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‘Epochal’ moment in TV sport as Champions League final beats Super Bowl ratings


By Nick Harris

31 January 2010

In a development that will have huge positive financial consequences for the elite of European football, including the biggest clubs in the Premier League,  the Champions’ League final has overtaken the Super Bowl as the most popular televised event in global club sport. (NB: club sport).

An influential report, to be published tomorrow but seen by sportingintelligence, describes it as “an epochal moment in TV sports viewing trends”, a “game-changer” in terms of Uefa’s power to make money from TV and commercial deals and give more to clubs. The report has been compiled by Futures Sport + Entertainment, an arm of leading international analysts Initiative, and details how the 2009 Champions’ League final between Manchester United and Barcelona was the most-watched sports event worldwide last year. It attracted 109m viewers in its entirety, and “reached” 206m people, who saw at least part of it live.

The Super Bowl, traditionally the biggest TV event in global club sport, attracted 106m live viewers for the whole thing, with a reach of 162m. “That was Super Bowl’s best ever figure, and as an event it’s still growing,” said Kevin Alavy, an Initiative director. “Extraordinarily, the Champions’ League is growing faster, with room for further significant expansion.”

That last remark is a reference to the Champions’ League final moving to a Saturday this year, making it more convenient for the massive Asian market. “Moving the final to a Saturday night from a Wednesday night is important because match scheduling has a massive impact on the number of people who watch soccer on TV,” Alavy says. ” While the final will still kick-off at at 7.45pm UK time , which is around 2am to 3am depending on which Asian country you live in, it’s much easier for fans to stay up through the night – especially if the match goes to extra time and / or penalties – if they don’t have to go to work the next day.  The Champions League was something of an anomaly in having its final midweek, and this will now come to an end.

“There’s also an important broadcasting change which is likely to have a large, positive effect.  This year, in 2010, unlike in 2009, the Champions League final will be televised live on CCTV-5 in China, and by Uefa partnering with the state broadcaster there is the potential for a much larger Chinese audience to be delivered.”

What this means for English clubs in the tournament is more money. There is already hard evidence of it flowing in. Last season, Uefa paid 583.4m euros (£504.8m) in prize money to the 32 clubs, split between “fixed” amounts, for reaching certain stages, and “market pool” amounts, based on TV revenues.

Manchester United made £33.1m directly from Uefa, more than any other club, before tickets and other match income. This season, on the back of last year’s growth, Uefa’s prize pot has grown almost 29 per cent to £650m. If United won this year’s final, they would get as much as £47m from Uefa, a rise of more than 40 per cent.

The Future Sports + Entertainment report of the most-watched sports events of 2009 contains data from the 55 major TV markets around the world, equal to 90 per cent or more of the global TV markets by value. The best single event from each sport was included, with two events from some sports (baseball, cricket) to gauge the difference between club and international events in those sports. After the Champions League final, in No1 place, and the Super Bowl, in No2, came the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix (54m average / 115m reach), then the men’s 100m final at the athletics world championships (33m / 95m), then the men’s singles final at Wimbledon between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick (29m / 89m).

For more information about the report’s authors and their work, their website is here.

For the full list of the best-watched sports events of 2009, click here.

A version of this story appeared in today’s Independent on Sunday.

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