2013’s Union of European Football Associations Champions League (commonly called the UEFA Champions League) final saw two German teams — Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich — compete at London’s Wembley Stadium in front of millions of viewers. In soccer, it was one of the biggest and most-anticipated events of the year. In fact, it was also one of the biggest revenue generators — besides the World Cup, the final match of the UEFA Champions League is one of if not the most-watched spectacles in soccer. Recognising its global appeal and growing popularity, UEFA even decided a few years back to change the game over from happening on a weeknight to happening on a Saturday in order to attract more global viewers.
The championships have grown into big business, at least in Europe. For the 2013 final, the estimated gross commercial revenue (from the Champions League and UEFA Super Cup together) was around €1.34 billion ($1.73 billion at the time). It’s not quite as high as the large American leagues — the NFL brings in $9.5 billion, Major League Baseball $7.5 billion, the NBA $4 billion, the NHL $3.4 billion, and Major League Soccer $300 million — but it’s certainly in the same ballpark. Plus, not only does the UEFA bring in significant revenue, it has a worldwide fan base unlike that seen in American-centric leagues. (If you’d like to see a Champions League game for yourself, check this page for tickets.)
2011 saw 178 million TV viewers tune in to see the Barcelona-Manchester United matchup that was that year’s UEFA final. (Barcelona won.) It was the most-watched game in UEFA Champions League history and the year’s most-watched sporting event worldwide, handily beating out the American Super Bowl. (That said, the US audience that year was just 2.6 million viewers, compared with 2 million for the 2012 final which pit Bayern Munich against Chelsea. Both the 2011 and 2012 matches appeared live in America on the Fox Sports network.)
How does the Champions League work? The road to the championships begins in July of the previous year. Teams start off competing in qualifying rounds, before moving up to playoffs, the Group Stage, a Knockout Phase, and then of course the Final. The Champions League includes teams from both Western and Eastern Europe, Russia, Israel, Ukraine, and even some of the Asian countries — making it a highly competitive league. There are some 53 different football member associations in the UEFA league, plus a provisional team. (Each member association includes its own league system.)
Currently the most successful team in the UEFA is Real Madrid C.F, which holds nine different titles.
Who watches (European) football in the US? Though it’s not the most popular sport there, European football (soccer) has started gaining fans steadily thanks to two different factors: participation in amateur leagues for both youths and adults, and a steady immigration influx in the past decade from soccer-loving countries.
In general, the Americans who are most likely to watch the championships are TV are those who live on the Eastern seaboard, in Minneapolis and Chicago, and certain parts of the Western US (including California). Neighbourhoods with high populations of college students and college graduates, high Hispanic populations, and high populations of those who depend on the US military are most likely to be soccer fans.