Modern Marketing Brand Strategy

Even sponsors are riled by Uefa’s Champions League final fiasco

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By John McCarthy | Media editor

June 2, 2022 | 5 min read

The Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid was overshadowed by dangerous scenes of disorganization outside the Stade De France, endangering thousands of fans and sponsors. Could organizer Uefa suffer more than reputational damage?

Chaotic scenes of fans being kettled, needlessly tear-gassed and denied entry to the French national stadium overshadowed what should have been European football's showpiece event: the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid. Both clubs have condemned the treatment of their supporters, which French officials have claimed, to widespread derision, resulted from “industrial-scale” ticket fraud causing overcrowding at the venue. There’s been a lot of baton-passing from officials, and many believe Uefa is to blame.

France

Football celebrations in Paris in 2019

The sporting body has now commissioned an independent report into the events surrounding the finale to explore “decision-making, responsibility and behaviors of all entities involved.”

Sports marketing consultant Dan Tunna was on the ground at the game and saw the incident unfold. He says: “Much of the media reporting has rightly focused on the traumatic experiences of many Liverpool fans, however a telling point – one that contradicts much of what the French government has said so far – is that many Real Madrid fans, family and friends of players and corporate guests were also left exposed by the mismanagement of the event.”

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Tunna adds: “I was lucky to have only endured a very long wait to get into the stadium. I know first-hand that delegates of a global Uefa partner experienced similar issues and were deeply disappointed with how events unfolded, and the subsequent impact of delays and disruptions getting into the stadium had on the experience of their staff and guests. I’m sure this was the same for many corporate attendees, and will have left many asking how and why this happened? This event has clearly been damaging for Uefa’s reputation, but it remains to be seen if partners have lost confidence in their ability to stage such events in a way that makes them valuable to them and their clients.”

He points out that there were instances of poor crowd management at the Europa League final in Seville earlier this month, as well as issues at Wembley Stadium for the Euro 2020 final last year too.

“Uefa has a duty of care for football fans and all guests that attend their events. There is no doubt that if commercial partners voice their concerns, Uefa will feel additional pressure to ensure that this never happens again.”

He points out that some of the commercial partners he’s spoken to are displeased with how the final played out. Furthermore, according to Henry Winter, chief football writer at The Times, sponsors are preparing letters of complaint to Uefa citing the “assault course” fans had to navigate.

In the discussion, sports marketer Joel Seymour-Hyde claimed that first and foremost, above reputational damage and brand safety, the main concern was around how staff were potentially endangered by the event. A full thread of how the night played out is available here from Rob Draper, chief football writer, The Mail.

Reuters reporter Karolos Grohmann summed up the supposed customer service fans received: “Imagine having paid for a car and the salesman pepper sprays you when you go to pick it up.”

Uefa has endured a difficult Champions League season undercut by the invasion of Ukraine that saw it (eventually) have to tear up the sponsorship from Russia’s Gazprom. At the time, commentators asked whether it would prioritize ‘money or morals.’

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