Champions League games abroad America and how it might work

เวลา:2022-09-21 เรียกดู:

You say you want us to stream your games, buy your merch and come to your pre-season friendlies, but then you ridicule us for suggesting that you might like to try one of our fan-friendly all-star games, and then you get all coming over here, stealing our clubs about us investing in your league.

Do you actually like us or do you just like our money?

American fans of European football could be forgiven for thinking theyre getting mixed signals from the object of their affection at the moment.

And European football is at it again this week, batting its eyelids, laughing at Americas jokes, saying it might be willing to playChampions Leaguegames outside Europe.

Like all the best courting rituals, this one is full of codes.

Outside Europe, for example, really means the United States. Because, as ever with European football, this relationship is fundamentally about money and there are three main outside Europe destinations that will provide the type of cash the big clubs get out of bed for: 1) the Middle East 2) China and 3) the US.

Options one and two are a little controversial right now, which leaves option three: the one that has just increased by 150 per cent the money it is willing to pay to broadcast/stream Champions League games and is staging most of the games at the 2026 World Cup, a tournament that should break records for audience numbers, revenues and profits.

So, when UEFA and the European Club Association (ECA, the big clubs talking shop) say they might take some on the road, they mean American roads.

One idea,as reported byThe Athletics Adam Crafton this week, is to perhaps move a group-stage game or two to Los Angeles, New York or some other US city that could do the occasion justice.

This is the latest iteration of the spitballing that UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin started last year when he told French sports newspaper LEquipe that he was a fan of the idea of staging two single-leg semi-finals and a final in a Champions League final four week.

The genesis of this idea came in 2020 when UEFA was forced to squeeze the finales of their two club competitions, the Champions League andEuropa League, into a small window in August. Both tournaments had reached the quarter-final stage, give or take a last-16 game, when COVID-19 struck in March.

With everyone keen to start the 2020-21 season on time, UEFA dropped the home/away format of the quarter-finals and semi-finals, and concluded the Champions League over 12 days in Portugal and the Europa League over the same timeframe in Germany.

As the games were played in empty stadiums, there were no concerns about accommodation, high costs for visiting fans or crowd trouble, and the tight schedule and high stakes made for good television. The players seemed to appreciate not having to travel around so much, too, so the feedback from them was positive.

It certainly made an impression on Ceferin, UEFAs commercial department and Team Marketing, the Swiss agency UEFA has used to sell the Champions League around the world for 30 years.

Of course, a final eight meant dropping six games four second legs in the quarter-finals and two in the semis which is a lot of lost content for broadcasters and missing ticket revenue for the clubs.

But a final four, staged over a week in a major city? Well, that sounds like plenty of ticketed events, hospitality opportunities, new audiences, buzz and jeopardy. And which broadcaster, sponsor or club accountant does not love all of those?

However, nobody really ran with Ceferins idea until April this year when his new best friend forever, Nasser Al-Khelaifi,toldThe Athletiche was a final four fan, too. If the name means little to you, Al-Khelaifi is the chairman of UEFAs broadcast partner in the Middle East and North Africa, beIN Sport, president of Paris Saint-Germain, chairman of the ECA and a member of UEFAs executive committee (ExCo). He also runs Qatars tennis federation and is a big player in padel, too. He is pretty important.

Anyway, a few weeks later, British newspaper The Times reported that the final four idea was gathering momentum among footballs powerbrokers and a formal proposal was in the offing.

Five months on, we are still waiting for that fleshed-out plan to emerge, which is not that surprising as ideas can be at the gathering momentum stage for a long time in European football. For example, people have been talking about a European Super League since the 1950s. We do not like to be rushed.

Which brings us to this week and the next round of UEFA ExCo and ECA meetings. UEFAs gathering is on Tuesday on the Croatian island of Hvar, and the ECA holds its autumn gathering on Thursday and Friday in Istanbuls poshest hotel. These guys have it tough.

You will not find final fours or moving Champions League group-stage games to Miami on the official agendas of either meeting that is not how these things tend to happen. In fact, a ring-round of some of the decision-makers at these meetings suggests we are still very much at the just an idea stage for both projects.

Sorry, then, America, if your heart is set on actual Champions League games in American stadiums, you will have to wait. And we have no idea how long that wait will be because we have not even begun discussing this with European fans, who will hate the idea, or explaining toMajor League Soccerwhy it should let a bigger, foreign competitor stage competitive games on its patch. That last conversation might take some time, actually.

But while you wait, can we offer you an alternative that combines the week-long fun of a final four, with famous, successful teams that are actually trying to win a trophy and a cash prize?

We can? Great, have we told you about our new Opening Tournament? You will love it and, most importantly, the vast majority of European fans will not even notice it is replacing the UEFA Super Cup, a competition they only care about it if their team is in it.

Harsh? Come on, how many of you who do not supportReal MadridorEintracht Frankfurtcan remember the score of last months Super Cup or where it was played?

To save you from opening another window, it was 2-0 to Real and the game was played in front of 31,000 fans in Helsinki. That was three times as many who crammed into Belfasts Windsor Park for the 2021 edition betweenChelseaand Villarreal.

UEFAs early-season showpiece between the previous seasons Champions League winner and Europa League champion has also been staged in Trondheim, Skopje and Tallinn in recent years. Fine cities, all of them, but none of these matches created much in the way of shareable content or had marketing executives scrabbling around for fine-dining options, five-star hotel rooms or private jets. If there were opening ceremonies and half-time shows, this writer missed them.

So, we have a contest that does have a slot in the calendar but is not doing much with it, and an appetite for more football in our most important growth market.

Why dont we trial the idea of final four week by adding the winner of the Europa Conference League to the mix thereby providing another great platform and earning opportunity to the ECAs middle-class clubs and perhaps even invite the MLS champion to add some competitive edge to the proceedings?

See, theres an idea that could fly.

Here is something else to concentrate minds at UEFA: if it does not fill this space with meaningful content, its fierce rivalFIFAwill.

The games global governing body already has a North American World Cup to look forward to and is desperate to add an expanded Club World Cup to its inventory of sellable content. What better warm-up event for 2026 could there be than a tournament to find the club world champion? It would be a good legacy event, too.

Unfortunately, the broadcast and commercial contracts are all locked down until 2024, so we are two full seasons away from this, or anything like this, happening, which means the mixed signals will continue. We will be all over you in private but then cool in public; we wont answer your calls but well pop up in your socials.

But do not take this for a lack of interest. Our big clubs are just playing hard to get. And as the film that also gave us the phrase show me the money put it, you had them at hello.

(Top photo: Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)

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