KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING
— MANCHESTER: UEFA has everything signed and sealed and delivered – apart from one small snag – to launch its Week of Football project in 2014.
The Football Week, which will see Euro 2016 qualifying games staggered over a ‘six-day weekend’ is being enabled by the European federation taking over all marketing and TV rights for national team qualifying matches.
UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino told the Soccerex European Forum in Manchester today that all but one of the 53 European federations had agreed all the details of how it works. The one yet to complete is England, with concerns over a broadcasting issue, but Infantino believes there is no significant obstacle.
The very success of the Champions League has contributed significantly to lowering the significance and status of national team football. Many observers have acknowledged that a higher standard of football is on offer in the elite club competition than in the final stages of the World Cup and European Championship.
Hence, though Infantino denies it, the central marketing innovation appears formulated for several reasons but one of them being to ringfence the status and place of national team football, in the European game at least.
Infantino said: “This is about the promotion of national team football and giving more financial stability to national associations.
“We have seen that national team football, especially qualifying matches, are being squeezed by the Champions League and national competitions.
“However though it is national team competitions which make people’s heart beat faster in all 53 countries they are not ‘in the right place.’ That’s why, following discussions with all the national associations to centralise the qualifying matches of the World Cup and European Championship, we’ll start in 2014 with the European Championship.”
All 53 national associations signed up to the concept a year ago and tenders for sponsorship and television contracts will be opened early next month.
Infantino said: “You only have to look at the European club competitions to see the benefits of a competition being centrally managed.
“What has happened in the past is that the national associations agree on when they should play each otger, kickoff times, home and away, etc. This will now be centrally managed by UEFA.
“Also, our media partners won’t have to run after each association and can go to a single point of sale.”
The Week of Football will mean transmission of matches will be available to fans on pan-European basis. National team matches now are played in Friday/Tuesday double-headers. From 2014 some teams will play Thursday/Sunday, others Friday/Monday, still others Saturday/Tuesday.
Teams will rotate between the double-header options with fixed kickoff times at 8.45pm CET on weekdays and 6pm and 8.45pm CET on Saturdays and Sundays.
Infantino added: “National team football still draws the highest TV audience but it needs a boost – which is why we are launching this project. We have some excellent agreements now with the clubs and the key has been to find the right balance between national team football and club football.
“It’s a great challenge but it will have a great impact on the football landscape.”
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