, let’s look at a potential season for Manchester City. I’ve randomly picked their 9 domestic opponents, 9 partnered opponents, and the extra team.
Using strength-of-schedule to encourage more “big games”
But how can we further guarantee the biggest games in football — the stated goal of the European Super League?
This hypothetical 2022 season will see Manchester City vs. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Atletico, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United.
But where is Manchester City vs. Liverpool? Or a local derby rival like Leeds? Here’s where we can lean on the US conference system — which admittedly, is a much derided system for its loosely connected idea of “regionality”.
Using a competitive coefficient that measures performance across seasons, we can ensure “great teams” play more “great teams”. A nice side effect is that this further boosts competition by allowing weaker sides a competitively “easier” schedule, until sustained success leads to harder games in subsequent seasons.
I’ve used Five Thirty Eight’s Global Club Rankings to pool teams into “strong” and “weaker” groups, and approximated a strength-of-schedule formula to randomly pick from within those pools. Here’s an alternate slate of opponents for Manchester City in the 2022 Regional: Catherine Trophy season.
This maximizes the number of “big games”, but penalizes the big teams with a harder schedule to boot. Hopefully this narrows the competitive gap between top and bottom, without costing smaller teams valuable marquee TV games.
We also don’t miss an opportunity for a big game when the leagues rotate. Manchester City are guaranteed at least 2 games a season against one or more of the very best of another nation.
✅ More guaranteed games between “big” teams…
Fixtures and travel
I won’t go to the depth of projecting ways to promote the least carbon-destructive travel schedule (flying England 🛫 Spain 🛫 England 🛫 Spain, week after week 😬), but you could see a season play out as followed.
Each team is following a similar pattern: 9 home and away games in their domestic league, 9 home and away with the partnered league, 1 extra home and away tie.
Final standings are combined to give us:
2022 Catherine Trophy Champion 🏆
The singular winner of the whole league.
2022 English & Spanish Champions 🇪🇸🏴
Secondary awards to the highest placed English or Spanish side. Similar to a conference champion in US sports.
Champions League & Europa League qualifiers 🇪🇺
Currently both La Liga and the Premier League have 4 qualifying spots for the Champions League (there’s oddities with domestic cups, but I’ll sidestep that for now).
We don’t want one country dominating the table, so we protect a minimum of 50% of the originally allocated European qualification spots for either country.
For example, our 2022 Regional: Catherine Trophy would have 8 Champions League qualifying spots. A minimum of 2 teams from Spain and 2 teams from England will qualify. The remaining spots are assigned on merit.
There are 6 relegations spots, but again, we don’t want to neuter the lower divisions of football by creating a scenario where all 6 relegation spots are occupied by English teams — thus locking out the champion of the Spanish Segunda.
Therefore, a minimum of 2 teams will be relegated from the league, with the remaining spots based on (de)merit.
✅ A “closed” league lacking relegation or promotion…
Here’s our final standings. I’ve just taken the 2019/2020 domestic league tables and combined them as supposed to making any projections based on real fixtures — perhaps a fun experiment down the line!
Would this season have been a 4-way title race between Liverpool, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Manchester City? Celta Vigo having to win in Birmingham against Aston Villa on the final day of the season to stay up.
Think about the following 2023 season, when the English Premier League is scheduled to pair with the Dutch Eredivisie, whilst the Spanish La Liga will be paired with the French Ligue 1.
Barcelona and Real Madrid going head-to-head with Paris Saint Germain to get back to championship winning ways. Whist Arsenal (who missed out on European football during the 2022 Regional) will expect to bounce back against a relatively weaker Eredivisie, during the 2023 Regional: Rose-Tulip Trophy.
A final variation
Why stop at pairing 2 leagues together? If you want to retain more domestic matches in your league, you could pair 3 or more leagues together. Consider Manchester City playing playing 9 teams from their own domestic league 🏴, then 5 and 5 from Serie A 🇮🇹 and La Liga 🇪🇸.
Perhaps a similar pairing of leagues for weaker European competitions; perhaps a 🏴 Scottish Premier League paired with the 🇵🇹 Portuguese Primeira Liga.