fbpx

Why holding the Europa League final in Baku was never a good idea

Why holding the Europa League final in Baku was never a good idea

In the past, UEFA has had a solid track record at holding major finals in different stadiums across Europe.

Not only is the venue a neutral one at that, not handing any advantages to either side. But it gives great publicity to some cities that don’t usually get to see football of that calibre.

Cardiff and Lisbon spring to mind as two of the most recent cities that fit this bill.

Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan seems to also be in that boat. But when you look a bit closer, it isn’t as it appears.

It will host the 2018/19 Europa League final between English superpowers, Arsenal and Chelsea. Both sides are strongly supported across the globe, meaning that tickets to the game will be hotly contested, right?

Wrong.

Arsenal and Chelsea have only been allocated 6000 seats each in the Baku Olympic stadium, which has a capacity for nearly 70000 people. Seems ridiculous right?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The rest of the seats will be given to corporate members and UEFA partners. You can make up your own minds as to why that’s the case.

It’s a blight on UEFA for not only choosing to do this, but to do it at the expense of those who make the game so unanimously loved across the globe.

The fans.

Furthermore, flights to Azerbaijan for anyone wanting to go to the game and cheer their team are stupidly expensive.

Some flights are in excess of 1,000 British Pounds (that’s 2,000 AUD) and require multiple stopovers. If you think back to last September when West Coast fans were ripped off by the airlines on their way to Melbourne for the AFL Grand Final, it’s like that.

But on some serious steroids.

And as if it couldn’t get any worse, it has.

With Arsenal making the final, Armenian playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan would be in contention to either start or come on as a substitute. He’s been a serviceable player this season for the Gunners and would offer them great flexibility on the day, either on a wing or as a central midfielder.

But due to political tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, it’s a 50/50 chance that Mkhitaryan makes it to Baku.

Now whilst it’s easy to say UEFA couldn’t have done anything about this, truth be told, they could’ve prevented this.

Simply don’t hold the final in a country where there are political tensions of any sort. As Thanos once said, “it’s a simply calculus”.

In a day and age where society thrives on inclusion for all people regardless of race, gender or anything else, it’s a damn shame that UEFA and the sport of soccer have come to this.

For everything they’ve stood to stamp out, this farcical situation which is overshadowing what should be a great final seems to be a step in the wrong direction.

It’s not as big of a mistake as the decision to host the 1985 Champions League final in Belgium’s Heysel Stadium, but it’s certainly a mistake that most football fans and UEFA will want to forget in a hurry.

Let’s hope that lessons can be learnt from this.

Caelum Ferrarese is a Senior journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on micro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions at grassroots level.

A-League supporter numbers grow – but 2 million football fans still unattached

Despite attendances dropping in A-League matches over the past few years, supporter numbers across the board have grown in the past 12 months, according to a recent Roy Morgan report.

“A-League clubs have enjoyed a substantial increase in support over the last year in line with the increases seen for other football codes such as the AFL and NRL,” Roy Morgan Industry Communications Director, Julian McCrann, stated.

“Over 3.6 million Australians now profess support for an A-League club, an increase of over 1 million (+38.3%) on a year ago.”

“As we have seen across other football codes the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many sports to be played in front of empty stadiums but live on TV to supporters stuck at home in the many lockdowns we have seen over the last 18 months around Australia.”

Sydney FC have the biggest supporter base with 640,000 fans according to the report, a 32% increase on last year’s numbers.

Melbourne Victory were also well placed on the supporter ladder, slightly behind Sydney with 632,000 fans, an increase of 46% on a year ago.

A-League Men’s champions Melbourne City and expansion side Macarthur FC also saw impressive numbers of increased support.

“Another big winner over the last year has been Melbourne City which won its first A-League Men Championship earlier this year after defeating Sydney FC in the Grand Final (between Melbourne’s fourth and fifth lockdowns) in late June,” McCrann said.

“Melbourne City’s support has increased by an impressive 50.9% on a year ago to 249,000 to have the highest support of any A-League Men expansion team.

“The newest club in the A-League Men, Macarthur FC, has had a successful first season in the league with a finals appearance, a victory in an Elimination Final, and a loss to eventual Champions Melbourne City in the semi-final.

“Not only has Macarthur FC performed strongly on the pitch but they have already attracted 84,000 supporters to rank in tenth place overall.”

Whilst all A-League sides saw an increase in supporters in 2021, Central Coast Mariners experienced the largest percentage rise from 2020 – with fan numbers growing by 90%.

In regards to television numbers, over 1.5 million Australians watch the A-League Men’s competition.

However, the report states that 3.5 million Australians watch any football match on television, including leagues such as the English Premier League or international tournaments such as the FIFA World Cup.

This represents a huge untapped audience of around 2 million Australians, something which should be capitalised on.

