Marketing: Sponsors set to score as UEFA lifts the crossbar: Companies vie for a slice of the action in European football's new-style Champions League

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The Independent Online
THERE were two sorts of pitch in the air as the Royal Philharmonic and the chorus of the Academy of St Martin-in-the- Fields tuned up to play Tony Britten's latest composition. But the music emanating from the Angel recording studios in north London seemed as far removed from a football venue as Gazza is from Newcastle.

None the less, this music will soon be familiar to football fans across Europe: it is the anthem for the new UEFA Champions League, and a component of what promises to be one of the slickest sports marketing operations ever.

Previously the 32 national league champions played a knock-out competition. In the new Champions League format, once the field has been narrowed to eight teams a two-leg league system will be introduced with four teams in each division. The team gaining the most points in each group will qualify for the final.

UEFA argues that the Champions League has been introduced 'to develop and promote European football to the benefit of the sport as a whole and to introduce the year's most successful clubs to a pan-European audience'.

On a less altruistic note, UEFA does not deny the marketing opportunities that the new format presents. The aim, UEFA says, is to 'harmonise the interests of football, television companies and sponsors to the benefit of European football, through a controlled commercial environment'. A known and secured level of income will then be donated to benefit named groups with footballing interests.

UEFA has already prepared a revenue-sharing formula: the teams that make it to the last eight get the biggest slice; the rest goes to national football associations which have committed themselves to investing in development of youth leagues, coaching, and women's football.

Team, a Swiss-based marketing consultancy, was appointed in February with a brief to secure television and sponsorship support. Craig Thomson, project director with Team, believes the packages created for sponsors and broadcasters are unique.

'We offer broadcasters national exclusivity for the 24 league matches, allowing security of programming and promotion to a known calendar.'

Each broadcaster is obliged to screen one match in its entirety on each of the six match days, followed by 10 minutes of highlights of each of the other three matches, thus guaranteeing set airtime for sponsors.

The sponsors are given 30- second commercial slots and only their goods or services can be promoted on arena billboards. Teams will be prohibited from wearing kit bearing their sponsor's name or identity, so that, for instance, a European audience watching Leeds United will not have to figure out what a Yorkshire Evening Post is.

Broadcasters in each country were invited to tender, without guidelines, but Mr Thomson is quick to point out that the decision on who gets the TV rights will not be simply financial.

With the built-in sponsorship it is unlikely that non-commercial stations will show any interest, and commercial stations must meet certain requirements. 'The successful applicant must have a minimum 80 per cent reach within its marketplace. In the case of poorer or less densely populated countries, the market size will be taken into consideration and weighted against the offer,' Mr Thomson explains.

Although UEFA refuses to divulge which station will win the broadcasting rights for UK screening, it is more likely to be ITV than BSkyB because of the audience 'reach' clause. The first station to announce its successful bid was RTL in Germany, which reportedly paid pounds ll. 5m for the privilege.

UEFA believes that striking the correct image is fundamental to the success of the new Champions League. A logo that will be used as a TV graphic and on all literature and licensed goods has been created by Design Bridge, a London-based firm, and even this was won in a five-way competition among European firms.

The symbol is made up of eight stars, representing the final eight, which are joined to form a sphere, plus the name 'Champions League'. In black and white, it creates an image of a 'star football'. Design Bridge worked with London animators Ortmans Young on the TV graphics.

Summing up the marketing objectives for football's newest event, Mr Thomson says: 'It's our intention to make the Champions League one of the most effectively branded sports events anywhere.'

If UEFA achieves these goals, there will be plenty to sing about on the terraces of Europe.

(Photograph omitted)