You say you want us to stream your games, buy your products and come to your pre-season friendlies, but then you ridicule us for suggesting you’d like to try one of our fan-friendly all-star games , then you get all “coming here, stealing our clubs” about us investing in your league.
Do you really love us or do you just love our money?
American European soccer fans could be forgiven for thinking they are getting mixed signals from the object of their affections at the moment.
And European football is back this week, blinking, laughing at America’s jokes, saying it might be ready to play Champions League games outside of Europe.
Like all the best seduction rituals, this one is full of codes.
“Outside Europe”, for example, actually means the United States. Because, as always with European football, this relationship is fundamentally about money and there are three main ‘outside Europe’ destinations that will provide the kind of money that big clubs roll out of bed for: 1) the Middle East 2) China and 3 ) the United States.
Options one and two are a bit controversial at the moment, which leaves option three: the one who just increased the money she’s willing to pay by 150% to stream/stream League of champions and hosts most of the matches at the 2026 World Cup, a tournament that is expected to break records in viewership, revenue and profits.
So when UEFA and the European Club Association (ECA, the big club talk shop) say they could take some on the road, they’re talking about American roads.
The big question is: what games?
An idea, reported by Athleticism’s Adam Crafton this week may be moving a game or two from the group stage to Los Angeles, New York or another US city that might do the occasion justice.
It is the latest iteration of the spat that UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin launched last year when he told French sports newspaper L’Equipe he was a ‘fan’ of the idea to organize two semi-finals in a match and a final in a Champions. Week of the “final four” of the league.
The genesis for this idea came in 2020 when UEFA was forced to squeeze the finals of its two club competitions, the Champions League and Europa League, into a small window in August. Both tournaments had reached the quarter-final stage, plus or minus a last-16 game, when COVID-19 hit in March.
With everyone keen to start the 2020-21 season on time, UEFA ditched the home/away format of quarter-finals and semi-finals, and wrapped up the 12-day Champions League in Portugal and the League Europa over the same period in Germany. .
As the matches were played in empty stadiums, there were no worries about accommodation, high costs for visiting fans or crowd issues, and the tight schedule and high stakes for good television. Players also seemed to enjoy not having to travel as much, so feedback from them was positive.
It certainly impressed Ceferin, UEFA’s commercial department and Team Marketing, the Swiss agency that UEFA has used to sell the Champions League worldwide for 30 years.
Of course, a last eight meant losing six games – four second legs in the quarter-finals and two in the semi-finals – which means a lot of lost content for broadcasters and missing ticket revenue for clubs.
But a final four, organized over a week in a big city? Well, that sounds like a lot of paid events, hosting opportunities, new audiences, buzz, and risk. And what broadcaster, sponsor or club accountant doesn’t love all that?
However, no one really ran with the idea of Ceferin until April this year, when his new best friend forever, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, said Athleticism he was also a fan of the “final four”. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, Al-Khelaifi is the chairman of UEFA’s Middle East and North Africa broadcast partner beIN Sport, chairman of Paris Saint-Germain, chairman of ECA and member of the UEFA Executive Committee (ExCo). He also leads the Qatar Tennis Federation and is also a great padel player. It is quite important.
Anyway, a few weeks later, the British newspaper The Times reported that the idea of the ‘final four’ was gaining momentum among football’s powerhouses and that a formal proposal was in sight.
Five months later, we’re still waiting for that fleshed-out plan to emerge, which isn’t all that surprising as ideas can be in the ramp-up stage for a long time in European football. For example, we’ve been talking about a European Super League since the 1950s. We don’t like to be rushed.
Which brings us to this week and the next round of UEFA ExCo and ECA meetings. The UEFA gathering will take place on the Croatian island of Hvar on Tuesday, and the ECA will hold its autumn gathering on Thursday and Friday at Istanbul’s fanciest hotel. These guys have it tough.
You won’t find a ‘final four’ or moving Champions League group stage games to Miami on the official agendas for either meeting – that’s not how these things tend to happen. In fact, a tour de table from some of the decision makers at these meetings suggests that we are still at the “just an idea” stage for both projects.
Sorry, then, America, if your heart is set for real Champions League matches in American stadiums, you’ll have to wait. And we have no idea how long this wait will last, as we haven’t even begun to discuss it with European fans, who will hate the idea, or explain to Major League Soccer why they should leave a plus. big foreign competitor organize competitive matches on its patch. . That last conversation might take a while, actually.
But while you wait, can we offer you an alternative that combines the fun of a week of a final four, with famous and successful teams actually trying to win a trophy and prize money?
We can? Great, did we tell you about our new “Opening Tournament”? You’ll love it and, more importantly, the vast majority of European fans won’t even notice that it replaces the UEFA Super Cup, a competition they only care about if their team takes part.
Hard? Come on, how many of you who don’t support Real Madrid or Eintracht Frankfurt remember the Super Cup score last month or where it was played?
To save you from opening another window, it was 2-0 for Real and the game was played in front of 31,000 fans in Helsinki. It was three times as many people who crammed into Belfast’s Windsor Park for the 2021 edition between Chelsea and Villarreal.
UEFA’s early-season showpiece between the previous season’s Champions League winner and the Europa League champion has also been staged in Trondheim, Skopje and Tallinn in recent years. Beautiful cities, all of them, but none of these matches created much shareable content or compelled marketers to seek out fancy dining options, five-star hotel rooms, or private jets. If there were opening ceremonies and halftime shows, this writer missed them.
So we have a contest that has a place in the calendar but doesn’t do much with it, and an appetite for more football in our most important growth market.
Why not test out the idea of the ‘final four’ week by adding the Europa Conference League winner to the mix – providing another great platform and earning opportunity for middle-class clubs in the ECA – and maybe even invite the MLS champion to add a competitive edge to the proceedings?
You see, there is an idea that could fly.
Here’s something else to keep the minds focused at UEFA: if they don’t fill that space with meaningful content, their fierce rival FIFA will.
The game’s world 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 salable content. What better warm-up for 2026 could there be than a tournament to find the world champion club? It would also be a good legacy event.
Unfortunately, the broadcast and commercial deals are all locked in until 2024, so we’re two full seasons away from that, or something, which means the mixed signals will continue. We’ll be all over you in private but then cool in public; we will not answer your calls but we will appear in your social networks.
But don’t mistake this for a lack of interest. Our big clubs just play hard to get. And as the movie that also gave us the phrase “show me the money” says, you had them by the hello.
(Top photo: Etsuo Hara/Getty Images)