UEFA moving the Champions League final to the USA would be an ESL dream come true
Aleksander Ceferin of UEFA has been talking of moving the Champions League final to the USA, a reminder that no-one has the best interests of fans at heart.
If the comments of UEFA head Aleksander Ceferin about the possibility of moving the Champions League final to be played in the USA are useful in any way, it’s as a reminder that in the ongoing battle between European football’s governing body and those would like to break away and form a European Super League, there are no good guys. Speaking to the Men in Blazers podcast, Ceferin was happy to confirm that UEFA would look into it once the 2024 final (which is due to be played at Wembley) and the 2025 final (which is due to be played at the Allianz Arena in Munich) are over and done with.
First things first. Perhaps he was just blowing smoke up their backsides. It’s a possibility, since there’s nothing likely to make a European football administrator more tumescent than the idea of really ‘breaking’ European club football in the USA and being able to profit from it themselves. America has a lot of money. They have 724 billionaires, the most of any country in the world (the United Kingdom, for comparison, has 57), and the idea of those guys getting bitten by the football bug and throwing a considerable number of their dollarbucks our way is exactly the sort of thing to make them break into a feverish sweat.
The idea of moving the Champions League final to a different continent fails on just about every level, even if you boil it down to an economic argument alone. It would be easy to start getting waylaid by ‘football is for the fans’ statements, but the reality of that well-meaning phrase is that it’s talking about a ship that sailed long ago for bodies like UEFA. We only need to look at how matches have been bounced around the schedules to the detriment of match-going fans for years, or the contortions that FIFA put themselves through to host a World Cup in Qatar to see that. Football is for the corporate sponsors, the bean-counters and the billionaires nowadays. Get with the programme.
But Ceferin also backed up his claims with two interesting claims about television audiences, so let’s take a quick look at those.
“What shocked me in 30 matches of the Euros, every match viewership was a Super Bowl viewership, so I think we’re doing well.”
English isn’t Ceferin’s first language and we should take that into account when considering his comments, but with the best will in the world it’s difficult to see how he can justify saying “every match viewership was a Super Bowl viewership”. UEFA’s own website confirms that the live average television audience for Euro 2020 matches was more than 100m people, but that’s a somewhat vague number. The US television audience for the 2023 Superbowl was estimated 152m across two networks, with an additional global audience of 56m, which is more than 200m people cumulatively. And 206m is more than 100m, but… really
Then there’s this:
“What shocked me is our Euro finals [in 2021] were watched by more people in the United States than the NBA finals.”
This is just plainly untrue or, it might be argued, at the very best disingenuous. The US television audience for the final of Euro 2020 was just short of 6.5m, peaking at 8.2m during the penalty shootout, while audiences for the six games that made up the 2021 NBA finals varied from 8.56m to 12.52m per game. The figures for the year before were lower – between 5.64m and 8.89m – but it should added that these were record low audiences for this tournament in a year of generally low television audiences for live sporting events in the USA.
And regardless of that, he’s hardly comparing like-for-like. The Euro 2020 final was the showpiece of tournament played once every four years, between two countries with reasonably-sized diasporas living in the USA and a reasonable amount of clout. With all due respect to Milwaukee and Phoenix, the two cities who contested the 2021 NBA Finals, the same cannot be said the other way around. Quite aside from anything else, just the finals themselves consist of up to seven games between the same two teams, and audiences throughout the series have long fluctuated from game to game throughout the finals in a U shape, with the games at the beginning and end tending to get bigger audiences than those in the middle.
Furthermore, the decline in television audiences for the NBA Finals is already well-known, to the point that they’ve long been considered a part of the country’s tediously ongoing ‘culture wars’. The lowest audience for one of the five games between Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers in 2017, for example, was 18.9m, almost three times the number watching three years later. Right-wing media outlets have ascribed this to basketball players being vocal in speaking out against racism and other forms of discrimination, but this is largely evidence-free and, as The Athletic’s Bill Shea (£) pointed out in an article on the subject written in June 2022, ‘the recreational bad-faith regurgitation of preliminary data in the name of ideological trolling is worth calling out.’ In addition to this, television audiences for the NBA Finals have fluctuated for years, often determined by which teams are playing in them.
There is also another argument to be made here. The Champions League final is a genuine global sporting event. As the showpiece match of the European club football calendar, shouldn’t it at the very least be played… in Europe? It’s difficult to imagine the NFL making a public statement that the Superbowl should be played in Europe, even though other matches from the NFL season are played on this continent. UEFA aren’t stupid. They know this. The difference is likely the dollar signs in UEFA’s eyes.
If there’s one group of people who may be considering his comments with interest, it’s likely to be Florentino Perez, Joan Laporta and Gianluca Ferrero, the head honchos at Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus respectively. Because if there is a PR battle to be fought for the hearts and minds over the ESL with UEFA, an easy publicity win for them would be to come out and say immediately that they would never move their showpiece outside of its home continent. It wouldn’t be enough to get them what they want – as mentioned above, European club football moved past the idea of fans being important for anything other than their own ends a long time ago – but in a battle which may end up being fought in law courts and the court of public opinion, every little helps.
Perhaps all this really does is serve as a reminder that there are no ‘good guys’ when it comes to the fight for ownership of the future of European club football. If there’s one thing that the last 30 years of football both in England and across Europe in a broader sense has told us, it’s that what fans actually want is pretty low on everybody’s lists of priorities. It would be nice to think that UEFA are white-hatted good guys, valiantly fighting back against the evil Super League on all our behalves for the greater good. But when Ceferin talks about moving the Champions League final to another continent we know it isn’t the; all any of them are really interested in is the control and the benefits that come with it.
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