What money can’t buy

Mark Stephens on the pushback against the European Super League, and how sport is so much more than just a commodity.

This week the European Super League did its best impersonation of a mayfly.

The mayfly is an aquatic insect, whose chief claim to fame is that its adult life lasts just 24 hours. One manic day to get it all done. Well, in the space of 48 hours, the European Super League for the absurdly soccer-privileged was summarily announced, derided, protested, and then dissolved (for the time being). Apparently treating your fans like meaningless junk has consequences. Who knew?

At the heart of the problem was that the Mayfly League, sorry, the Super League, brutally reduces sport to just a commodity. That’s it; a product to be marketed to a consumer, detached from a story, dislocated from place. As Michael Sandel says in his book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets:

“Putting a price on the good things in life can corrupt them. That’s because markets don’t only allocate goods; they also express and promote certain attitudes towards the goods being exchanged.”

Sport at its best is never just a commodity. At least not a commodity first and foremost. Sport has value and meaning because play is fundamental to what it means to be human; following a team involves embracing an entire story; and our joy is greatest when human contest is authentic rather than manufactured. Look, just watch Ted Lasso, alright.

Although it is often misquoted, the Bible says perceptively “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Money simply is not worthy of our love, so when we put it in the position of the ultimate, our endless reaching for more means we inevitably become less.