UEFA's Next Cash Grab: The Nations League
Back in the 1980s, before he was doing the bunga bunga as the disgraced Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi was a simple, billionaire media mogul looking for more cheap programing that could still draw good numbers.
In this light, he put forward a proposal that surprised European football federations with its audacity.
Berlusconi wanted to see a trans-European league that would be composed of the top clubs on the continent. Big markets, big ratings. Big profits, to be split with the big clubs.
Amid dire warnings of what this concept would do to the infrastructure of large and small nations alike, his concept was rebuffed by the various powers-that-were. However, Berlusconi did get the attention of the big clubs.
Ultimately, the Champions League came to be. It was a compromise of sorts, with the element of big markets replaced by the standard that the top teams in each nation's top tier would determine the League's composition on an annual basis.
To say the least, the Champions League has become one of the world's most successful sports enterprises.
With that in mind, the continent's governing body -- UEFA -- was inspired to consolidate other aspects of football under its jurisdiction. Naturally, this started with the money. UEFA usurped the authority of its member nations and centralized the broadcast rights for their international exhibition games, or friendlies. As it had to sanction each match, anyway, it was in prime negotiating position to do so.
Now comes word, leaked by the Norwegian and Swedish football associations, that UEFA wants to make these matches more attractive to ensure greater television ratings and, of course, greater revenues.
And the format broached is like a super-sized Champions League, but with tiering. It's yet to be determined how the divisions would be made, but here is one lineup that's been broached:
|Tier 1||England, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain|
|Tier 2||Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, France, Greece, Russia, Sweden|
|Tier 3||Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Switzerland, Ukraine|
|Tier 4||Irish Republic, Israel, Norway, Serbia, Slovakia, Turkey|
|Tier 5||Austria, Finland, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Slovenia|
|Tier 6||Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Scotland|
|Tier 7||Albania, Iceland, Lithuania, Macedonia, Northern Ireland, Wales|
|Tier 8||Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Moldova|
|Tier 9||Andorra, Faroe Islands, Gibraltar, Lichtenstein, Malta, San Marino|
Again, this is an early-stage proposal, but however divisions are decided, it's clear the Nations League is what UEFA wants. Still, that doesn't diminish the fact that numerous obstacles remain.
For example, the big nations do very well with friendlies against South American sides. Will there be room in the schedule for those now? What about African sides? How would the Europeans be able to prepare for them in run-ups to a World Cup? And how would Scotland feel about losing lucrative matches against England?
UEFA also proposes that there be promotion and relegation in these tiers, a proven format that keeps drama intense throughout the season.
Frankly, this will be an intruiging process. The big nations will most likely be the toughest to convince, not the least for the reasons mentioned above. As well, there's been a feeling for years that too much football is being scheduled. At what point is this going to subject top players to excessive risk of injury on the basis of fatigue alone?
However, for the moment, that's a rhetorical question. The priority is clearly how to milk the most money out of the broadcast industry. And that's far from a beautiful game.