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What is the point of the UEFA Nations League?

Have you heard that UEFA has started a new league for national sides? After the summer in which England was watched by 26.5 million viewers during their hard-fought World Cup semi-final, which is 40 per cent of the population in this country, the UEFA Nations League matches couldn’t hope to come close to that number as the latest football competition is exclusively on Sky Sports. The satellite TV broadcaster has close to 9 million subscribers but not all of them have the premium Sky Sports package so the England side’s return to action after the World Cup was not watched by anything close to the numbers achieved during the summer. Is money at the root of UEFA’s new competition or was it started to bring something new to the sport?

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Boring friendlies

The domination of club football in Europe at times side casts international football in its shadow. There are some international matches that have all the intensity of a testimonial at a lower league club late in the season. The tired players aren’t focused. The manager isn’t angry enough and the half-empty grandstands at Wembley are ignored because no one can really be bothered with another meaningless friendly. That’s largely the reason why Michel Platini, the disgraced ex-chief of UEFA, commissioned the Nations League.

Power and influence

Having a league for national sides also helps give some prestige and therefore clout to international football at a time when club finances are accelerating at an alarming rate. UEFA can’t keep pace with the Premier League when it comes to TV rights deals. The Champions League makes £398m per year from its UK rights thanks to BT Sports but the Premier League is worth £1.48 billion thanks to £294m a year from BT and £1.19b from Sky Sports. Sky pay a reported £200m for the rights to UEFA’s latest competition meaning that overall Europe’s governing body earn £598m from TV rights in the UK whereas the 20 clubs that play in the Premier League earn £886m more for the same rights. UEFA is in danger of becoming irrelevant in Europe if the major clubs don’t need UEFA and their Champions League as a revenue source.

Helping smaller nations

The Nations League will help smaller nations to develop their facilities. We often forget that Europe contains a lot of small nations that aren’t as affluent as the others. These nations sometimes play their football in grounds that would be shameful for League 2 clubs to use and they often face Europe’s finest footballers with a squad of part-time players. These nations aren’t going to attract any attention when the big teams are looking for friendlies but they’ll get an equal share of matches in the Nations League.

Will you be watching?

In the UK, you’ll need a Sky Sports subscription to follow England and get access to each and every live match but you can also catch up with the competition on free-to-air TV as ITV will broadcast a regular highlights show. Short highlight packages are also available on YouTube.

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