One of the factors that derailed the Super League in April was a strong intervention by FIFA President Gianni Infantino, who said: “We can only strongly disapprove of the creation of the Super League, a Super League that is a closed shop. «
Those words meant Infantino sided with UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, with whom he had occasionally clashed in the past during the proposed enlarged FIFA Club World Cup. But the condemnation of the “closed store” by the game’s governing body has left some, like Fiorentina and New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso, somewhat perplexed.
Commisso, a supporter of the pyramid scheme in the United States, believes that FIFA applies a double standard in its position on Super League compared to how it feels about Major League Soccer. (MLS is a “closed system,” meaning there is no pyramid and no promotion / relegation between leagues.) We met Commisso in early May in an extensive interview.
Q: How did you feel when you heard that the Super League was being played for the first time?
A: It was a very confusing moment for me, but very quickly everyone stood up. It certainly didn’t take me to stop it.
It took many years of planning and two days of destruction and they certainly didn’t do a very good job on the PR front. They just tried to copy parts of an American model and force it on Europe… well, that was never going to work, especially not the way they did. This sport is not about closed leagues …
Q: Super League supporters have argued that there is a need to make the game sustainable in the long term and continue to attract investment. But if you have a system where 15 of the 20 clubs are guaranteed a place in the top league, with everyone fighting each season for the other five places, you won’t get much social mobility. And people won’t invest further down the food chain.
I wonder if a lot of the investment the game has attracted in recent years would have happened under these circumstances. I don’t think only of you at Fiorentina, but of many other clubs, from Marseille to Southampton, from Burnley to Rome… why would someone inject money if it is almost impossible for them to climb? the mountain ?
A: When I bought Fiorentina two years ago, I was leaving a closed system in the US and investing in it because there was a chance to grow. I guarantee that if the Super League had been in place, I wouldn’t have put any money into it and [Dan] Friedkin in Roma.
The way I see it: the pie is the pie. The more it goes to the big clubs, the less there is for everyone. But you have to get your share of merit – not just be accepted by the big guys. Instead, we had a project that was led in part by some of the American owners of Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal who wanted a closed store where they stay rich and everyone gets poorer.
(Editor’s note: Driving forces behind the project also included Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, who is Spanish, and Juventus president, Andrea Agnelli, who is Italian.)
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Q: Basically the Super League would have meant that “founding” clubs with guaranteed seats would have received rental income. They couldn’t do anything if they wanted to and the money would still come back to them every year because they wouldn’t need to be there on merit. FIFA said it was unacceptable.
Were you surprised given that FIFA weren’t as supportive of promotion and relegation when it comes to North America and Major League Soccer? (Miami FC and Kingston Stockade took FIFA, CONCACAF and USSF to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and ultimately lost the case, with the verdict that although FIFA opposes the closed leagues, it could allow them in countries with no promotion / relegation history.)
A: I am not only passionate about this issue, I spent a lot of money on it. I bought the New York Cosmos to save them. Due to the 2026 World Cup, FIFA decided to apply different rules to CONCACAF [by allowing a closed league like MLS]. Well FIFA should have the same laws for everyone no matter where you are … it’s a global game.
Q: Have you spoken to FIFA about this?
A: Not yet. Maybe I would. But it’s just about us in America thinking we’re different and the global rules shouldn’t apply to us.
I understand. [MLS] « We just billed the owners of the new Charlotte club $ 300 million to get into our league … then we can’t just turn around and say ‘by the way, you might be relegated’. , in fact, I took the same risk at Fiorentina – about the same investment – and I risk being relegated. Well, that should be a part of how the game is played around the world.
You should ask FIFA. Or you say to me: why is there a double standard here?
Q: Well, I can’t speak for them, but the argument could be that FIFA wants to develop the game in the US and make the World Cup a success.
Part of how you develop the game is to attract investment. American investors are familiar with and comfortable with the closed league model because they know it from other sports. Maybe if there was a risk of relegation, the Charlotte guys might not have invested that much money and the region wouldn’t have a top team which means less infrastructure, less basic, less visibility for sport. So there is a “greater good” argument.
FIFA might say 2026 is a big deal, we want to level up in the US, MLS is a big part of it, we are not going to open that worm box until then.
A: Yeah, but it’s six years later… I won’t be here in six years, how long will I live? [laughs]
I think now is the time to act, and they should do it quickly. Also, there are plenty of ways to do this while preserving the investment of the guys who paid the recent franchise fees. Why can’t FIFA come out and say the standards should be the same all over the world? Infantino was powerful enough in Europe, why wasn’t he powerful in America? You know more than I do: explain to me, why is this the case?
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Q: I can’t put words in his mouth, I’m speculating, maybe he thinks the model they have now in the US is working and better not to tinker with it. At least not before the World Cup …
A: Well, when I started my trial there was not yet a 2026 World Cup in the United States. In fact, everyone I deal with at the American Football Federation (USSF) is gone: Carlos Cordeiro (USSF President, 2018-2020), Dan Flynn (USSF CEO, 2000 to 2019), Sunil Gulati (USSF President, 2006 to 2018)… it’s all gone. The faces have changed, but the system is the same. They don’t take care of the whole pyramid like they should.
And look, what have we accomplished in the past 25 years? Do you know a world famous MLS player? I don’t mean guys like Christian Pulisic or Giovanni Reyna or Weston McKennie who play in Europe, I mean guys in MLS… They still maintain a payroll of $ 20 million or $ 25 million a year, the clubs are all making money, but they’re not expressing the best of football… Watch TV rights…
(Editor’s note: Expenses available to MLS teams is capped at $ 9.225 million, with an average payroll of $ 12.3 million: the difference is the money spent on nominated players, who do not count towards the cap. The highest payroll for 2021 is Inter Miami CF, which is spending just under $ 18 million this season.)
Q: Continue …
A: Did you know that the TV money MLS makes from its national TV contract is significantly less than what NBC pays for the Premier League? Much less. And that’s for a foreign league that plays in the morning on weekends, not prime time.
Even the TV rights that we negotiated for Serie A with CBS are not significantly lower than what MLS gets for its TV rights. It’s a national league, right? In the world’s largest economy? But they don’t care. By limiting the salaries of the players and dividing the income they get, they can play the long game… other than investing in infrastructure, they don’t spend any kind of money to grow the sport.
Q: Last question from me on the New York Cosmos, probably still the biggest club brand in American football. Where are you now?
A: We played in the National Independent Football Association (NiSA) last year, didn’t generate any income because of COVID, and had all kinds of expenses. You know what it means to lead a club under these circumstances… and frankly, we haven’t had a good season. So because of the coronavirus and because of the conditions, we decided not to play in their championship. We’ll see where we are and we may or may not play in the fall. We first want to see where things are going with COVID, and also with our lawsuit against the USSF, which after four years is still unresolved.