The billionaire owner of the Miami Dolphins wants the Premier League’s most powerful clubs to sign up to a global summer tournament business which could ultimately develop into a pre-season rival to the Champions League.
Talks between the chief executives of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City and senior figures of Stephen Ross’s Relevent Sports took place in London on Tuesday at the instigation of the American events company.
And although discussions covered issues such as the forthcoming International Champions Cup (ICC) this summer – to be staged in the United States, China and Australia – and possible changes to the Champions League format, Relevent’s primary objective was to convince English football’s big five of the merits of becoming equity partners in the business.
Should the top-flight clubs – which are all under foreign ownership – accept the proposal, it would involve a commitment to play in key football markets every summer, as well as a readiness to explore similar post-season opportunities and potential mini-tournaments, should a Premier League winter break becoming a reality.
In return, the Premier League clubs would be offered shares and the prospect of a future sale to a media company should the concept succeed. But while fears of a breakaway to form a European Super League were immediately raised by images of the United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre, Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis, Manchester City’s Ferran Soriano and Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck emerging from the Dorchester Hotel on Tuesday, it is understood that Ross and Relevent currently have no interest, or indeed the capability, to launch a rival to Uefa’s Champions League.
Senior figures from all clubs involved have privately dismissed the prospect of a breakaway, with all insisting that they are happy with the current landscape of the Premier League and Champions League.
But Arsenal went further, insisting publicly that they are not pursuing any kind of break from either competition.
“We are strongly opposed to any breakaway,” an Arsenal spokesman said. “Not Arsenal, nor any clubs at the meeting, are seeking changes to the Premier League and European landscape and no conversations surrounding displacing the Premier League or starting a European Super League took place.
“Discussions were primarily around the ICC and formats of European competitions that would complement the existing Premier League.”
United, Liverpool, City and Chelsea have all participated in the ICC over the past two years, with United and Liverpool playing at the home of Ross’s NFL franchise in Miami in the final of the competition in 2014.
Ross, 75, secured a 95 per cent stake in the Dolphins in 2009 for $1.1bn (£800m), but the American real estate developer is understood to be determined to expand his sports portfolio to the extent that the ICC becomes the leading summer tournament for the world’s biggest clubs.
In 2014, Relevent promoted the friendly between United and Real Madrid which attracted 109,000 – the biggest-ever crowd to watch a football game in the States – at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.
United and Liverpool are due to compete in the tournament again this summer, with City confirmed participants in the China series and Juventus, Tottenham and Atletico Madrid already signed up to play in the Australian leg.
Uefa has insisted, meanwhile, that the Champions League will continue to evolve, but there are growing fears among European clubs that the escalating wealth of Premier League teams from broadcasting revenue will see English clubs become increasingly powerful.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the Bayern Munich chairman, claimed in January that the solution could yet be a European Super League.
“In the future, I can see a tournament consisting of 20 teams from Italy, England, Spain, Germany and France,” Rummenigge said. “It is an idea born some time ago.
“I see that in the top five leagues in Europe: the big teams are always getting stronger and stronger.
“A super league outside of the Champions League is being born. It will either be led by Uefa or by a separate entity, because there is a limit to how much money can be made.”
Despite Rummenigge’s prediction, however, the leading Premier League clubs continue to insist that no efforts are being made to pull away from the Champions League.
Who is Stephen Ross?
Born 10 May 1940, Detroit
American businessman and real estate owner with a net worth of £3.4bn. He gained a degree in accounting in 1962 from the University of Michigan, to which he has since donated $300m.
He founded a real estate firm, The Related Companies, in 1972 and developed the Time Warner Center in New York. Bought a 50 per cent stake in the Miami Dolphins in 2008 and acquired the rest a year later, the deal totalling $1.1bn. Has encouraged celebrities and sports stars to invest in the Dolphins, including Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, and the Williams sisters.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies