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Champions League final: Battles on and off the pitch

Tuesday 22 May 2018

WITH the Champions League final taking place in Kiev this Saturday, Professor Simon Chadwick looks at how the competition between Liverpool and Real Madrid is as hot off the pitch as it is on it.

And there are also battles looming between UEFA and FIFA, as well as the geopolitical standoff between Ukraine and Russia, adding an extra dimension to this year’s showpiece final.

Professor Chadwick, expert in sports enterprise at the University of Salford Business School, said: “As with any Champions League final, this year’s edition promises to be a thrilling football match in which two of the best teams in Europe are pitted against one another. 

“However, there are all manner of battles set to take place around this year’s match, both on and off the pitch. Both Real and Liverpool are heritage brands with huge marketing clout. But following Real’s recent record in the Champions League, the onus is firmly on Liverpool to seize the commercial impetus by winning the trophy. If the English club can do this, it is creating a platform for improved financial and commercial performances. Indeed, this will help boost what the club is already doing; for example, its recent development of its Anfield stadium appears to be propelling the club forward once more.
“An interesting prelude to, and outcome of, the final will be the way in which the clubs’ appearance in it helps them to build fan engagement. Both already have a global fan base. However, Real is stronger than Liverpool in territories such as South America, while the Reds are particularly popular in South East Asia and the Middle East. With interest in football growing in places such as China and Saudi Arabia, it will therefore be interesting to observe where the hotspots are for a growth in their respective fanbases.
“In addition, there are some interesting sub-texts to the venue and host city of the event itself. This year’s final comes at an especially interesting moment, as UEFA gets set to battle FIFA over proposed major changes to world football. Ironically, Infantino has now become FIFA president, while Platini’s successor – Slovenian Aleksander Ceferin – continues to champion less powerful and smaller European nations. As such, Kiev could become the focus for an increasingly fractious battle between European football’s governing body, and its global counterpart.
“It is ironic too that one of Europe’s biggest sporting events this year is juxtaposed alongside one of the world’s biggest sporting events. With the World Cup due to take place in Russia, a country that continues to support annexation of the eastern part of Ukraine, this conceivably puts the Champions League Final (which is being held in western Ukraine) at the heart of a geopolitical stand-off that continues to simmer.”

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Sam Wood

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