The Next Step: Continued Growth for the Champions League in the United States
There’s no doubting the global popularity of the Champions League. While the World Cup may capture the imagination of the globe in a more unified way, it’s only every four years and it’s also crammed into a hyperbolic month in which there’s often a sense of acclimation for casual fans. Even if many countries, like Argentina, Brazil, or France are familiar to casual fans, the cyclical nature of international football often means that many players have a chance to shine in just a handful of major tournament — if they’re lucky.
Thus, the Champions League is the conduit by which we can watch the world’s best players play their club football most consistently. Even as the Saudi League woos away some of its top talent, Europe remains the pinnacle to which most players aspire, and the Champions League offers the highest level of play, bringing together the best teams from each of its leagues. Even with that being the case, it’s sometimes been a tough sell in the United States.
Fans in the US love the World Cup, but there’s often the feeling that there’s something of the occasion at play — American fans have an affinity for the Olympics as well, but how often are they tuning in to figure skating, curling, or athletics outside that time period? The Champions League has also struggled with awkward kickoff times in the US — 1 PM on a Tuesday isn’t a time most fans are able to gather at a bar or a friend’s house.
However, with the increased popularity of Major League Soccer — in terms of audience, attendance, finances and the sheer number of teams, it’s also clear that there’s a defined and growing appetite for football in the United States. We’ve talked ad nauseam in the space about the growing shift towards streaming as being the primary way of consuming sports. From ESPN as a whole, to Major League Baseball, there’s an indelible shift towards the primacy and ease of access of streaming.
CBS Sports scores record audiences across platforms for 2022-2023 UEFA Champions League coverage. pic.twitter.com/nX554hfqo6
— CBS Sports PR (@CBSSportsGang) June 13, 2023
The Champions League, moreover, is the perfect example of the capabilities of streaming. Its group stage matchdays feature eight matches concurrently, a figure that will grow with the tournament’s reformatting in a year’s time. A devoted fan of, say, Real Madrid and Napoli can watch one team on his smart TV and another on a device. Thus, CBS, who have held the rights to all of UEFA’s international club competitions for three seasons now, and last year signed an extension through the 2029-30 season, have taken the bull by the horns.
In addition to offering a whiparound “goals show” that features every goal on a given matchday, their streaming allows fans in the US to watch matches live or on replay with English commentary. And how has this fun, lively approach worked out? As the above Tweet indicates — quite well — especially in terms of year-on-year growth!
CBS’ broadcast of the final itself didn’t break any records, but its overall coverage throughout the season did, averaging nearly a million viewers per match. Too, even if the overall numbers of fans who watched the final dipped without the magnetism of the likes of Liverpool and Real Madrid, who contested the match last year, Saturday’s final was still the most-streamed event in the history of the platform, and possibly the most-streamed football match of all time, underscoring the importance of the technology in growing football’s audience in the United States.