“Looking ahead, the challenge for the A-League will be to continue to grow the league in an increasingly competitive sporting market and find a way to connect with the millions of Australians who love their football but don’t presently engage with the A-League,” McCrann said.

“There are over 2 million Australians out there who watch high quality football competitions, such as the English Premier League, who are yet to become fans of the A-League. This at-hand market of 2 million Australians is a significant market for the A-League to target during the recovery from Covid-19.”

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL), the new body running the professional game in this country, have continually emphasised in their messaging that they want to target football fans of all types to engage with the local elite competition.

The organisation’s investment in a $30 million digital hub is set to play a big part in converting these fans into A-League supporters.

“It is the biggest single investment football has made in itself. It’s a $30 million investment into digital infrastructure and data infrastructure that will serve the football fan. It won’t be the home of Australian football; it will be Australia’s home of football,” Danny Townsend, Managing Director at the APL, recently told FNR.

“What it will deliver is content – audio-visual, editorial and everything else you need.

“Part of the reason we are doing that, and investing in what we are calling APL studios, is ensuring that by organising the football community in one place we are able to deliver the utility in their everyday lives and focus on how they choose to consume football. If you do that – they’ll keep coming back.

“You put great content in there, you serve it, and you will continue to understand that fan and all of their preferences.”

Paramount Plus must pounce on EPL rights in Australia

ViacomCBS have begun broadcasting Australian football content in the past several weeks across the 10 Network and its free streaming platform 10 play, in the opening stages of the company’s $300 million investment deal into the game.

The majority of content, such as Socceroos, Matildas, A-League and W-League matches, will eventually be broadcast on the company’s SVOD service Paramount Plus in the coming months.

A revamped presentation of the game will be implemented across the new TV deal, as highlighted by the recent announcement that the Saturday night A-League broadcast shown on Channel 10 will also feature live crosses and a ‘goal rush’ type innovation involving the other simultaneous match, something which is currently seen in top league broadcasts around the world.

Fresh ideas such as this are welcomed, but ViacomCBS may need to look at further options to build rapport with fans of the round ball game in Australia.

One of those opportunities they should pursue, and strongly, is looking to secure the EPL rights off Optus Sport.

Optus Sport have held the rights since 2016, after beating out Foxtel at the time.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, English Premier League officials have begun talks with local media companies in regards to the broadcast rights to one of the world’s biggest sporting competitions.

Optus Sport’s existing deal ends at the conclusion of this season, with a blind auction in November set to decide who will show the league in the coming seasons.

ViacomCBS’s Paramount Plus is considered to be one of four candidates who are reportedly in the running to land the EPL broadcast rights, alongside current rights holders Optus Sport, Amazon Prime and Stan Sport.

The rights are expected to cost as much as $80 million a year, but that figure may be higher if there is a strong competitive process for them, which looks likely.

If the EPL was to be secured and shown on Paramount Plus, there would be significant benefits across the board for ViacomCBS and also for football in Australia.

Having both the EPL and A-League on the same service would place Paramount Plus as a must have service for the large majority of football fans in Australia.

The acquisition of the EPL would add a huge amount of value to Paramount Plus as a streaming product and bring over those fans who would not commit to the service for just A-League and W-League matches.

Their subscriber numbers would grow substantially, and a free-to-air EPL game on Channel 10 may be a strategic possibility, to draw even more people to sign up for the subscription service.

Alongside the original entertainment programming that they have on their service, Paramount Plus with the EPL and A-League rights, will go close to rivalling the bigger streaming platforms such as Netflix and Stan.

For Australian football, having both leagues together in the one place would mirror similar benefits the A-League had on Fox Sports when they also showcased live EPL broadcasts.

Most Australian football fans will remember Matchday Saturday on Fox Sports with great fondness, where A-League matches would precede EPL matches in what was a feast for football fans every week, all in one place.

The A-League peaked in popularity around that timeframe, and it’s plausible that a larger quantity of fans tuned into the local domestic competition before they would also watch EPL matches later in the night.

Administrators from the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) will be hoping a sense of deja vu occurs again, on a different platform this time around.

Packaging up the two leagues would provide cross promotional possibilities to continue to lift the profile of the A-League and may eventually convince fans of overseas clubs to also support a local team.

Turning general fans of football into A-League or W-League supporters is something that the APL have noted they are focusing on in the years to come, after unbundling from the FA.

Utilizing the advantages of having the Premier League rights on the same service may fast track those outcomes, but that is dependant on the willingness and commercial factors which decide ViacomCBS’s next moves.

However, for growth prospects in the local game and also in their own Paramount Plus streaming service, ViacomCBS may find this opportunity too good to refuse.

 

© 2021 Soccerscene Industry News. All Rights reserved. Reproduction is prohibited.

Most Popular Topics

Editor Picks