Thursday, June 1, 2017

Lovin' it: UEFA Champions League Final 2017

The European Cup final used to be an annual highlight for football fans watching on TV. Though the games themselves were sometimes boring, fans were treated to an unpredictable viewing experience featuring a crackly commentary and exotic goal nets.

But, sadly, no more. Better communications fixed the crackly commentary and the exotic goal nets were eliminated by the process of standardisation - or McDonaldisation - undergone by the game the last thirty years or so.

UEFA has used McDonalds standardised model to attract TV fans from all over the world. The same way McDonalds products and services are standardised to render the McDonalds experience placeless - it's always the same, anywhere in the world - so UEFA, through the Champions League, has done its best to eliminate any visual differentiators that signal actual places or particular stadia to those watching the games on TV. McDonalds theory dictates this standardisation makes the games accessible to the widest possible TV audience.

One visual differentiator that has been eliminated is the stadium goal nets or, rather, the method employed to suspend the nets. From Madrid to Turin, homogenous box nets are now everywhere. Real Madrid and Juventus play the 2017 Champions League final in Cardiff this saturday, 3 June. Spectators at the game will not suffer from the McDonaldisation sense of placelessness as they know they are at the National Stadium. However, fans watching on TV will have no visual on-field signifier to differentiate this Champions League final from any in the recent past.

Indeed, you could view the 2016 all-Madrid Champions League final in Milan side-by-side with the 2014 all-Madrid Champions League final in Lisbon and not be able to tell the difference. Sure, the games were exciting, with the penalties and late goals, however with nothing on-field to visually differentiate the 2016 final from the one two years earlier - or indeed, any final in the last 20 years - the TV viewing experience was utterly predictable.



This unsatisfactory experience can be contrasted with watching the European Cup finals of 1971-73. In each, the peerless Ajax side of Johan Cruyff could be safely predicted to win, however the experience of watching the games on TV - or at a distance of over 40 years on YouTube - is enhanced and made unpredictable by the different methods each of the three stadia employs to suspend the nets.

Not only are the majestic curved stanchions of old Wembley, the intense A-frames at Rotterdam's de Kuip and the outsized, Subbuteo-style Continental D's at Red Star Stadium instant identifiers of each respective stadium for fans watching on TV, the differing hardware suffuses each game with a distinct signifier. As importantly, each stadium's nets reacts differently when hit with the ball and a goal is scored, so injecting a dose of unpredictability into the viewing experience.




Football has long been recognised as an important source of collective identification and expression of local identity. Place is one of the main ties that bind fans to the game. It is this same place that UEFA has stripped away in its McDonaldisation of the Champions League.

If you're watching Saturday night's match on TV and find yourself feeling bored or restless despite watching the best club football on the planet, you'll know who to blame.  With their homogenous goal nets, UEFA has rendered you placeless, effectively sat you in McDonalds for two hours. Lovin' it?

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