History beckons for Manchester City on Saturday as they bid to become the first side to win the Uefa Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup in a single season since rivals Manchester United completed the treble in 1999.
Standing in their way are Italian giants Inter Milan, who last appeared in the final of European soccer’s premier club competition back in 2010, when they won the title for a third time.
City, on the other hand, have never won the Champions League, which is the only trophy to have eluded them since coming under Abu Dhabi ownership in 2008, a deal which has gone on to not only transform the club’s fortunes but also the commercial face of the sport globally.
Whatever the outcome, all eyes will be on Istanbul’s Atatürk Olympic Stadium this weekend, where the winner will secure a cool €20 million (US$21.4 million), with the runners-up taking home a consolation prize of €15.5 million (US$16.5 million). That’s before factoring in the additional portion of prize money awarded based on Uefa’s coefficient algorithm and broadcast market value.
Ahead of kick-off, SportsPro looks at how Man City and Inter compare off the pitch, what Uefa’s tournament sponsors will be up to in Turkey, how much fans are paying to get there, and what this season has told us about the future of the Champions League.
Recently valued by Forbes at just under US$5 billion, Manchester City are owned Sheikh Mansour, a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family with a reported net worth of UK£17 billion, through City Football Group (CFG).
CFG was formed in 2013 to oversee further investments in clubs across the world, such as New York City FC in the US, Australia’s Melbourne City FC and Indian outfit Mumbai City FC. Today, the holding company either owns or has stakes in 13 clubs, including teams in China, Uruguay, Brazil and Spain.
Abu Dhabi United Group has an 81 per cent stake in CFG, which was valued at US$4.8 billion in 2019. US private equity firm Silver Lake owns 18 per cent of the business, with the other one per cent held by Chinese firm China Media Capital.
CFG’s tenure has coincided with a period of unprecedented on-field success and commercial growth for Manchester City, whose revenue for the 2021/22 season reached a record UK£613 million (US$760 million). That has allowed the club to spend handsomely in the transfer market, hoovering up some of the best talent the sport has to offer.
However, that excessive spending has not always been viewed favourably by the sport’s regulators. City went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) to overturn a two-season European competition ban in 2020 after Uefa charged them with breaking its Financial Fair Play (FFP) and club licensing regulations. More recently, the Premier League referred the club to an independent commission in relation to more than 100 alleged breaches of its financial rules.
While controversial, City’s Abu Dhabi ownership has offered stability at the Etihad for the past 15 years, which is not something that can be said for Inter.
The Serie A club is majority owned by Chinese conglomerate Suning, which purchased the club in 2016 for a reported €270 million. Forbes now values Inter at more than US$1 billion and Suning has been looking to sell the club since 2021 amid reports that it is planning to focus on its retail business.
The likes of Bahrain-based Investcorp, Andrea Radrizzani’s Aser Ventures and Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) have been linked with a deal for Inter, who lost €140 million (US$150 million) during the 2021/22 financial year and in 2021 secured a loan from Oaktree Capital Management to shore up their finances.
In that context, not many expected the Nerazzurri to be City’s opponents on Saturday.
The team sponsors
Manchester City’s commercial revenue for the 2021/22 season stood at a whopping UK£309.4 million (US$331 million), which includes income from deals with several companies linked to the Mubadala Investment Company, Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund, whose chief executive is club chairman Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak.
City’s most lucrative sponsorship deal is with Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). According to The Athletic, Etihad, which first teamed up with the club in 2009, pays UK£67.5 million per season under the current contract, although it is not known when the deal expires. CFG also has a ten-year kit deal with Puma worth a reported UK£650 million, which includes other clubs in the group’s portfolio.
Like City and Abu Dhabi, Inter have become a platform for their owners to advertise Chinese-owned companies, including the likes of Hisense, Lenovo and Volvo. However, the club’s efforts to swap longstanding shirt sponsor Pirelli with a more lucrative replacement have not been successful. Inter’s deal with DigitalBits was a victim of the wider cryptocurrency market crash, with reports earlier this year stating that the team has missed out on €25 million in payments from the company.
Inter have announced Paramount+ as their main shirt sponsor for the Champions League final. Gazzetta dello Sport reports that the streaming company will pay around €10 million to feature on the front of the team’s jerseys on Saturday before moving to the back of the playing tops for next season.
Meanwhile Inter’s kit supplier is Nike, which reportedly pays the club €12.5 million per season. With that deal nearing its conclusion, Corriere dello Sport reported last year that the pair have already agreed a new contract running until 2030 and worth €24 million annually.
Istanbul’s Atatürk Olympic Stadium will finally welcome the Champions League final for a second time having initially been slated to host the fixture in 2020. That had to be delayed by a year because of Covid-19 and was then shifted again in 2021 due to continued pandemic-related restrictions. Tournament sponsor Mastercard and Garanti BBVA Payment Systems have estimated that the game will deliver an economic boost of approximately €75 million (US$80 million) to the host city.
The host venue, which will have a capacity of 72,000 for the game, last held the final in 2005, when Liverpool staged a famous comeback against Inter’s rivals AC Milan, eventually winning the match on penalties after trailing 3-0 at halftime.
