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Soccer the Sport Must Stop. Soccer the Business Probably Can’t.


If broadcasters did not view soccer less as a game but more as content that has cost millions of dollars to acquire (each Premier League game broadcast in Britain cost its host domestic network $16 million), then perhaps the season could be canceled, or ended prematurely.

If UEFA did not have to factor in its sponsorship deals, shifting this summer’s European Championships back a year would be far simpler. If FIFA were not determined to muscle in on the riches available in the club game with its revamped, expanded Club World Cup in 2021, there would be more slack — and more good will — for what seems, at this point, the most obvious initial measure.

And if teams were not, at heart, businesses reliant on prize money, perhaps the consequences of annulling the season would not be quite so stark. Much of the focus, naturally, would be on which teams would win each national title — Liverpool, waiting three decades to be crowned champion, only to be denied when that is in its grasp — but the real complications would be lower down. Who would qualify for the Champions League, and its lucrative prize pot? Who would be promoted and relegated, and how could that be organized without legal challenge?

That is the problem that UEFA, and all of those bodies invited to dial in on Tuesday to try to draw up a road map out of this crisis, will try to untangle. Soccer, in the face of a pandemic that could cost hundreds of thousands of lives, clearly does not matter, not in any real sense. Postpone it, cancel it, whatever. There are more important things to think about. It is a sport, after all.

But it is not only a sport; it is also a business. And that business, worryingly, may not be able to afford to stop, may not be prepared to countenance the idea that it should, no matter how close the waters are lapping at its feet, no matter how great the flood.

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