Owen  Lloyd

The Champions League has come to denote the crème de la crème across several European sports, but with the footballing variant being lightyears ahead of its counterparts how can they keep up?

If you say Champions League to the person on the street they would immediately think of the UEFA competition.

This is hardly a surprise given that it is the original, having started out life in 1955 as the European Cup, and it has the simple advantage of football being the world's most popular sport.

Other governing bodies were quick to see the potential that this continental format possessed and just a season later the European Handball Federation (EHF) had created its equivalent. A few years on, in 1959, the European Volleyball Confederation hopped on to the bandwagon and crowned CSKA Moscow as its first victor.

Fast-forward to 1991 when UEFA wanted to elevate its product to another level.

The governing body asked its commercial partner, Television Event and Media Marketing (TEAM), to rebrand the competition to attract more money than the old European Cup. TEAM founder Klaus Hemple landed on the Champions League which bundled all of the television and broadcasting rights into one for UEFA and let it decide which sponsors and advertisements would appear at the edge of the pitch.

Advertising income boomed from CHF85 million (£76 million/$88 million/€87 million) in 1992 to CHF1 billion (£900 million/$1 billion/€1 billion) in 2002 and CHF2.4 billion (£2.1 billion/$2.5 billion/€2.5 billion) in 2021.

The changes were accompanied by the "starball" logo and iconic anthem, adapted from George Frideric Handel's Zadok the Priest, which have become recognised globally.

That new name was then adopted by several European governing bodies including those for the aforementioned volleyball and handball organisations as well as ice hockey, water polo, basketball and even nine-pin bowling.

UEFA has established the Champions League as one of the most recognisable products in world sport ©Getty Images
UEFA has established the Champions League as one of the most recognisable products in world sport ©Getty Images

Football's Champions League is an almost unattainable target to match in terms of its financial power and audience.

The final is frequently compared to the Super Bowl to be crowned king of the sporting events but it blows even that out of the water with an estimated viewership of 700 million to 112 million for the respective 2021 showcases. Despite this, some still consider the occasion of the National Football League's finale to be a bigger occasion - among them Paris Saint-Germain President Nasser Al-Khelaifi, who also sits on the UEFA Executive Committee and is chair of beIN Media Group.

The EHF's competition comes the closest to UEFA in terms of popularity as the 2021-2022 season drew in a combined total of 1.1 billion people across its digital channels and television coverage from every match. Its digital content resulted in the growth of the EHF Champions League community by more than 115,000 fans on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter from two years ago.

The organisation has also tapped in to TikTok in a targeted effort to attract younger spectators to the sport and has amassed a following of just under 545,000 with its short-form content.

Although minute in comparison to UEFA's colossal competition, the CEV has an admirable product and is certainly on the right track for growing the event and the sport as a result. The 2020-2021 season saw the CEV Champions League draw an expanding market of 150 million people and produce almost 3,000 broadcasts across 71 different channels.

Russia, Poland and Taiwan took up the most of these broadcasts with 565, 479 and 316, respectively.

The CEV is certainly opting to emulate UEFA on the style and prestige of its event as exhibited by its group-stage draw, or Drawing of Lots as it was officially named, last night in Brussels.

The event took place in the breath-taking Bozar building in Belgium's picturesque capital, building on a competition which is supposed to be a glittering show of the best of the best from across Europe.

The Bozar is the city's centre for fine arts and it steeped the draw with a classical feel that strikes a similar chord to that of UEFA's anthem. Although a small do with no more than 50 delegates watching on from the crowd, it was clear that organisers were ticking the right boxes.

The CEV Champions League draw, staged in Brussels' Bozar, had an air of grandeur surrounding it with intentions of portraying it as a prestigious event clear ©Getty Images
The CEV Champions League draw, staged in Brussels' Bozar, had an air of grandeur surrounding it with intentions of portraying it as a prestigious event clear ©Getty Images

Young fans are said to be far more interested in the personalities of sports in the modern game and the CEV ensured it thrust its two stars into the limelight. A platform was given to the men's and women's European players of the year in Kamil Semeniuk and Isabelle Haak, respectively, as they took turns in assisting the draw for the opposite sex's tournament.

Snappy action-packed highlight reels were also used to introduce the athletes just so the audience was well aware of who's company they were in.

The draw was not just contained to those in the room either. With a free livestream being aired on YouTube and the CEV website, it was clear that the body valued viewership and exposure over potential monetary income.

UEFA's successful rebrand and marketing of its flagship club competition has also seen the prize money skyrocket, and with that its popularity will only grow further.

Last year's winners Real Madrid claimed around €60 million (£52 million/$60 million) in total, with more than a third of that coming from the final alone.

Despite being the closest, the EHF and CEV are a long way off as their winners took home €1 million (£860,000/$1 million) and €500,000 (£430,000/$500,000), respectively.

UEFA has got its hands firmly on the trophy for Europe's most successful club competition but there is by no means only room for one elite competition at the top of the tree.

It is a pursuit well worth embarking upon for the best of the rest as a triumphant campaign could secure generational popularity and financial security for a governing body and its sport for years to come.