Football losing battle with US sports, calls for ESL revival

Florentino Perez said that football is “sick” and “losing the global entertainment battle” with US sports, and he backed the dormant European Super League (ESL) project as the way to retain its position as the world’s most popular sport.

The Real Madrid president — who was speaking at the club’s annual general meeting on Sunday — has been one of the breakaway competition’s most high-profile backers since its attempted launch in April 2021.

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The ESL and football’s governing bodies are pending a ruling from the European Court of Justice, due in December, on whether UEFA’s attempts to block the Super League breached European competition laws.

“To fix a problem, you have to first recognize that you have a problem,” Perez said. “Our sport is sick. It’s losing its leadership as a global sport … We mustn’t be confused by the impact of Real Madrid’s European Cup run [in the Champions League last season] when we were involved in seven games of the highest intensity and interest.

“That was the result of the draw, and of the quality and greatness of our team. It was a spectacle that helped bring excitement back to the viewers. That’s why we believe European Competitions must change, to offer fans top-level games year- round between the strongest teams, with the best players competing.”

Perez compared the number of times that major European clubs face each other to the number of top-level meetings in other sports.

“In tennis, [Rafa] Nadal and [Roger] Federer has played 40 times in 15 years. Nadal and [Novak] Djokovic has played 59 matches in 16 years,” he said. “In football we’ve only played Liverpool nine times in 67 years. We’ve played Chelsea four times in the history of the European Cup. What sense does it make to deprive fans of all these games?”

Perez highlighted a recent Forbes ranking that suggested football clubs are falling behind United States teams.

“We were top in all sports, and now we’ve fallen to 13th,” he said. “We’ve been overtaken by 12 clubs from American sports. They must be doing something very well in the United States and very badly in Europe … Football is losing the global entertainment battle against other sports and other platforms.”

Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus are the remaining three of the ESL’s 12 founding clubs that have maintained their public support for the project, after the withdrawal of its six Premier League members — Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham — sparked its collapse in April 2021.

“We need a professional, modern, transparent management, not based on old structures designed in the last century,” Perez said. “Recently the chairman of the European Clubs’ Association [Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi] said — talking about the Super League — that Real Madrid are afraid of the competition. Maybe the president of the ECA has to be reminded who Real Madrid are. Competition is in our DNA.”

The annual general meeting saw members approve Real Madrid’s accounts for the 2021-22 season, which showed a narrow €13 million profit, and confirm the appointment of club legend Amancio Amaro as its honorary president following the death of Paco Gento.

Members also voted in favor of a plan to revive the club’s third team, known as Real Madrid C — which was dissolved in 2015 — by absorbing Madrid’s Club RSC Internacional FC.

The move is intended to provide a smoother transition between the club’s academy teams up to under-19 level and the reserve team, Castilla.

Meanwhile, in an extraordinary general meeting held after the AGM, members voted almost unanimously — with 1500 votes in favor and 10 against — to tighten the criteria for candidates to the club’s presidency and board, requiring them to be able to provide a guarantee for 15% of the club’s annual budget.