The second tier of European club competition, the Europa League, used to be a respected tournament, how times have changed. The insulting chant ‘Thursday night, Channel 5,’ says as much about the Europa League’s reputation as it does about Channel 5’s – neither organisation comes out in an especially positive light.
What if, however, UEFA were to move the Champions League and Europa League to alternate weeks? It is a proposal that brings with it both positive and negative connotations. However, considering the financial gap between the two competitions it could well act as a step forward in the attempts to raise the profile of the Europa League and bridge the gap between the two sets of competitors.
The main benefit would surely be that the number of viewers for the Europa League would rise. Is it any wonder that few watch Europa League football when not only is the quality of a lesser standard but that deficiency is highlighted when you are able to compare it to the football you watched the night before.
Moreover, as much as it’s beneficial for the soul to watch as much football as possible do UEFA really expect people to be able to watch three games of midweek football?
Yes, we all love football, but we also have work, families and other halves that require some of our attention. If you have the choice between taking time off to watch football during the week you will almost certainly end up watching the Champions League.
If, however, the two European competitions were shown on alternate weeks then you would have no choice but to use the Europa League to satisfy your craving for midweek football. It might be a slow process initially but by switching to alternate weeks UEFA could create a culture whereby people watch the Europa League almost as regularly as they watch the Champions League.
Alternating the weeks would also mean that the Europa League could be played on Tuesday and Wednesday. No longer would teams have to play on the Thursday before the weekend. When teams play on Thursday it invariably means that their opponents have had at least a day longer to rest since their last league game as well as not having to play mid week.
The current group stage system for both competitions is arranged as such that they are both shown on one week, with weeks containing no European football interspersing the weeks containing it. As such, there would be space to put the two competitions on alternate weeks without having to greatly alter the beginning and end dates of the group stages.
The same cannot be said for the knock out stages. Because the knock out stages are played over two legs, if we wanted to alternate those weeks as well then the group stages would either have to begin earlier or the victorious teams would have almost no break between rounds. This would mean that their schedule could become increasingly manic towards the end of the season, which is tiring enough as it is. Currently the group stages end between the 4th-6th of December with the knock out rounds beginning at the beginning of February. If UEFA then had to move that date forward to January then it would mean that teams involved in European fixtures could be hit even harder by players leaving for the African Cup of Nations as they would for the coming season.
Moreover, moving to alternate weeks for both the group stages and the knock out rounds of these competitions could disrupt domestic cup competitions. For example, teams might be expected to play a cup fixture, a European fixture and two domestic league fixtures all in the space of a week, which would obviously be impossible.
Ultimately, it seems unrealistic to pile any more pressure on the end of season fixture list yet UEFA need to find a solution to the ever increasing financial inequality gap between it’s two European club competitions. If they cannot identify a solution that would raise the revenues of the Europa League then it’s participants face being left behind by their Champions League rivals.
The group stages of the Champions League bring in more than three times as much television money as is received by the winner of the Europa League. This is because of a lack of interest in the competition. Something needs to be done; quite what that is, though, remains unclear.