– First final since 2014-15 to not feature a so-called “Super League” team
– The likes of Borussia Dortmund and Barcelona take to the UEL stage
– Stadium attendances and TV ratings continue to rise
UEL | May 20, 2022 Eyebrows were raised across Europe in 2009 when the UEFA Cup was rebranded the UEFA Europa League. For several years, there was definitely an element of sniffiness about the way the tournament was covered in the media and viewed by fans. However, that seems to be changing with every passing year. The UEL is playing host to bigger and bigger matches, creating more and more drama and excitement, and most importantly, every team in the competition seems to be in it to win it. This uptick in prestige is pushing fans from across the continent to tune in to the Europa League, whether by Hesgoal, on traditional TV or via live stream.
The Europa League has a lot in common with the English League Cup. Everybody says that the big clubs don’t care about it, yet the big clubs are usually in the final and almost always winning it. More and more fans are starting to realise that fact which is leading to huge attendances in the stands and an outpouring of passion on social media in the latter stages of the tournament.
The Europa League has proven to be the perfect route back into the UEFA Champions League, Europe’s premier club competition, for fallen giants who aren’t able to qualify via league position. It’s also emerging as an attractive piece of European silverware for almost any level of club. This season’s winners, Eintracht Frankfurt, will be over the moon to have won a first major European trophy for several decades, but no more so than the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United who have also won it in recent seasons.
United lifted in the trophy in 2017 and lost in last season’s final on penalties. You only have to look at the players’ faces on both occasions to see how much winning and losing the Europa League meant to them. The stigma of the “secondary competition” is very much fading as more and more big teams take a keen interest in winning the gigantic and beautiful UEL trophy.
This week’s Europa League Final between Frankfurt and Rangers was the first since 2014-15 to not feature at least one of the members of the doomed “European Super League” with previous finals featuring the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan – some of the game’s most prestigious dynasties. The argument that nobody cares about the Europa League simply doesn’t hold water anymore.
Not only is the calibre of teams making the final and winning the competition going up, but the depth throughout the knockout phase is continuing to be bolstered. To get as far as they did, underdogs Frankfurt and Rangers this season had to get by Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, RB Leipzig and other high profile, big budget clubs, and for that they deserve immense credit. Winning the Europa League isn’t about, with all due respect, beating mid range teams like Slavia Prague and Braga. To go all the way you have to beat behemoths like Manchester United, as last season’s winners Villarreal did, or Barcelona as this season’s winners Frankfurt did.
The quality on the pitch continues to rise and so does interest among invested and casual fans. When taking the two Covid-19 stricken seasons out of the equation, stadium attendances continue to rise, leading to some of the most memorable cauldron atmospheres in UEFA’s history this season. West Ham’s London Stadium, Rangers’ Ibrox and Frankfurt’s Waldstadion created some of the loudest and best atmospheres of the entire worldwide season during their knockout games in the Europa League.
Furthermore, UEFA is reporting consecutive year-on-year increases in viewing figures across Europe, as more and more fans tune in to watch the Europa League, especially in the latter stages of the competition. Who wouldn’t want to watch Erling Haaland’s Dortmund get shocked by Rangers, or Sergio Busquets’ Barcelona lose to Frankfurt? It’s magical, and that’s the really attractive thing about the Europa League right now – it has a real magic to it.
It’s just a fact that the UEFA Champions League is the top table and will likely always be the most popular club competition in the world, but the Europa League is finding an audience and growing in significance with every season.
With the advent of the new third tier competition, the UEFA Conference League, the UEL seems even more attractive and even more serious. Fans at home and in the stadiums are clamouring for more, and the popularity of Europe’s “second string” cup is most certainly on the rise.