UEFA seeing sense with Champions League final venues

07 Oct 2019 08:50 pm, by YorkshireSquare

After the recent announcement of the Champions League final venues for the 2021, 2022 and 2023 tournaments, many football fans across Europe will have breathed a sigh of relief. The 2021 final will be held in St Petersburg, the 2022 showpiece in Munich, while London’s Wembley Stadium will play host to the 2023 final.

These are three cities well equipped for hosting one of club football’s biggest matches. St Petersburg, a recent host city at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, has plenty of experience in hosting big games, the World Cup semi-final between France and Belgium having been played there.

Munich hosted the Champions League final in 2012 when Chelsea shocked Bayern Munich to lift the European Cup. London’s Wembley Stadium, meanwhile, played host to the final in 2011, as Barcelona defeated Manchester United, and once again 2013 when Bayern Munich beat Borussia Dortmund.

All these cities can boast the facilities required for hosting a Champions League final, equal to the task of hosting Europe’s biggest clubs – the hot picks of those betting on Champions League finalists. That can’t be said for a few venues in the past. The 2018 final in Kiev, Ukraine proved a nightmare for Liverpool and Real Madrid supporters, with the city’s airport unable to accommodate the sheer volume of passengers travelling to the match, and an inadequate number of hotels for fans to stay in.

In 2017, Cardiff also proved an ill-equipped host city. While no complaints could be made about the Millennium Stadium, it was Cardiff’s lack of hotel space and transport links that made the final an ordeal for fans of Real Madrid and Juventus. Many fans were forced to fly to and stay in London and get the train to and from Cardiff, somewhat devaluing the whole point of a host city being put in place.

UEFA have now learned from these mistakes. Regardless of the suitability of the host stadium, the city itself has to be the most important factor when deciding the venue for these major finals. Ample hotels and proper airport facilities are essential for fans to make the most of what should be a memorable and joyous occasion.

The governing body still has work to do in controlling how rooms and flights are priced and sold in these host cities. Many airlines and hotels have exploited these events in the past to their financial gain. Ahead of last season’s Champions League final in Madrid, flights were being offered for several times their usual price, while the demand for hotel rooms led to those prices being heavily inflated as well.

It is a difficult problem to address, as supply and demand usually rule, but for fans to have the best experience possible some steps need to be taken to ensure football supporters aren’t being fleeced at every opportunity. There have also been problems in the Europa League regarding the location of the final.

The decision to host last year’s final in Baku was an unmitigated disaster. Travel to Azerbaijan was nearly impossible for Arsenal and Chelsea fans, and this resulted in a stadium that was barely two thirds full. Due to Azerbaijan’s ongoing conflict with neighbouring Armenia, Arsenal’s Armenian forward Henrikh Mkhitaryan did not travel to the final. These are the kind of problems that simply shouldn’t arise ahead of a major European showpiece.

While UEFA still has work to do in organising these finals in the best way, the latest allocation of venues is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. Choosing cities that have hosted major events in the past, and having the transport and hotel facilities to match, should be a given when these decisions are made. A proper host city means that the focus can be placed solely upon what matters most to supporters – the football.