The UEFA Champions League as Political Myth: Unifying Europe or Alienating the Regular Football Fan?
Alexander Brand / Arne Niemann
The UEFA Champions League (CL) has arguably evoked much attention, fascination as well as criticism over the years. While it quickly developed into a commercial success story and a brand name which seemed to draw financially well-endowed sponsors all too easily, it has also increasingly been criticised for its changes in format, its focus on nurturing elite clubs at the expense of grassroots football as well as already having reached some point of saturation and over-exposition towards likely spectators, fans and consumers.
Beneath this discussion of the likely sporting and commercial dynamics around the UEFA Champions League, there has always been some interest in this continent-wide competition as an engine, which supposedly makes Europe hang together more closely. In this regard, the very idea that millions of Europeans watch games – not only of their beloved clubs, not only of their respective national sides, as research and data suggest – has fascinated and inspired political and scholarly comment. Elaborating on narratives establishing, and counter-narratives undermining such positive perceptions of the CL, we aim at uncovering the potential of top-level club football competition to function as a political myth.
If it is true that Champions League finals are more prominent in the minds of Europeans than constitutional patriotism towards the EU Treaties, such unconscious identity work through lifeworldly activities becomes politically relevant. It may reach the stage of a political myth when actors refer to such presumed CL-effects on Europeanised mind-sets and deliberately enhance their importance. In doing so, they may either seek to push a European agenda or to legitimise commercial interests with reference to "the European idea". Wittingly or not, however, they contribute to the very narrative of the Champions League as a generator of European(ised) mind sets. Countervailing forces which are to undermine this very political myth of the CL include, e.g., the growing criticism of (over-)commercialised football or the League’s presumed negative effects on the integrity of "true football".
Against the idea of an ongoing Europeanisation of football, most recent data on football fandom throughout Europe and our own emerging research into identity effects of football fandom, we discuss the role of the UEFA Champions League as a generator of Europeanised experiences, frameworks and communities in this paper. In doing so, we are specifically interested in ascertaining whether there is a politically relevant identity-formation under way due to increased awareness of, exposure to and familiarity with European-level competition of top football Clubs.
Keywords: Champions League, commercialisation, Europe, fans, football, Integration