Posts Tagged Barcelona

UEFA Final teaches unexpected lesson – one granddaughter tops even the best sports TV event

After months of anticipation, the UEFA Champions League produced a dazzling final between two of the best professional soccer teams in the world – Barcelona FC and Manchester United. About 300 million people watched it. I was not one. My granddaughter had other ideas, and it ended up a memorable lesson in priorities.

I have written several blogs about the UEFA Champions League and have followed the tournament closely, especially the Round of 16. It’s a terrific format – the winners of Europe’s best professional leagues come together for an eight-month super tournament. Since it draws the best players from around the world, the quality is very high and the pressure higher. It culminated Saturday with a one-game final in London’s Wembley Stadium, featuring two of the most popular teams in the world and drawing a far bigger global broadcast audience than the Super Bowl.

I was hugely looking forward to kicking back and soaking in the spectacle. In addition, I could watch it at our Northern California cabin. Though my wife and I had planned to take two grandchildren to the mountains for the weekend, I figured they’d understand my need to watch this one game.

Unfortunately, one child got Chickenpox, so my wife remained behind. I went ahead and took my 10-year-old granddaughter, Kaya. I mean, how tough could it be to persuade one little girl to let me watch one game? Besides, she played soccer and should want to watch the world’s best players, right? In retrospect, I guess her hot pink soccer shoes should have been a tipoff – or the in-depth conversation about world religions on our drive up. Obviously this girls is way smarter (and cuter) than the average 10-year-old.

So about the time Wayne Rooney of United scored to make it 1-1 and I was jumping off the couch, Kaya was losing interest. I turned and asked what she thought of the goal. She said:

“Can we please go hiking, grandpa?”

Kaya didn’t care about the Champions League; she wanted me to be her champion.

Dozens of excuses shot through my mind. It was unseasonably cold, cloudy with occasional showers, the dog would get muddy, and … well, you get the picture. I glanced at Kaya smiling at me, looked up at United celebrating on TV, and came to one of those humbling life lessons on what really matters.

No offense to Wayne Rooney, but he won’t be top-of-mind on my deathbed. Sir Alex Ferguson isn’t managing my life, just Manchester United. Lionel Messi may be the best world football player, but he’s not my child’s child.

I looked down at Kaya, turned off the TV and said, “Yeah, let’s go hiking.”

So about the time Messi was putting Barca ahead, 2-1, with an amazing left-footed shot just outside the penalty box, Kaya and I were walking along a beautiful recreation lake booting pine cones. About the time David Villa brilliantly looped one into the top right corner for a commanding 3-1 Barca lead, we were sitting on a bench eating a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich her mom made for us. And about the time Barcelona’s players were hoisting the UEFA championship trophy, she was explaining to me the nuances of “The Bachelorette” TV show along a tree-lined trail.

Later that night, I laid in bed thinking about choices. For years I was a sports writer and editor at several U.S. newspapers, but went into corporate communications to spend more time with my family.  Even getting into sports was a big deal for me, since I started as a news writer and still think of myself as a journalist more than fan. Heck, my son knows more stats than I do these days.

It’s easy to pay attention when making major decisions, because they demand your consideration. But when it comes to life choices, the little ones often make the biggest difference.

Lionel Messi is a special, talented and driven competitor.* But compared with Kaya, he was just another TV athlete this Saturday. Why? Because instead of watching Messi break down United’s defense, I got to watch Kaya get past mine. The result was a wonderful afternoon hiking along a mountain lake with a very interesting young woman.

Now about that Bachelorette format…

— New Old Flame (Stan Johnston)

* Messi has been named FIFA’s World Player of the Year and World Pro Player of the Year twice. In addition, he was named the top player in the two most prestigious tournaments the past year – the FIFA World Cup (for national team Argentina) and UEFA Champions League. Oh, and he’s only 23…

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Most Americans won’t watch biggest TV sports event of 2011: UEFA Champions League

What if this year’s Super Bowl finalists qualified for broader multi-country tournament – paring the top teams from pro football leagues around the world? Football has no such reach; but futbol does. Unfortunately, this year’s UEFA Champions League is the best event most Americans will miss.

In 2009, a soccer game became the first single sporting event to surpass the Super Bowl in terms of viewership. About 109 million people watched Barcelona (Spain) beat Manchester United (England) 2-0 in the 2009 UEFA final. The next title game of the every-two-year UEFA Champions League is on May 28 in London’s Wembley Stadium. The Round of 16 is under way and hits a critical point this week. Far more people will watch the UEFA championship game than the 111 million for Super Bowl 45. To add drama, both the 2009 finalists are in danger of being upset in the quarterfinals being held this week.

Why should UEFA matter to Americans? First, you must understand the importance of European club soccer to the sport and world.  FIFA, the world’s governing body, is divided into six continental confederations. By far the biggest and strongest in terms of club-level wealth and influence is the Union of European Football Associations, almost called by its French acronym, UEFA (pronounced ew-AY-fa). 

Most of the top players spend time in European leagues because of the salaries available from the world’s wealthiest football clubs, especially in England, Spain, Germany and Italy.  And since UEFA oversees most of the national soccer associations of Europe, its Champions League series draws huge interest globally.