Just over 47,000 tickets have been made available to fans and the general public, with each participating club receiving 20,000 seats and the remainder going to Uefa stakeholders, such as local organisers, commercial partners and broadcasters. Official ticket prices range from €70 to €690, but any fans looking to buy through resale platforms will likely need to be prepared to part with thousands of euros.
Either way, Uefa will be hoping to avoid a repeat of the scenes at last year’s Champions League final in Paris, where kick-off was delayed due to serious congestion problems outside the Stade de France. After initially blaming fans, who were penned in against perimeter fences and tear-gassed by police, for the disruption, European soccer’s governing body has since issued an apology to those affected and committed to refunding Liverpool supporters who were in attendance.
Liverpool were the victors when the Ataturk Olympic Stadium last hosted the Champions League final in 2005
The tournament sponsors
The Champions League final represents a unique opportunity for Uefa’s sponsors to run on-the-ground, season-crowning activations at the Champions Festival in and around Ataturk Olympic Stadium.
Below is a flavour of what has been announced…
Adidas: The tournament’s official match ball supplier will be installing a giant version of its UCL Pro Ball Istanbul for fans to visit, which will feature a nod to the last time the game was played in the city in 2005.
Expedia: The online travel brand will be giving visitors a ‘multi-sensory experience’ by taking fans on a journey through four Champions League finals and their host cities. It will also have a branded garden area and a terrace for fans to watch live performances on the festival’s main stage.
Heineken: Ahead of the game, Heineken, PepsiCo and JustEatTakeaway.com announced that they have teamed up to implement a series of circular economy practices in Istanbul, which will include offering fans a range of reusable and bio-based packaging solutions. The beer brand will also have a bar on-site at the festival.
Mastercard: A Champions League partner since 1994, global payments giant Mastercard will be using augmented reality (AR) for its ‘magic mirror’ activation, which will place fans on the pitch inside the penalty area arc, from where they will kick virtual balls towards targets inside the goal for a chance to win a prize.
PepsiCo: The food and beverage giant is partnering with Turn to use 48,000 smart reusable cups at its on-site sampling stands. The company’s Pepsi brand also sponsors the pre-game show, which this year is being headlined by Burna Boy.
🎤Thirsty for more from @Anitta & @BurnaBoy?— Pepsi South Africa (@Pepsi_SA) June 6, 2023
Then make sure you join them for their performance at the #PepsiKickOffShow ahead of the 2023 @ChampionsLeague final.
June 10, 8.45pm CEST. Register here to make sure you don’t miss it! 👀 https://t.co/37vbX7qXEq #ThirstyForMore pic.twitter.com/X2CrcGFrSV
PlayStation: On top of running a result prediction giveaway, the video games console manufacturer will offer fans in Turkey the chance to test their EA Sports FIFA 23 credentials against an eChampions League professional gamer.
Turkish Airlines: Less than a year into its partnership with Uefa, Turkey’s flag carrier is going big for the final in its home market, with activations ranging from mini soccer, a guessing game and a ‘Miles & Smiles’ vending machine offering fans the chance to win travel rewards, to giant table football, virtual penalty kicks and a flight simulator.
Should City win their first Champions League title on Saturday, it might strengthen support for Uefa’s plans to introduce a salary cap in European soccer which would limit the amount that clubs can spend on wages and transfers in a single season.
The Times recently reported that Uefa is working on a proposal that could satisfy the European Union after president Aleksander Ceferin told the Men in Blazers podcast in April that the governing body was looking to implement such a measure “as soon as possible”.
The aim would be to retain competitive balance at a time when the financial gap between the Premier League and the other European domestic competitions continues to grow, largely because of the strength of the English division’s broadcast agreements.
Meanwhile Ceferin, who in April was reelected unopposed for a third four-year term, has also suggested this year that Uefa could “rethink” its rules that prevent anyone having ‘control or influence’ over more than one club in the same European competition. That could have implications for clubs such as Manchester United, who have been linked with a takeover by either Sir Jim Ratcliffe, whose chemicals firm Ineos owns French side Nice, or a bid backed by Qatar, which already owns Champions League regular Paris Saint-Germain.
Interestingly, though, those comments came barely a month after Uefa’s own Club Licensing Benchmarking report warned that multi-club ownership has the potential to pose ‘a material threat’ to the integrity of European club competitions.
Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin has suggested Uefa could rethink its rules on multi-club ownership and has floated the idea of taking the Champions League final to the US
As for the Champions League final itself, Ceferin has hinted that the game could one day be played in the US, where Uefa recently secured an improved broadcast deal amid the country’s growing interest in soccer.
In an interview with Men In Blazers, Ceferin said: “We have started to discuss about that but one year it was the World Cup, (20)24 is Euro, this year (the final) is in Istanbul, ’24 is London and ’25 is Munich and after that, let’s see. It’s possible.”
The Champions League remains in rude health but Ceferin appears to have an appetite for change ahead of the competition’s format switch from 2024. Perhaps that is what the Slovenian believes is needed to stay out in front of Fifa’s revamped Club World Cup and the continued threat of a European Super League.