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Super Bowl vs. UEFA Champions League

The NFL is doing well. The most recent edition of the Super Bowl (Super Bowl XLV) holds the record for total number of U.S. viewers, attracting an average audience of 111 million viewers, making it the most viewed television broadcast of any kind in U.S. history. However, the growth of its European equivalent, the UEFA Champions League Final, is outpacing its American rival. I personally expect the ratings for the 2011 UEFA Champions League Final to outperform this all time best Super Bowl – but still feel the NFL Super Bowl is the more iconic and impactful sport event.

Two of the world’s biggest teams will be facing each other in the final:  FC Barcelona and Manchester United FC. The Final at Wembley Stadium will be match number 125 of a competition that started on September 14th (or even earlier if you’d also include the qualifying matches in this count). The final of Europe’s premier club competition first passed the Super Bowl in global audience numbers in 2009, making it the most-watched annual single sport event in the world for the first time. 2011 will be the first time ever that the UEFA Champions League final will be played on a Saturday evening, aiming for ‘Super Saturday-like’ TV domination and – most probably – the advertising revenue to match. However in terms of horizontal impact, cultural importance, advertising and entertainment value, the UEFA Champions League – in my humble opinion – still has some catching-up to do.


The social and cultural impact of the Super Bowl can hardly be overrated. Because of its high US viewership, commercial airtime during the Super Bowl broadcast is the most expensive of the year. Watching and discussing the broadcast’s commercials has become a significant aspect of the event.

Some random well-known examples include;

  • The legendary 1984 Apple Macintosh 1984 Commercial directed by Ridley Scott, and starring Anya Major (also know as Elton John’s nikita) released for a single airing on January 22, 1984 during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII.
  • The Larry Bird vs. Michael Jordan McDonalds Commercial made in 1993 (What IS M.J. wearing?!) and the 2010 update featuring LeBron James and Dwight Howard
  • The 2003 Reebok commercial featuring Tery Tate the Office Linebacker. “The pain train is coming, whoo whoo”!
  • The “winner of the 2011 Super Bowl was Volkswagen with “The Force”. Guess all of you would have seen it by now. Click here for some deleted scenes.

More legendary Super Bowl advertising here. The UEFA Champions League does not know a similar culture. The advertising is most certainly strong, but be no means as highly anticipated – and therefore not as valuable – as the commercials on Superbowl Sunday.


Moving the Champions League final to a Saturday will have a positive impact. It will extend the impact of the game and increase its reach and audience. However, Superbowl Sunday is practically an American national holiday! It is the second-largest day for US food consumption, after Thanksgiving Day. In addition the event’s pre-game and halftime ceremonies have featured some of world’s best entertainers and boast some absolutely legendary performances, such as:

American Super Sunday vs. European Super Saturday

Reviewing the above I feel it’s fair to conclude that similar traditions surrounding the UEFA Champions League Final still have room to grow. Of course I’m excited about seeing the world’s best player(s) perform in the most important football match of the year and I wonder which team will win its fourth UEFA Champions League trophy (FC Barcelona). However I’ll also be very interested in some of the other aspects around the game. Let’s take a look at the entertainment and the advertising this Saturday. Budweiser has always been able to activate the Super Bowl in a fantastic way. Heineken is an Official Sponsor of the UEFA Champions League and has done some fantastic activations work (check THIS out, it’s great work). Will Heineken also be the biggest winner this Saturday?

Enjoy the match!


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20 Responses to Super Bowl vs. UEFA Champions League

  1. samspopguy May 26, 2011 at 12:55 am #

    so you are comparing every thing else other then the actually sport

    pretty sure you are making a case why champions league is better because people watch it for the game unlike the superbowl where people watch it for halftime and commercials and dont care about the game

  2. Auxane May 26, 2011 at 4:02 am #

    The “national holiday” phenomenon will never happen (except for the 1 or 2 countries involved in the final maybe…if their respective countries is attached enough to the club…cf. Porto FC in Portugal or Barça almost a national team for Catalonia). You’re comparijng uncomparable things!

