Cash machine

With the Champions League grossing more money than ever, Steve Menary learns how it is distributed to its clubs

The Premier League is often held up as the primary example of how Sky’s millions have distorted football. They certainly started the process. But, in recent years, with up to four clubs per country and many millions going to every group-stage participant, the Champions League is having a far greater impact.

This season, the competition will gross UEFA €750 million (£502m), with TV rights sold to 230 markets and Italy’s RAI and Spanish network Antenna 3 signing up for the first time. There’s also the start of a new three-year marketing deal that raised the number of “partners” – brands with their names splashed everywhere – from four to six. Vodafone and Sony have joined Ford, Heineken, PlayStation and MasterCard in UEFA’s squad. Vodafone is now the “official mobile network” with content rights to give users goal alerts – at a price.

UEFA have promised to distribute up to €530m between the 32 clubs in the group stages. The remainder covers administration and the solidarity payments that are a sop for making clubs from weak leagues play qualifiers when most have barely started pre-season friendlies. UEFA will split €10.4m between sides eliminated in the qualifying rounds, such as Linfield, who went out in mid-July.

That share will be a windfall in Northern Irish terms, but the 32 clubs in the group stages will get a minimum of €4.4m just for being there. There’s €600,000 at stake in each game, with €300,000 each for a draw. You get another €2.2m if you make the last 16 and another €2.5m for reaching the quarter-finals.

Clubs going on to the semis will get another €3m and can expect €7m if they win the final in Athens next May or €4m for losing. The winners will amass a thumping €22.7m, and that does not even include gate receipts – not inconsiderable at the Nou Camp or Emirates Stadium – or extra cash from the market pool. The market pool is expected to provide €270.4m from TV money but the amount clubs get depends on the number of teams from a given country in the competition (a factor that helped make Porto’s 2004 win less lucrative than, for example, Manchester United’s run to the last 16, where they went out to the Portuguese side).

A club’s standing in the previous season’s domestic table, their progress and the performances of clubs from the same country also determine the final figure. UEFA cannot ­confirm that sum as contracts are not all finalised, but expect Arsenal, Liverpool, Man Utd and Chelsea to all do significantly better than debutants Bulgaria’s Levski Sofia.In UEFA’s defence, if the cash cow that is the competition makes more than the projected €750m – and it is now expected to – most of this extra cash will go to the non-qualifiers.

That is UEFA’s side of the bargain, but at what cost? UEFA’s six “partners” get the usual perimeter board and programme ads, logos on match tickets and interview back-drops and broadcast sponsorship opportunities that have long been a regular fixtures of professional football, but UEFA have not stopped there. From the knockout stage, referees will get escorts sponsored by Sony and expect flag bearers on the pitch kitted out by Vodafone. Ford, which has sponsored the competition since its inception in 1992, is not only providing the cars to ferry everyone about and launching the new S‑MAX on the back of the competition, but also getting exclusive sponsorship of the centre-circle carriers, while players will be escorted to the field by a walking MasterCard ad.

This huge exercise in cash raking allows UEFA to placate the G-14 clubs and head off rumoured plans for a breakaway league.So far, UEFA have probably succeeded. The G‑14 clubs are unlikely to agitate for a breakaway when most members are increasingly unchallengeable at home, in part because of the money the Champions League guarantees. But what about when UEFA need more money, when the cash cow needs milking again? Sponsored referees’ whistles, maybe?

From WSC 237 November 2006. What was happening this month