Saturday’s UEFA Champions League Final is an All-Premier League affair, but its reverberations go far beyond England — or even Europe.
It’s the biggest event in global club sports. It has a TV audience that can triple that of the Super Bowl. On May 29, the 2021 UEFA Champions League Final arrives.
In an all-English clash, either Manchester City or Chelsea will walk away with the European crown. But there’s a lot more at stake than just a trophy and $23 million in prize money.
Let’s take the field.
HOW WE GOT TO PORTO
The game was scheduled to take place in Instanbul, but that quickly became an issue when both finalists turned out to be English — the UK placed Turkey on its no-go travel list after a recent COVID flare-up. For the second year in a row, Portugal stepped up on short notice to host: it’s all going down at FC Porto’s Estádio do Dragão.
6,000 fans from each team will be permitted to attend. Based on 2019 ticket prices, UEFA can anticipate about $6 million in gate revenue. It’s a far cry from the 63,272 who paid to attend the Final two years ago in Madrid, but then again, this tournament ultimately proves its worth as a television product.
Just how big of a product, exactly? The Super Bowl’s all-time record for global viewership is 114 million, set in 2015.
That same year, 380 million viewers in 200 countries watched the Champions League Final.
BILLIONS BEYOND BILLIONS
Manchester City and Chelsea are both Premier League heavyweights of the new-money variety. They’re both owned by overseas oil billionaires who swooped in during the aughts — and with fortunes that are too large to be counted, quickly took team spending to explosive, intimidating levels.
Let’s meet Manchester’s Citizens, who have never won a European title but were recently crowned champions of the Premier League for 2020-21:
- Winners of seven league titles and six FA Cups
- Owned by Sheikh Mansour of Abu Dhabi, who purchased club in 2008 for $385 million
- Forbes estimates them to be worth $4 billion, No. 13 overall in global sports and No. 6 in soccer
- If Mansour sold the club at Forbes’ price, it’s technically a 938.96% ROI
And their opponents, the mighty Blues of Chelsea FC:
- Winners of six league titles, eight FA Cups, and the 2011-12 Champions League
- Owned by Russian oil magnate Roman Abramovich, who purchased the club in 2003 for $233 million
- Forbes estimates them to be worth $3.2 billion, No. No. 25 overall in global sports and No. 7 in soccer
- If Abramovich sold for the club at Forbes’ price, it’s technically a 1,273.39% ROI
(No, those ROI calculations don’t take into account massive investments in talent, infrastructure, and marketing, but team valuations will only keep increasing.)
THE YANKS ARE
Speaking of Americans, each finalist happens to feature a US National Team player: Chelsea attacker Christian Pulisic and Man City goalkeeper Zack Steffen. It’s a landmark achievement — but it’s not the biggest stateside narrative shaping the Beautiful Game.
Man City and Chelsea were both among the 12 original members of the proposed European Super League. The idea quickly stalled after major backlash from fans, but a ton of damage was already done. From a lack of promotion and relegation to a possible salary cap, you might call it the Americanization of soccer.
City and Chelsea don’t have American owners, but US investors are powerful in the sport... and helped lead the charge toward the Super League. For that transgression, local fans organized major protests against:
- The Glazer family that owns Manchester United and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Fenway Sports Group (Liverpool, Boston Red Sox)
- Stan Kroenke (Arsenal, LA Rams, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche)
A Manchester United-Liverpool game even had to be postponed earlier this month as scores of anti-Glazer demonstrators took over the pitch at Old Trafford hours before the scheduled kickoff — but ultimately, these owners are standing firm. No elite-level clubs have changed hands amid the Super League fallout, and it’s hard to imagine any of these American billionaires selling.
But as two wealthy titans of England take the Champions League stage Saturday, they’ll do so at a time in which fan protests against owners who place gain over the game are only getting louder.