    1) If anything, the fact that CL gets more viewership, as said by the previous commentator, is a testament to how much Europeans are in love with football, the sport, the game, so that even without any ties to the teams playing, they’d not miss the final…to comment about the sport and see the (hopefully) beautiful game live

    2) It’s not about ads here but the appeal of the sport. Actually i’d say Europeans in general don’t like ads messing with sports events too much : we have those at half time (when we go have a pee…), before and after, a few brands showing up around stats info and around the pitch and that’s it! THE FORMAT of the game of football (not stop-start, hacked like NFL) doesn’t allow much more anyway and Europeans are more anti-ads than US viewers, we wouldn’t tolerate more.

    3) Another element is the way the top 10 clubs have managed to develop strong fanbases abroad (like Asia cf. Man Utd…) via good marketing

    4) and the fact that European football is way more international than the NFL (Superball) with teams accumulating plenty of international stars ensuring that viewers from almost everywhere would follow closely other national leagues and above all the CL to see how their national stars fare…

    5) Finally, i agree the UEFA CL could do better, in trying to create “viewing parties” (the chat on their official website is not enough…), pre-game events, engage with fans more etc…and push advertisers to be more creative…

    6) Look at the RBS Six Nations of Rugby for events that sensibly increase beer consumption in their respective countries during 6 Nations Weekends (i’m looking at you Brains and Wales…), Heineken is sponsoring the European Club Championship btw…

  3. motivagoal May 28, 2011 at 7:11 am #

    Very good article. One minor correction, however. Last year was the first time it was played on a Saturday (2010 Madrid Final). This will be the second time around, so I’m sure UEFA will apply some lessons learned.

  4. Klaas May 29, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    Nobody is interested in a very local and humble personal and very unprofessional opinion.
    The champions league is 300 % bigger than superbowl. In all aspects advertising, viewers and money made by the players. Please next time you write an article leave plannet America and do you homework.

  5. Thomas_van_Schaik May 30, 2011 at 4:46 am #

    @motivagoal Thank you for your comment Motivagoal. You’re – of course – absolutely correct! I feel this change has really benefitted the status and the impact of the final. Did you enjoy the match?

  6. Thomas_van_Schaik May 30, 2011 at 5:05 am #

    @Auxane Thank you for reading and commenting on the post. I appreciate the points you make.

    In my opinion – I feel it might also yours? – Football is the most impactful sport on the planet. Somehow the Super Bowl has been able to generate an enormous ‘horizontal impact’ in the US only similar to that of the FIFA World Cup Final elsewhere on the planet.

    It presents an interesting case for the UEFA Champions League to take a look at from a commercial, advertising, entertainment and social media perspective.

  7. Thomas_van_Schaik May 30, 2011 at 5:11 am #

    @samspopguy Thank you for your comment Samspopguy. You’re right; I wasn’t comparing sports. Having worked in professional soccer as well as the NFL, I’m absolutely convinced that the levels of dedication, commitment and athletic capability – as well as the involvement of the fans – are very similar.

    The impact and cultural status of the Super Bowl is remotely similar to that of the FIFA World Cup Final where even less committed fans will watch the entire game – that doesn’t mean they don’t care, or does it?

  8. Thomas_van_Schaik May 30, 2011 at 5:39 am #


    Hope you enjoyed the match? I was fortunate enough to attend the Final at Wembley and loved every minute of it. Thank you for taking the time to read my post.

    The cumulative ratings aren’t out yet but the expectation, included in my post, is that they will exceed the all-time high 111 Million audience of Super bowl XLV. You are also correct when you say the players make more money. The Telegraph wrote an article in 2009 estimating the average wages for a starting FC Barcelona player at $6.16 million and the average wages of the Pittsburg Steelers of $1.1 million a year.

    Let me respond to your comment with these questions:

    – How did you enjoy the half-time entertainment during this UEFA Champions League final?

    – Which advertisers paid around $3 Million dollars for a 30 second spot?

    – Or alternatively; what is the commercial everybody in Europe is talking about today (or boasts 40 million hits on Youtube)?

  9. enekoruiz May 30, 2011 at 6:36 am #

    Despite SuperBowl , UEFA Champions League final game is a more global event. Fans in all arround the world with players from different countries are involved, so TV rates are really differents to the ones in USA. There is not a single broadcasting, so there is not unified TV commercials. Sponsors cannot buy commercials in every single tv where the game is broadcasted so they must activate it online (check the focus cam of Ford on youtube). Despite NFL Superbowl, where all the sponsorship is more certralized, UEFA has his own sponsors (Heineken, Adidas and Ford) and are direct competence with the ones from clubes (Nike, Estrella Damm, Audi for example).

