Posts Tagged FIFA

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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