Champions League Sponsor MasterCard May Discuss Earlier Start

MasterCard Inc. (MA), which has sponsored soccer’s Champions League for all but two of the competition’s 20-year history, would prefer an earlier kickoff time for the final to maximize the game’s global viewership.

London-based Chelsea won the tournament for the first time two days ago when it beat four-time champion Bayern Munich 4-3 on penalty kicks in the German team’s own Allianz Arena after the teams were tied 1-1 after extra time.

European soccer’s governing body UEFA says 150 million viewers globally tune in to the final, which this year started at 8:45 p.m. in Germany. It’s the most-watched annual sporting event, ahead of the National Football League’s Super Bowl.

Hany Fam, president of Purchase, New York-based MasterCard’s strategic partnerships division for Europe, said he’ll speak to UEFA about the possibility of an earlier kickoff to meet demand in Asia, a region where the competition is followed by millions.

“We are always working with each other to maximize the benefit and to maximize the impact of this program,” Fam said in a May 18 interview in Munich ahead of the publication of a sponsored study into fan behavior. “So really there’s very little that’s off the table in terms of how we engage and what we engage around.”

Asked if this could specifically mean an earlier start to European club soccer’s championship match, which two years ago moved from Wednesday to Saturday, Fam said, “Maybe.”

Top Teams

The Champions League features teams including Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid and AC Milan and also attracts international companies as sponsors. MasterCard is joined by automaker Ford Motor Co. (F), Japanese consumer electronics brand Sony Corp. (6758), Uni Credit SpA and Dutch brewer Heineken NV.

Sponsors seeking an earlier kickoff are likely to be disappointed, said David Taylor, chief executive of UEFA Events SA. Taylor took over the post after working as general secretary in 2009 when UEFA spun off its commercial arm because of the growth in the business.

“I don’t think we would be organizing European football specifically for an Asian audience,” Taylor said in an interview. “It’s European football first and foremost.”

Fam said die-hard supporters in Asia set their alarms for the middle of the night to watch the biggest European soccer games. Taylor said the Champions League final would have to be switched to a lunchtime start to maximize Asian viewership.

“That’s not our main objective,” Taylor said.

Regardless of when the final begins, MasterCard will keep renewing its relationship with UEFA, which currently runs through 2015, Fam said.

About 10 years ago, the credit card company lost its sponsorship of soccer’s World Cup following competition with Visa Inc. (V) that ended with world governing body FIFA paying millions of dollars to MasterCard. Fam said the Champions League is the best soccer property for MasterCard, which will also sponsor European Championship matches in Poland next month.

“This is a nine-month event, not two weeks or three weeks like other sporting events,” Fam said. “It’s a nine-month opportunity and that’s fantastic for any sponsor.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja in Munich via the London newsroom at tpanja@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net

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