Benfica chief executive opposes Super League but admits invitation would be hard to decline

13 November 2020

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Photo: PA Images "My opinion is I'm against that. Even if Benfica would be one of the clubs to play in the Super League," Benfica's chief executive officer, Domingos Soares de Oliveira tells offthepitch.com.

A European-wide league featuring only the biggest clubs would likely be a financial boost, but Benfica chief executive Domingos Soares de Oliveira prefers prosperity through other means.

He believes fans prefer the meritocracy of promotion and relegation, and that the efficacy of football is developed at the domestic level.

Benfica are largely dependant on a committed internationalisation strategy with 90 per cent of their sponsors coming from outside Portugal.

Emil Gjerding Nielson nielson@offthepitch.com

Despite the fact that a European Super League would likely result in a massive revenue increase for Benfica, the chief executive officer of the Portuguese mastodonts, Domingos Soares de Oliveira, has come out in opposition to its formation.

"My opinion is I'm against that. Even if Benfica would be one of the clubs to play in the Super League," Soares de Oliveira tells offthepitch.com.

However, at the same time he admits an invitation to a tournament of such nature would be hard to decline.

If you look to our history in terms of European football, the nature of it is developed at country level

"If it happens it's almost a no-brain decision. But I would prefer that not to happen," he says.

Soares de Oliveira's comments speak to the existential struggle leaders across European clubs have been facing for the past two decades since the idea of a breakaway league was first touted. 

Joining a transnational tournament would most certainly result in much higher income, but clubs risk disenfranchising themselves from their local markets and fan bases.

Fans favour domestic leagues

The former chief executive of multinational consultancy Capgemini for Spain and Portugal, Soares de Oliveira believes fans in general favour domestic leagues over international competitions.

"Contrary to what happened in the States, in Europe fans really love that you have the system of promotion and relegation. And the meritocracy is what is recognised by everyone," he says.

He first heard of the plans more than ten years ago in connection with G-14, the organisation of European football clubs that existed between 2000 and 2008 before it became the European Club Association (ECA). Soares de Oliveira himself served on the board of the ECA until last year.

"If you look to our history in terms of European football, the nature of it is developed at country level. International competitions are really important and of course everyone likes to be in the Champions League but the nature of it relies on the foundations which are done at the country level," he says.

However, he recognises bigger clubs' wish to play more in Europe.

"Of course, I can understand that some of the big clubs want to force this concept of a Super League," Soares de Oliveira says of what he calls a "never-ending story".

"But for our fans in terms of real competition it's always about what happens here in Portugal." 

Ultimate success criteria

So, how do Benfica then aim to compete with Europe's biggest clubs? Currently, the years of reaching the finals of the European Cup (now the Champions League) seem long gone, and two consecutive trophies as in 1961 and 1962 seem most improbable.

With a relatively small domestic market – Portugal has a population of about ten million – their strategy is heavily dependant on capitalising on the game's growing global interest.

Soares de Oliveira points to the fact that more than 90 per cent of the club's sponsors come from outside Portugal.

Besides that, spreading the teachings of their renowned academy is an important business strategy. 

"We have the methodology, the right people and the technology. Those three aspects together mean we can start an academy anywhere, in Miami or California, almost from scratch in a very short time," Soares de Oliveira says.

And all of this factors into what is his main responsibility: growing revenue so Benfica can eventually compete on equal footing with the usual European suspects. 

But at the end of the day he knows income won't be his ultimate success criteria. 

"100 per cent of our stakeholders expect us to generate results on the pitch and not off the pitch," he says.

"Every time we say we want to generate more revenue it's not because we want to be number one or two in the world in terms of revenue, it's because we want to have more means to invest on the pitch."