By Brian Homewood
NYON, Switzerland (Reuters) – UEFA competitions do not depend on big clubs reaching the finals to make them commercially successful as the unpredictable nature of the tournaments is great for business, the European soccer body’s marketing boss told Reuters.
Guy-Laurent Epstein said that drama and unpredictability mattered more than the presence of elite clubs in the closing stages of competitions such as the Champions League.
Ajax Amsterdam and Tottenham Hotspur reached this season’s semi-finals while Real Madrid, Paris St Germain and Bayern Munich all fell in the last 16 and Juventus were eliminated in the quarter-finals.
Yet access to the Champions League for clubs such as Ajax could effectively be closed off from 2024 under a proposal by UEFA and the European Club Association, according to league officials who have seen it.
According to reports about the new proposal, 24 of the 32 teams in the Champions League group stage would keep their places for the following season. Four will qualify through the domestic leagues, while another four will be promoted from the Europa League. Such a plan would make it more difficult for teams such as Ajax to get their foot in the door.
UEFA have said only that discussions are at an early stage, without giving details.
Epstein, without commenting on the proposal, said that this year’s drama had made the competition better than ever for sponsors and broadcasters.
Asked if two mid-sized teams meeting in the final would damage the brand, he said: “I don’t think so, because that would be earned on the pitch. As long as there is this meritocracy, I don’t think it damages the product at all.”
“Tottenham against Ajax is a good example of clubs considered smaller compared to the big brands,” he added.
“I find it fantastic and I believe it adds to unpredictability, it adds to the newcomer story. It’s great in my view, it makes the Champions League even better.”
Tottenham came back from the dead to beat Ajax — who had previously eliminated Real Madrid and Juventus — on away goals in their semi-final, having trailed 3-0 on aggregate with 45 minutes left.
In the other semi-final, Liverpool came back from a 3-0 defeat in the first leg to beat Barcelona 4-0 in the return.
Liverpool and Tottenham meet in the final in Madrid on June 1.
“This season has been mad, full of dramatic situations and, despite the fact that you don’t have Real Madrid, Barcelona or whoever, people are looking forward to (the final) because what these teams have achieved is brilliant,” he said.
“That’s the beauty of football — whatever you do, it’s unpredictable.”
(Writing by Brian Homewood, editing by Pritha Sarkar)