UEFA Champions League Final vs. the Superbowl: Bigger and Biggest

UEFA Champions League final 2008 programme cover

Richard mentioned this here briefly last Sunday, but ahead of the Super Bowl this Sunday it’s worth pausing for thought to consider that the UEFA European Champions League final in 2009 was watched by more people than the Super Bowl for the first time in 2009; and its popularity is set to continue to rise much faster.

109 million watched Barcelona beat Manchester United last May; 106 million watched the Steelers beat the Cardinals last February.

A report from London-based Futures Sports and Entertainment emphasised both were doing well to grow in an era of media fragmentation:

“While the Super Bowl has secured free-to-air broadcasting deals in a number of important European markets such as the UK, France and Germany, it’s distribution and popularity in the key Asia-Pacific region lags far behind the UEFA Champions League,” said the report.

The report, in its seventh year, is based on official data from national bodies and measures ‘at-home viewing’.

Alavay said the continued growth of the Super Bowl and the Champions League final was particularly impressive in a time of fragmentation in television audiences caused by digitalisation.

“The value of these properties is actually growing disproportionately and in an area of digitalisation they are more than bucking the trend,” he said.

UEFA are clearly looking to build on this by moving the Champions League final to a Saturday from this year, meaning days more concentrated buildup, and also a friendlier timeslot for Asia with no work day following allowing a later night for many more. Significantly, according to ViewerTrack, “In 2004, just 6% of the audience for the Champions League Final came from Asia, but by 2009 this figure had doubled.”

In the same period, from 2004 to 2009, the overall audience for the Champions League has risen a simply staggering 74%.

The value that the event now has to UEFA and the significance of that can hardly be overstated, and is central reason why a breakaway European league is (almost) unthinkable, even with UEFA intending to regulate the sport’s financial excesses more tightly.

Where the Champions League still lags behind the Super Bowl, interestingly, is as a local event: the extravaganza that is Super Bowl week is said to have generated over $500m for the South Florida region in 2008, whereas only $63m was claimed for Rome in 2009 (I couldn’t find a figure for the 2009 Super Bowl; and these numbers should always be taken with a large helping of salt).

The switch to a Saturday may help UEFA with that, but they still have some way to go to match all this. There’s big, and there’s the biggest.

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