The genius of the Champions League is matching professional clubs instead of national teams, as in the every-four-year FIFA World Cup. Since any club in any country can bid on any player in the world, you hugely internationalize the appeal – and marketing reach – of UEFA teams beyond their geographic borders.  It’s even called the “transfer” market instead of “free agents.” Think of it as talent on loan from the soccer gods.

A few examples from the UEFA Round of 16:

  • Cameroon’s star striker is the tournament’s leading scorer, playing for Italian club Inter Milan.
  • An Argentine superstar is leading defending champion Barcelona of Spain.
  • England’s Manchester United is anchored by a standout Serbian defender.
  • A Swedish striker is the top scorer for Italian club AC Milan.
  • French team Lyon is led by a Brazilian midfielder.
  • Portugal’s national team captain is a key player for Spain’s Real Madrid.
  • Spanish midfielders are leading German club Shalke 04 and English club Arsenal.
  • You get the picture.

Because of the broad global interest, an entire cottage industry has arisen around speculating and analyzing soccer’s transfer market. Think Carmelo Anthony going to the New York Knicks in America’s National Basketball Association was a big deal? England’s Chelsea signed Spanish star Fernando Torres to a record contract worth about $80 million just before the UEFA deadline. Speculation is still rampant on who won and lost in the pre-UEFA maneuvering. The positive side of additional coverage, of course, is we also get stories on player “WAGS” (wives and girlfriends), with lots of bikini photos. The British tabloids get it right on some things.

Of all the team sports, soccer has most successfully marketed its products internationally. Certainly a number of individual sports have cultivated global appeal, in particular golf and tennis. And semi-pro sports festivals like the Olympics always have wide interest. But soccer provides a level playing field for professional player development, allowing even small countries such as Paraguay and The Netherlands to field competitive national teams.

With that kind of solid fan base, you can guarantee broad viewership by attracting the top athletes in soccer. The UEFA Champions League has done that in spectacular fashion. Quite simply, you have some of the best athletes in any sport going head-to-head for very high stakes – including the defending finalists both on the ropes this week. What’s not to like, America?

Who knows, I may even learn a team song before it’s over…

— New Old Flame (Stan Johnston)

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From global soccer perspective, NFL title game is only semi-super

The NFL should be proud of leading the U.S. TV market – by a mile. Especially after producing a title game that broke viewership records. However, its growth will remain domestic because football simply isn’t that popular internationally. Out there, soccer is king – by several kilometers and gaining. 

Sunday night’s Super Bowl 45 (drop the archaic Roman numerals, please), the championship of America’s favorite TV sport, drew a record 111 million viewers. The Nielson Co. estimate tops the 106.5 million who made last year’s Super Bowl the most-watched U.S. television event ever. At No. 3 is my personal choice, the series finale of “M-A-S-H.” It held the top spot for 27 years.

However, consider the Super Bowl’s 111 million from a global sports perspective:

  • An estimated 4.7 billion people watched the 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, with an estimated 842 million viewers in China alone.
  • Both the 2010 and  2006 FIFA World Cup finals, soccer’s premier event, were watched by more than 700 million people worldwide.
  • The most popular regular-broadcast sports event and TV program is the top pro soccer league in England, the Barclays Premier League. It is broadcast to 600 million households in 202 countries. And that doesn’t count rampant pirate signals and Internet streams we’ve come to expect from our inventive U.K. friends.

“Outside the U.S., Canada and Mexico, only a couple million people see the Super Bowl — and probably a lot of them are expatriate Americans,” Simon Kuper, co-author of “Soccernomics,” told CNN.

Still, give the NFL credit for focusing on an achievable niche – the lucrative U.S. weekend TV sports market. The league has long understood it has a narrow segment with limited global growth potential. Why? Because football is simply not a participant sport in much of the world. The NFL is content to rule a rich little kingdom, and you can’t blame them. For those outraged at the idea of sports being that popular at all, be at peace. Few sports events compare to viewership of major news:

Add in things like Chilean miner rescues and lunar landings, you get the picture. While the Super Bowl deserves kudos for huge ad sales, six times as many people saw England’s top sports championship game. But I’ll bet the cost per minute for that great VW commercial with the kid Darth Vader was a lot more in the U.S. And that’s the bottom line for the NFL.

As for sports events in 2011, my favorite will be the Round of 16 in soccer’s European club championships, the UEFA Champions League, beginning next week and running off and on for three months. About 109 million people watched Barcelona (Spain) beat Manchester United (England) 2-0 in the 2009 UEFA final. That was the first time another sporting event displaced the Super Bowl in viewership, putting a spotlight on the distinctly American appeal of the NFL’s product. How many Brazilian or Dutch players were in the Super Bowl? Most UEFA clubs are cross-pollinated with top players from other national teams (“transfers” instead of “free agents”), increasing the international flavor and interest.

This year’s Champions League final is May 28. It may not have Aaron Rogers, but I promise you even Ryan Giggs of Manchester United is a more interesting story anyway. Tune in for more.

NewOld Flame (Stan Johnston)

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