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Will Real Madrid Abandon La Liga? Its President Maps a Way Out



Real Madrid’s president, Florentino Pérez, recently held talks with officials from some of Europe’s leading soccer clubs, as well as the FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, to outline his vision for the sport. What he is proposing, according to people familiar with the conversations, is nothing less than a groundbreaking power shift in the club game.

One elite competition comprising the world’s richest clubs, untethered from their domestic leagues for a new full-season competition. Domestic leagues stripped of their biggest and most historic brands. And thousands of top-division games rendered far less valuable to everyone from sponsors to broadcasters to, perhaps most important, fans.

With financing in the works and the clout of Real Madrid backing the venture, and with the game’s officials beginning to sketch the framework of the new global soccer calendar that will take effect after 2024, the outlines of a European super league could be closer than before.

At the heart of Pérez’s plan is his long-held desire for Europe’s biggest teams, like his, to break away from their domestic leagues and form an elite European competition that would be played across an entire season, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The current iteration of the plan would see two 20-team divisions, composed almost exclusively of clubs from Europe’s five biggest leagues: England, Spain, France, Germany and Italy. Some clubs have been told that, according to projections, they could expect to double their revenues by leaving their domestic leagues to join. The concept of promotion and relegation — a fixture of world soccer that rewards success and punishes failure — would be retained, but only between the two divisions.

The proposal most likely would meet fierce resistance. At a stroke any such competition would decimate the value of domestic league matches, but by taking the best teams they also could destroy the value of the Champions League, the world’s richest club championship and the financial engine of European soccer’s governing body, UEFA.

Pérez, who as Real Madrid’s president became a founding member of a new global association for international clubs when it was begun last month at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich, declined, through the club, to comment on his proposals. During his visit to Zurich, though, he discussed his ideas with Infantino, who has spent much of the past year pushing his own idea about how to remake club soccer.

Infantino’s vision for club soccer has largely been focused on the creation of a new 24-team Club World Cup that will begin play in 2021, but he also has a broader vision for FIFA, the game’s global governing body, to have a stronger hand in club soccer.

Only last week, for example, he pushed the idea of investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a new pan-African league, as a means to increase quality there and also slow the global talent drain to Europe. The FIFA president has also had talks with national associations in Asia about the possibility of creating regional or subregional leagues there, and conversations with President Trump about the quality of soccer in the top United States league.

“One of the FIFA president’s duties is to listen to stakeholders’ perspectives about relevant topics for football,” FIFA said in a statement in response to questions about Infantino’s discussions with Pérez and others about changes to the club game. “FIFA believes that an open and constructive dialogue between different members of the football community is essential to find the right balance and the best solutions for the future of the game.

“FIFA (including the president) has met with football clubs from around the world in order to discuss how to make the new FIFA Club World Cup an outstanding success, in particular, from a sporting point of view.”

Real Madrid, through a spokesman, said that it never comments on private talks and that any news related to its president would be released only through official club channels.

Without Infantino’s patronage, Pérez’s plans would not get very far. The FIFA leader told reporters in November 2018 — when details of a previous attempt at a breakaway league backed by Pérez leaked — that any players who participated in any breakaway competition that had not been sanctioned by FIFA would be barred from their national teams and unable to play in the World Cup.

While the new talks about Pérez’s proposals remain at an exploratory stage, they are taking place as clubs continue to discuss the future of the Champions League. That competition could be rendered meaningless if Pérez’s venture — which is said to include significant moneymaking incentives for a select group of top clubs — were to come to fruition.

Money is the driving force behind all the restructuring plans, with the biggest clubs believing they could generate more viewership and more sponsor interest, and thus much more revenue, through more frequent elite-level games. But the support of Infantino and FIFA, should they grant it, could shift control of club soccer away from its usual power base in continental federations like UEFA.

Under Infantino, who assumed the FIFA presidency in 2016, FIFA has increasingly looked for ways to increase its influence on (and profit from) club soccer. The current annual version of the Club World Cup — featuring one team from soccer’s six regional bodies and one from the host nation — generates little interest in much of the world. The latest edition kicks off next week in Qatar.

Infantino’s reasoning appears to be that by increasing the standard of club soccer in Africa, Asia and elsewhere, FIFA would create conditions for investors — who have long poured their billions of dollars into European soccer — to see value in doing so around the world.

“The statutory mission of FIFA is to develop football at a worldwide level,” FIFA’s statement said. “This involves formulating plans and competition concepts to bring on club football everywhere.”

