Could club soccer’s biggest game soon be heading to the Big Apple? That unlikely scenario could become a reality, suggested new Uefa President Aleksander Ceferin on Thursday. The former Slovenian federation president, who was elected to take charge of European soccer’s governing body last month, said in an interview with Associated Press that he is open to the Champions League final being staged outside of Europe for the first time.
"I think it might be an idea in future but we have to speak about it," Ceferin told the AP. "To go from Portugal to Azerbaijan, for example, is almost the same or the same as if you go to New York. For the fans, it's no problem but we should see. It's a European competition so let's think about it."
Currently, the final of Europe’s showpiece club competition, which began life in 1955, moves around the continent, with the host decided by Uefa behind closed doors. But Ceferin is eager to open the process up, as is the case for the hosting of the European Championship and World Cup.
“The bidding process should be very clear because if you get the Champions League finals or Europa league finals as a political favor then it's not OK," Ceferin said. "With a clear bidding procedure I will protect also the administration and myself because whoever tries to call us, to push us, to ask us for such a favor we will have a clear answer, 'Sorry there are clear rules we cannot do it.'"
Were the final to be moved out of Europe, New York City would appear to be a logical choice. For fans from much of southern and western Europe, the Big Apple would be easier to get to than Azerbaijani capital Baku, or Tbilisi, which hosted the European Super Cup in 2015.
There would, however, be extra difficulty for the players, with an increased time difference of six hours from much of Europe. That, though, would be mitigated by the fact that the Champions League final takes place at least a week after the majority of clubs’ domestic seasons have finished, giving them ample time to acclimatize.
The New York area is no stranger to hosting big events, with the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, the venue for the final of the Copa America Centenario this past summer. A crowd in excess of 82,000 watched Chile beat Argentina on penalties.
The earliest a final could be held outside of Europe is 2019, with Cardiff and Kiev already announced as hosts for the next two years.
Ceferin is also exploring other ways to grow the success of the Champions League, which he called “the best sporting product in the world.” One of those is to alter the kickoff times of matches. While the final has been held on a Saturday since 2010, giving those in lucrative markets like the United States and China a chance to tune in, every other game in the competition takes place in midweek, during a time when those in the U.S. are at work and those in China are fast asleep.
"From a financial point of view it's not ideal," Ceferin said. "We should think also about other markets, but how to do it exactly I'm not sure yet. China is financially interesting and the U.S. is not just financially interesting, but football is growing there.
“There are some ideas about that because then China is not asleep because it's Saturday and they can watch. But there are many problems concerning that with the calendar of the leagues. National leagues are too important. You have the Premier League which is very strong. [Having the semifinals at the weekend] is an idea that came but it's too early to say anything concrete on it.”