The world is changing so rapidly that Plato’s saying – “necessity is the mother of all undertakings and inventions” – is becoming increasingly relevant. And sport illustrates this trend in the best possible way. Could it have been imagined 20 years ago that the World Cup final would be held in the desert? Or the Italian Super Cup in Libya, China and Saudi Arabia? All this is a manifestation of the main motivating factors – the expansion of influence and the search for the greatest profit.
The announcement of UEFA’s plans to host the Champions League final in the United States fits seamlessly into this outline. It is expected that such a format will be considered at the next meeting of the organization’s general assembly in Istanbul. The leadership of the Union of European Football Associations believes that strengthening its position in the US market will increase sales of sponsorship and television rights. At the end of August, UEFA already confirmed its seriousness when it sold Paramount Global television rights to show matches of the Champions League, Europa League and other tournaments under its auspices. What to expect next and who can destroy this dream?
The Americans paid UEFA $ 1.5 billion for the rights to show the Champions League
UEFA managed to significantly increase the cost of the agreement with Paramount Global. The Americans paid $1.5 billion to show top European matches over six seasons – the previous contract was $100 million per season, and now it will be $250 million. The deal will take effect from the 2024/2025 campaign, when it is introduced a new format for the Champions League according to the so-called “Swiss model” with an expansion of the number of participants to 36 teams and an increase in the number of matches. The 32-team group stage will be replaced by the Swiss system, in which each team will play 10 matches: five at home and five away.
According to The Athletic’s Adam Crafton, UEFA boss Aleksander Čeferin is looking to start his American expansion with a few Champions League group stage games in New York, Miami or Los Angeles. Next, hold the final of the tournament in the USA, and ideally, organize the “Final Four” of the Champions League overseas. Such an idea arose back in the covid 2020, when UEFA was forced to squeeze the finals of its two club competitions into a small August window.
Photo: Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images
UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin dreams of bringing the Champions Cup to America
In order to start the 2020/2021 season on time, UEFA abandoned the home and away format of the quarter-finals and semi-finals and completed the Champions League in 12 days in Portugal, as well as the Europa League in the same period in Germany. Since the games were played in empty stadiums, there were no problems with team accommodations, expensive tickets, and a busy schedule of matches contributed to good television interest traffic. The players also liked it – there is no need to cover thousands of kilometers for flights.
The forced practice turned out well and also made a huge impression on Čeferin, UEFA’s commercial department and Team Marketing, the Swiss agency that the Union has been using for 30 years to sell the rights to broadcast UCL matches around the world. The four finalists gathered in one large city, many events with expensive tickets, attracting a new audience, unprecedented excitement and drive. What broadcaster, sponsor or club accountant doesn’t roll their eyes at the expectation of a fantastic profit? Provided that such a football feast is held in the USA, incomes can be multiplied several times.
The match between Barça and Juventus in Dallas attracted 92 thousand spectators
This spring, UEFA enlisted the support of one of the most influential figures in European football, PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi. In addition to running the Parisian club, the manager is chairman of the global sports channel network beIN Sport, UEFA’s broadcast partner in the Middle East and North Africa. “I don’t understand how the Super Bowl can be bigger and more attractive than the Champions League final,” Čeferin supported his closest associate.
UEFA leaders are working in the right direction. The May 2021/2022 Champions League final was watched by a record 2.76 million TV viewers in the United States. This is 23% more than the previous season’s Champions League decisive match between Chelsea and Manchester City (2.1 million). The hype surrounding the Clásico is a testament to the huge potential of hosting matches for top European clubs in the United States. On July 23, in Las Vegas, 65,000 spectators watched the clash between Barcelona and Real Madrid as part of a tour of America. Three days later, the Catalans fought Juventus in Dallas and showed space numbers – 92,100 spectators. It is possible that the performance in official matches will completely beat all conceivable records.
Real Madrid – Barcelona. pre-season match
Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Clasico in Las Vegas
The expansion of European club football to the Americas is a step ahead of UEFA in light of the 2026 World Cup being held in the United States, Canada and Mexico, and a way to counter fierce competition from FIFA. It’s no secret that the International Football Federation, led by the greedy Gianni Infantino, is trying not only to monopolize national team matches, but also to profit from club football. The main tool in this field is the FIFA Club World Cup. At the beginning of 2022, this tournament was held in the usual format for cutting the winners of each confederation, but from the next season it should change.
European clubs do not want to be played by FIFA
According to Infantino’s plan, next year in China for three weeks, 24 clubs from all continents should compete for the title of the best team in the world – eight from Europe, six from South America, three each from Africa, Asia, CONCACAF and one from Oceania. However, the Association of European Clubs (Liverpool, Juventus, Ajax, Manchester United and 11 other top clubs) announced to FIFA that they were boycotting the Club World Cup due to the overloaded international calendar.
“We are the heart of world football and we ourselves must drive change. We will not tolerate the adoption of key decisions without our participation. We are against a new 24-team Club World Cup and demand fewer international windows,” raged the head of the association, Andrea Agnelli.
Roman Abramovich and Cesar Azpilicueta with the trophy for winning the FIFA Club World Cup
Photo: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images
FIFA promises European clubs huge incomes from participation in the World Cup, but so far their position is unshakable. This development plays into the hands of UEFA, which is looking for a way to compensate for covid losses and is developing new formats to discourage the desire to create its own Super League. Reforming the Champions League, developing plans for the Final Four and hosting super-lucrative matches for top clubs in the US is not a bad alternative.
The main thing in this maelstrom of temptations is to find a way to appease native fans who are unlikely to like the idea of their team playing in a decisive match on another continent. It is also equally important to send a clear signal to officials that the interests of players who play 60-70 matches per season should come first, and not just the desires of sponsors and television.