It added, “We want the European clubs to further grow, because that is good for world football, but at the same time we want to see clubs from outside Europe to grow as well so that one day they can compete with the European clubs.”

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The Quiet Confidence of Naomi Osaka



MELBOURNE, Australia — As the reigning Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka opened her season earlier this month, she checked herself as she expressed her goals for the rest of the year.

“I think just to try as hard as I can every match,” Osaka said. “Because for me, when I feel like I do that, I somehow end up winning the match, no matter what.” As she heard herself, her eyes widened. “Oh, that sounds really arrogant,” she said, clearly embarrassed.

Osaka had spoken into a microphone what she has already made clear with her racket over the past two years: Underneath her quiet demeanor, she has an assured confidence that has helped carry her to two Grand Slam titles. She may be soft-spoken in public, but she is also steely and determined.

Osaka, 22, showed that mettle most unmistakably during the 2018 United States Open final against Serena Williams, closing out a title even as Williams got into heated arguments with the umpire over penalties and the crowd booed what they felt was unfair treatment for the 23-time Grand Slam champion.

She followed up that victory by winning the Australian Open last year. Now, as the No. 3 seed, Osaka has beaten 42nd-ranked Zheng Saisai in a second-round match, 6-2, 6-4, and she will face the 15-year-old phenom Coco Gauff in the next round.

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Massive brawl breaks out at end of Kansas-Kansas State | College Basketball on ESPN




In the closing moments of Kansas State vs. Kansas, the Jayhawks’ Silvio De Sousa stares down the Wildcats’ DaJuan Gordon after a block, and the two teams break out in a fight.

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California could become America’s sports betting capital



Two years after the U.S. Supreme Court removed legal barriers to sports betting, California voters could be asked in November to join 14 other states in allowing legal wagers on athletic contests, creating a lucrative industry worth billions of dollars and intense competition among rival gambling interests in the state.

On Tuesday, a coalition of 18 Native American tribes was given approval to begin circulating petitions for a statewide ballot initiative that would allow sports betting at tribal casinos and horse racing tracks, but not at rival card clubs or on the internet.

“This is an important step in helping ensure sports wagering is restricted to adults over 21 at highly regulated and experienced locations,” said Mark Macarro, tribal chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, which operates a casino in Temecula. “The measure will also result in new revenue for mental health programs and vital services like public safety and education.”

Card clubs vowed to campaign against the tribal casino proposal and instead support another ballot measure being considered by the California Legislature that would apply to a larger group of gambling interests.

California voters have given their blessing to legalized gambling three times — first through the creation of a statewide lottery in 1984, then by authorizing tribal casino operations with ballot measures approved in 1998 and 2000.

The stakes are high both for the state and companies that might be licensed to offer sports betting, said Assemblyman Adam Gray (D-Merced), a leading proponent for legalized sports betting and chairman of the powerful Assembly Governmental Organization Committee.

A legal sports betting market could bring in $2.5 billion in gross revenue annually in California, the largest market in the country, according to Chris Grove, a managing director for Eilers and Krejcik Gambling LLC, a research and consulting firm that has provided estimates to California lawmakers.

The market could generate $250 million to $500 million in tax revenue for the state based on whether the tax rate is 10% or 20%, Gray said.

“It is clear that we are quickly heading in the direction of a well-thought-out, legal sports betting framework here in California,” Gray said at a hearing earlier this month. “We need to create this framework to ensure regulatory oversight and provide consumer protections to get this long-standing and emerging activity out of the shadows of the illicit or black market.”

A national wave of new gambling laws was triggered by a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a federal prohibition on sports wagering. Betting on football, baseball and other sports is allowed in 14 states, including Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

In response to the court decision, Gray and state Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa) have each introduced legislation that would put a constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot as early as November to allow sports betting. To make the ballot, lawmakers have until late June to overcome the divisions in the state gambling industry over how to allow sports betting, and groups such as professional sports leagues and law enforcement are already weighing in.

California is home to the most professional sports teams in the nation, including four National Basketball Assn. teams and three National Football League franchises, as well as powerhouse university teams from UCLA and USC. Lawyers for the National Basketball Assn. and Major League Baseball have told lawmakers that they are supportive of the concept of a constitutional amendment, but want to make sure any new system protects consumers and the integrity of the games.

