Football: Rich pickings await in the new Europe: Ian Ridley explains why there is a good deal more than honour at stake when Manchester United visit Barcelona on Wednesday

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The Independent Online
WHEN Barcelona and Manchester United lay their cards on the table again on Wednesday night, the stakes will be as high as the sides of the towering Nou Camp Stadium. To the teams, their managers and fans, the two Champions' League points being contested are kitty enough; to the clubs, their administrators and the overlords of European football, this is the sort of money match for which the new format of the competition was conceived: 100,000 in the stadium, hundreds of millions viewing in more than 80 countries. Television companies will drool, sponsors will purr and accountants will add it all up.

For both clubs, it is part of a campaign that, successfully concluded, could yield pounds 10m, a figure which does not include gate receipts - in Barcelona's case amounting to almost pounds 5m per home match. It gives a picture of the star-spangled, European Cup, a sophisticated promotional exercise designed to generate pounds 95m this season in sponsorship and TV revenue alone.

European football's governing body, Uefa, first approached marketing companies to come up with proposals for the Champions' League in August 1991. Six months later, they awarded the contract to Team Marketing, a Lucerne-based organisation. Their strategy was based on a partnership between the clubs, television and a select group of sponsors.

Initially, for the eight-team league last season, Team recruited four sponsors - Ford, Philips, Nike and Mars - and negotiated with 72 television stations across 28 European countries. It was the stepping stone to the expanded 16-team league this season.

A maximum of eight sponsors were envisaged, Team's managing director Jurgen Lenz believing that 'less clutter is more value'. The competition began with five in place in Amstel, Philips, Ford, Reebok and Canon while Mastercard were added this month. Continental Tyres will join for the quarter-finals in March and negotiations are in progress for the final one.

Each pays 3.5m Swiss Francs - the currency of European football - per season (about pounds 1.75m) for a package that includes four advertising boards measuring six metres by 90 centimetres at each stadium; being featured on backdrops to television interviews; advertising in programmes and match hospitality. They may spend as much again on 'broadcast sponsorship' and advertising slots allocated around TV coverage. For the Manchester United v Barcelona match - which attracted 11 million British viewers - Ford and Reebok were the ITV sponsors.

The 'big five' nations of European football - Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Germany and France - pay the most and it is therefore likely that the investment of ITV, whose production costs are also pounds 140,000 per match, is around pounds 8m. Team say that contracts were not awarded simply to the highest bidders, but to those also willing to screen highlights and magazine programmes, as well as live matches, and promote the competition through graphics and its new anthem, which features the choir of St Martin-in-the-Fields and the London Symphony Orchestra.

As compensation for the loss of their own advertisers, each club receives a basic 2m Swiss Francs (pounds 1m) for qualifying then 445,000 Swiss Francs (pounds 222,500) per point, which may explain why there are not yet three for a win.

Television money awarded varies between pounds 500,000 and pounds 2m, with the clubs from the 'big five' markets receiving most. In that lies the reason for the expansion of the league: a greater chance of those TV markets willing to pay more being represented.

For the clubs, there is pounds 1.4m in prize money for the quarter-finalists, the same on top for semi-finalists and pounds 1.75m again for the finalists. Then there are gate receipts, which home clubs keep - and three home matches have been guaranteed by the new format. If Barcelona, say, made the final, that would total some pounds 20m from five home matches (90,000 people paying between pounds 22.50 and pounds 60 a ticket). Read it and weep, Manchester United (40,000 at between pounds 10 and pounds 16), for they would make 'only' pounds 2.5m.

It is all done, Team say, in the best possible taste. 'We could fill the stadiums with 120 companies and make bigger revenues,' says Lenz. 'But we wouldn't have that special, clean look.'

It has produced a standard pan-European appearance, with every club's match programme even looking the same. While Team and Uefa see this as a strength, particularly for sponsors, it has undoubtedly led to a loss of local identity and colour, even if the supporters of Galatasary have done their best to overcome that.

The armchair viewers may not worry, such is the visual feast available; neither will the clubs mind, such is the spectacular windfall, though those in the last 16 may feel entitled to an even greater share of TV revenue, with Uefa also allocating profits to national associations (pounds 100,000 to each) and clubs eliminated in preliminary rounds (pounds 75,000). A balance of pounds 4m goes to Uefa for costs and investment in such as youth and women's football.

But what of the paying spectator? Clearly, he or she is not the most significant factor in the equation. At Old Trafford, for example, some 2,000 seats could not be sold because the advertising hoardings restricted the view. United may not have been able to sell them all, because of the presence of live terrestrial television and the inconvenience of the kick-off time, Uefa decreeing that all matches should begin at 8.30pm central European time.

In addition, some clubs are profiteering. Bayern Munich, for example, doubled prices for a recent match against Dynamo Kiev and attracted a crowd of only 26,000. Uefa and the clubs should beware of alienating the support that sustains domestic competition. While higher prices may produce the same revenue from half the audience, TV detests a backdrop of empty stadiums. It should all provide a case, if not to United, for lowering ticket prices.

Relatively poor attendances - Manchester United's 33,625 against Gothenburg was their lowest of the season - are another reason why clubs are unlikely to see the competition as the league in which they exclusively play. If and when a European Super League arrives, it is more likely to comprise the top two or three of the five main TV nations plus selected invitees such as Ajax, Anderlecht and Benfica.

'Any club worth its salt wants to be in Europe but common sense dictates you want the best of both worlds,' says the Manchester United assistant secretary Ken Ramsden. 'The Champions' League is wonderful but it is also great having Newcastle here on a Saturday.' And, adds the United manager Alex Ferguson, 'the mentality of the British player is such that he wants to be playing all the time at home and abroad'.

The future, it seems, may not quite have its feet under the table but it has certainly taken off its shoes. With reservations, the new Champions' League has so far been a success. As Lenz says: 'The only thing European that seems to work well is football.'

(Graphic omitted)

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