    So it is no point doing a mega great advertisement if you are not going to have TV Control to show it. Its better working this activation with smaller and smartest activities.

  10. Thomas_van_Schaik May 30, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

    @enekoruiz Thank you for reading and commenting on the post! I appreciate your perspective. On the ground activations (like the great Ford example you shared) have always been an important element of the marketing mix. The NFL and its sponsors have organised the NFL Experience – featuring a wide range of similar activities – for a long time now.

    You are completely right.; the UCL audience is much more diverse and its TV market significantly more fragmented. However that should not stop any strong media agency from being able to secure the right slots and provide a turnkey platform for an integrated campaign – including TV.

    Fact is that dedicated and simultanious TV audiences, of this size offer extra-ordinary oppertunities and still present sponsors and the confederation with significant potential.

  11. Auxane June 6, 2011 at 7:00 am #

    @Thomas_van_Schaik Thank for your answer. I agree about football being the most impactful sport worldwide indeed and see thhat the UEFA hsn’t been able to generate as much commercial, advertising and entertainment “impact” as you say than the Superball has. So now….How do you deal with the fact that we can’t have as much ad time around and during a game on the many TV channels broadcasting the match 1) because of the format of a game of football compared to that of a game of American gridiron football, 2) the fact that usually European viewers (the core market still) are more anti-advertisement than US audiences and wouldn’t really accept more than what we have now unless it’s really subtle and inventive 3) again realise that commerical/advertising “activations” may not be able “horizontally” when we’re speaking about that many countries, and many which aren’t part of the “Western World” = big cultural differences, difference in financial means…, interests fopr watching the game in the first place etc…The part about social media efforts and on the ground activation are still valid, UEFA and their partners/sponsors are not doing enough.

  12. Couchable February 16, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

    In the US, 98% of the populations has never even heard of the UEFA Champions League or it’s final game, let alone know when it happens, or care to watch it. The Super Bowl on the other hand, is a National holiday.

    Outside of the US I’m sure UEFA is the bigger event by a large amount. American football is a regional sport while football *cough* soccer, is a global sport. You can’t compare the two.

    The Super Bowl is the 5th biggest holiday in the States behind Christmas, Thanksgiving, 4th of July, and Halloween. Other countries can participate if they wish but it is an American sport watched primarily by Americans. This article is like comparing The Olympics to NASCAR. A global sport to a regional sport.

  13. bob February 14, 2013 at 2:00 am #

    “but still feel the NFL Super Bowl is the more iconic and impactful sport event.” – Well most of the world disagrees with you. Very few if anyone cares about the NFL outside of North America, while football is loved the world over..

  14. Mercbook1 September 22, 2013 at 7:18 am #

    Sorry think this shows the fact that the Superbowl is growing think this is a sport only played in two countries at a pro level. Soccer is losing ground if it’s such a world wide sport they should have a large viewing audience should they not. To down the NFL is wrong take a sport played in America and putting it all over the world and making it almost viewed as much as sport that is played all over the world. Give it time American football will start to be played in more countries then the Superbowl will over take all.

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  16. Mario Altamirano September 17, 2014 at 1:04 pm #

    Mr. Mercbook1
    You said that the World Cup is losing ground? Football is bigger now than ever was. In China, India & USA there are 20 more millions of children per country playing our sport. I can assure you something, in your life time the Superbowl will not be even bigger than a Cricket game between India and Pakistan and so much less than the World Cup. Your game is only a regional game. (has nothing to do with the WORLD) I wish the NFL was more honest and stop telling their fans all those false claims.
    Who want to watch a sport so full of criminals, drug users, child and wife abusers. We do not need gridiron player like Aaron Hernandez.
    The reason the NFL do not implement a true drug testing policy is because if they do there will be no league left.

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    The little girl bobbed her head as if she understood and pointed to a red jeep across the way.
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    Women should not sit and talk throughout the game or do not sit
    and talk on a cell phone – go to the lobby, outside, a bar, etc.

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