“Our view is that sports betting properly regulated can have benefits to bring betting out of the shadows and into the sunlight, to give us tools to allow us to monitor betting on our games and to protect the fans who bet on sports,” said Dan Spillane, senior vice president and assistant general counsel for the NBA at this month’s hearing at the state Capitol.

Pro league representatives said any system should include consumer protections, including the vetting of operators, age restrictions, gambling addiction programs and requirements that the sports leagues are the sources of data used to set odds and settle bets.

California’s system should also seek to allow betting over the internet and smartphones using state-licensed sites so the legal system can compete and reduce the black market, league officials say.

Because Major League Baseball has five teams in California, the most of any state, “it’s really important that California get it right, particularly because this will be the largest betting market in the country and it will be a state that other states look to,” Brian Seeley, a senior league vice president and deputy general counsel for Major League Baseball, told lawmakers this month.

Online gambling can also be lucrative for a state. New Jersey saw some $2.9 billion in sports bets at retail and online sportsbooks in the first year after it began allowing the wagering in June 2018, with 81% of the money wagered online, Grove said.

“It’s clear that if we truly want to take illegal sports betting out of the shadows, there needs to be an online component for those who won’t patronize brick-and-mortar outlets,” Dodd said. “Without that, it will remain largely unregulated, continue to pose the risk of fraud and fail to generate funds for education or help with problem gambling.”

Tribal leaders dispute that mobile betting should be allowed and their initiative would only allow betting at racetracks and at casinos, where patrons might be more likely to participate in other gambling activities as well.

Security and privacy issues have also been cited by opponents of mobile betting.

“Voters have very real and serious concerns about mobile sports betting and would be highly likely to oppose a measure that allows online betting,” said Jacob Mejia, a spokesman for the coalition of tribal casino operators, who added that the tribes don’t rule out allowing online betting in the future.

Legal experts say federal law regarding Native American tribes may be an obstacle to offering internet betting. The proposed initiative would also expand tribal-state compact powers to allow craps and roulette at tribal casinos.

The tribes’ initiative, which would put a 10% tax on gross gaming revenues derived from sports wagering, has a good chance of qualifying for the ballot given the deep pockets of tribal casino operators, who must collect valid signatures from 997,139 registered voters.

The tribes spent $33 million in 2004 to defeat a ballot measure that would have allowed racetracks and card clubs to operate slot machines.

Tribes and their lobbyists also have influence in the legislative process, having cultivated close relationships with lawmakers. Five of the biggest tribal donors pushing the initiative spent a total of $2.1 million on political contributions last year as well as $1.1 million on lobbying state government. On Thursday, several tribes co-hosted an annual party welcoming lawmakers back to Sacramento for the legislative year, offering cocktails, gourmet food and a live show by rapper Lil Jon.

The more than 50 non-tribal card clubs represented by the California Gaming Assn. are already gearing up to fight the tribal initiative and weigh in with legislators on the ballot measures proposed by Gray and Dodd, said the association’s president, Kyle Kirkland.

The initiative “gives the sports wagering just to the tribes with no real benefit for California,” Kirkland said, noting that mobile betting would allow residents in cities such as Los Angeles that do not have tribal casinos the ability to gamble without driving long distances.

Florida-based gambling industry attorney Daniel Wallach also has advised lawmakers that they should allow sports betting at sports venues such as Staples Center, home to the Lakers and Clippers basketball teams, if they want the most robust legal market possible.

“You take the activity to where the action is,” Wallach said.

He said he is convinced that the Legislature can legalize sports betting in California without going to the voters to change the state Constitution, but legal experts with the Legislature believe a ballot measure is required.

It will take a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to put a measure on the ballot, and some lawmakers at this month’s first public hearing had concerns and questions about the various proposals. Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), a former sheriff’s captain, said he had “a bit of trepidation” about the promise of riches for the state treasury, noting that revenue projections from the legal cannabis industry and lottery have also fallen short of predictions.

The proposals are opposed by the California Coalition Against Gambling Expansion, which is especially concerned about allowing online bets.

“It basically puts a casino in the pocket of every youth potentially and every gambling addict,” said Fred Jones, the group’s attorney. “They don’t have to go anywhere. They have got it right there in their smartphone.”

Dodd, who is chairman of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee, argued the state and its residents are missing out by keeping betting illegal.

“Though sports betting remains illegal in our state, the fact remains that Californians have and will continue to wager billions of dollars every single year on their favorite sport,” Dodd said. “I for one believe we must bring sports betting out of the shadows in a manner that provides the best deal for the state of California and provides maximum protections for our constituents.”

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