United-Barca battle will be biggest game in history claim UEFA
Published 23:00 26/05/11 By David Maddock
When Manchester United stride out of the Wembley tunnel tomorrow evening, they will be walking straight into the football record books.
The hype surrounding their eagerly-anticipated Champions League final showdown with Barcelona has reached fever pitch, as fans look forward to what they hope will be one of the best games in history.
But according to UEFA calculations, it will also be the BIGGEST game in history… with projections suggesting it will outstrip any contest between two clubs in any sport on the planet.
There are many different criteria with which to judge the size of a game, but the two most important factors are generally thought to be gate receipts and television audience.
In both respects, this year's Champions League final is expected to exceed previous matches by some distance, partly thanks to the fixture being moved from its traditional midweek evening spot to Saturday night primetime TV.
In fact, the switch - allied to the popularity of both clubs - seems certain to make the contest the most-watched sports event ever, apart from the World Cup final and the opening ceremony of the Olympics.
Calculations of worldwide TV audiences are notoriously difficult, given how tough it is to gauge the size of communal gatherings in pubs and public screenings, and at private parties.
It is also hard to estimate what the viewing figures in the Asian and South American continents, actually will be, given time zone differences.
But the last World Cup final in 2010 was estimated to have enjoyed a live audience of around 400 million, and a total audience (including highlights viewings) of more than 700 million.
The Olympic ceremony, in comparison, was said to have been viewed by 600 million people in total, while the next biggest single event is this year's Super Bowl, when 162 million viewers saw Green Bay defeat Pittsburgh.
Last year’s Champions League final was watched by an audience of around 145 million, but UEFA are confident they will double that figure this time around, given the Saturday night slot and the incredible popularity of the two teams.
What makes the final so special is the fact that Barca and United are regarded as both the biggest and best clubs in the world right now. That will ensure the figures outstrip the Super Bowl, to make it the largest club event of all time.
It is surprisingly rare for the two best sides in Europe to meet in the final. In the past three decades, that can be said to have happened on only three or four occasions – United-Barca in 2009, Real-Juve 1998, Milan-Barca 1994, and Juve-Liverpool 1985.
Without question, this year’s finalists are the two form teams of Europe this season, after strolling to their respective domestic titles, regarded as the two strongest leagues on the continent right now.
But they are also the biggest clubs, with United estimated to have the biggest fan following in the world, closely followed by Barcelona.
A recent survey calculated the Manchester club have a worldwide fan base of a staggering 330 million, while Barca enjoy a global following of over 200 million – higher than third-placed Real Madrid.
The two clubs also occupy second and third place in the sports rich list, behind Real.
Deloitte figures for 2010 value Barcelona’s turnover at almost £400million, while United are close behind with £350million. That is bigger than any American sports franchise.
Such massive financial reach amongst such a huge global support will ensure the TV figures are record-breaking on Saturday night, and there is even a suggestion the live numbers may reach the 400 million who watched the World Cup final in real time.
Financially too, the game will be more lucrative than any club match previously, as ticket prices at Wembley hit a staggering all-time high of £300 per seat.
Contrast that to United’s final at the Nou Camp in 1999, when a ticket to see their dramatic win over Bayern Munich could be bought for as little as £12.
Yep, that’s right, £12.
The attendance at Wembley will be just under 90,000, which will make it the ninth highest in the history of the European Cup final, and the biggest since 1999.
But with ticket prices three times higher than just two years ago, when Barca and United met in the final in Rome, that means total gate receipts will be anything up to FOUR times higher than any previous final, given Wembley's enhanced capacity.
TV receipts will also be higher than ever before, with more than 70 companies around the globe paying through the nose to screen the game live, boosting a TV kitty from the competition that experts estimate exceed £1billion – again, greater than even the World Cup final.
Both clubs have also come out on top in the online revolution too, with United recording the most unique hits on their website of any sports-related franchise, and Barcelona recording more followers on Facebook than any other sporting outfit.
No wonder then, that UEFA are rubbing their hands together, because the coming together of the two biggest and best clubs in the world, the greatest-ever TV audience and the highest-ever receipts undoubtedly makes this game the biggest of all time.
A spokesman yesterday confirmed their expectations of the game being the biggest of all time, and he admitted the popularity of Barcelona and Manchester United has made that possible.
“We anticipate this will be the largest ever audience for a match between two club teams, yes, and will be the largest ever audience for an annual sporting event,” the spokesman said.
“Manchester United and Barcelona are famous names with a worldwide fan base, and there is incredible demand to watch them play against each other, which is why this is such a huge encounter to enjoy.”
GO FIGURE: THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE BY THE NUMBERS
0. Manchester United have not scored a headed goal in Europe this season.
1. Manchester United are the only unbeaten team in the Champions League this season with nine wins and three draws.
2. United's Michael Owen is one of only two players to have scored three hat-tricks in the Champions League.
3. Bob Paisley’s record for the number of victories by a manager. If United win tomorrow, Sir Alex Ferguson will pull level with him.
3.1 The average number of goals that have been scored in the last 10 meetings between Manchester United and Barcelona.
4. This will be Fergie’s fourth Champions League final.
6. The number of Englishmen to have managed Barcelona, with Bobby Robson being the most recent in 1997.
8. Number of British teams that took part in this season’s Champions League, including Linfield and TNS.
9. Occasions on which the final has been decided by penalty shootout.
11. Lionel Messi’s goalscoring tally, which should see him win the golden boot for the third consecutive season.
12. Number of times British clubs have won the European Cups, with Liverpool winning five of those.
14. Number of times the final has been tied after 90 minutes of play.
19. Number of times British teams have reached the European Cup final.
20. Number of games since Barcelona failed to score in Europe (they were shut out by Rubin Kazan).
25. Number of players sent off during this season’s Champions League campaign.
27. Number of goals Barcelona have scored in this season’s competition - the most by any team, and nine more than their opponents tomorrow.
31. The number of days after the final that the qualifying rounds for next season’s competition begin (June 28).
40. Age of Edwin van der Sar, who will become the oldest winner of the competition if United triumph.
52. The number of seconds that had elapsed when AC Milan's Paolo Maldini scored the final’s fastest ever goal, in 2005.
76. Number of teams that have played in the Champions League, including the likes of FC Sheriff and HB Torshaven.
90.9 The percentage of passes Barcelona have completed in their European matches this season.
135. Appearances United's Ryan Giggs has made in the competition. He is eight short of Raul’s record.
1103. Most completed passes by one player in this season’s competition, by Barcelona's Xavi.
1134. Minutes of play that have elapsed since Manchester United's Dimitar Berbatov last scored in the Champions League back in October 2008.
1968. Manchester United won the trophy 43 years ago, when they defeated Benfica 4-1 after extra-time at Wembley.
1992. The year Barcelona lifted the trophy at Wembley, when they beat Sampdoria 1-0
2009. Last time Manchester United and Barcelona played each other in the final. The Catalans came out on top.