A Champions League Final held in New York has long been the subject of jokes and “God, I wish” kinds of daydreaming. But there are new indications that it might actually happen some day.
It’s been a little over a month since Slovenian lawyer Aleksander ?eferin was elected president of UEFA and observers and stakeholders have been anxiously waiting to see how much of a departure he would be from his disgraced predecessor Michel Platini. In his first major interview since winning the election, ?eferin discussed some major proposed changes to the Champions League.
First, he detailed a plan to open up bidding rights to host the Final. Currently, host stadia are selected behind closed doors among a select leadership group at UEFA headquarters. The decision-making process is almost entirely opaque. While a bidding process has its own problems, it’s arguably preferable to smoke-filled back rooms.
But then ?eferin made a fascinating proposal: opening up the bidding process to sites and cities outside of Europe. Like, oh, say, New York.
”I think it might be an idea in future but we have to speak about it. To go from Portugal to Azerbaijan for example is almost the same or the same as if you go to New York. For the fans it’s no problem but we should see. It’s a European competition so let’s think about it.”
?eferin called the Champions League “the best sporting product in the world” and emphasised that the competition could do more to capitalize on its international appeal, with burgeoning markets in Asia cited as growth areas. He said that while there are limits on how much UEFA is willing to tinker in the competition in order to appeal to these markets— such as kickoff times, noting that the standard 7:45pm GMT kickoff time comes as much of Asia is asleep— they are open to some suggestions, such as moving the semifinals to a weekend.
”From a financial point of view it’s not ideal. We should think also about other markets, but how to do it exactly I’m not sure yet. China is financially interesting and the US is not just financially interesting, but football is growing there. There are some ideas about that because then China is not asleep because it’s Saturday and they can watch. But there are many problems concerning that with the calendar of the leagues. National leagues are too important. You have the Premier League which is very strong. It’s an idea that came out (semifinals at the weekend) but it’s too early to say anything concrete on it.”
A Champions League Final at MetLife Stadium does sound intriguing. But if they’re going to let that genie out of the bottle, why limit it to New York? Why not the Rose Bowl in LA? Or at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, where soccer was invented in the first place The mind races with possibilities.