A revolutionary change could be introduced to the Champions League over the next few years. UEFA is weighing the idea of adding weekend games to its its prized club competition’s calendar, according to The Times.
In an effort to make the Champions League more accessible to the growing Asian market and attract higher television revenue, UEFA are reportedly considering scheduling some segment of the tournament (either group stage games or the semifinals or quarterfinals, but not both) to Saturdays and Sundays during the day.
“We are having a series of discussions with the clubs about ways to improve the competition and the possibility of playing Champions League matches at the weekend is among the ideas,” said a source quoted by The Times.
Group and knockout stage games have been played in mid-week since 1968 — including even the final until 2010 — in primetime in European time zones. That means games in the middle of the night in Asia and midday and afternoons in the Americas.
Moving games to weekend afternoons would maximize interest and viewership across the globe, but there are obvious hurdles UEFA would have to overcome first. For one, such a change wouldn’t even be possible until the 2021/22 season due to broadcasting cycles.
Then there is the challenge of convincing the domestic leagues to get on board. Whether Europe’s top leagues are prepared to move several more matchdays of their own seasons to mid-week is highly questionable, and the Premier League is already said to be vehemently against such a move.
“It is unthinkable that Champions League matches would be played on weekends,” an EPL spokesman told The Times. “Those dates are allocated to domestic competitions. We hope that the good sense of our own FA, UEFA and FIFA would prevail in preventing this.”
Of course, the Premier League has enjoyed considerable success in Asia precisely because, in part, of its spread-out kickoff times on weekend afternoons. The early 12:45pm games (UK time) kick off at 7:45pm in Hong Kong, while the 3pm UK matches are shown at 10pm Hong Kong time. According to The Guardian, Asia is the league’s most valuable market for TV rights after the UK, accounting for about 45% of the £750million annually it receives under existing international agreements.
Other European leagues, like the Serie A and the Bundesliga have since pondered making similar changes to their schedule to try and close the gap on the Premier League and its ballooning television deals.
Will the Champions League follow suit?