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WFS Live: 19/20 mini-tournament "the best thing that ever happened to Champions League"

Speaking at the online football summit WFS Live, ESL Gaming CEO Ralf Reichert said there is too much "delayed gratification" in the football calendar.

WFS Live: 19/20 mini-tournament "the best thing that ever happened to Champions League"
MIGUEL A. LOPES AFP

Football would benefit from continuing to embrace the mini-tournament model it was forced to turn to amid the coronavirus pandemic, ESL Gaming CEO Ralf Reichert has told a roundtable discussion held as part of the online football summit WFS Live.

Reichert added that soccer chiefs should consider holding major events such as the FIFA World Cup - which currently takes place every four years - closer together.

Football can learn from esports' lack of "delayed gratification", Reichert tells WFS Live panel discussion

The second virtual edition of World Football Summit’s flagship congress, November’s WFS Live is bringing together global leaders in the game to look at the challenges facing the industry - particularly in the wake of covid-19 - under the motto: ‘Building football’s roadmap for the future’.

Speaking at the event ‘Sports Post COVID: Venturing into 2021 with confidence’ on Tuesday, Reichert told moderator Richard Gillis, who is the founder of the Unofficial Partner sports business podcast, that football could learn from esports by reducing the “delayed gratification” of its tournaments.

"The best thing that ever happened to the Champions League"

He argued, for example, that the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League, which due to the coronavirus saw its final three rounds completed in an 11-day, single-game knockout tournament held in Lisbon in August, became a more exciting spectacle because of the enforced format change.

There's a reason why within esports we're creating highlights all the time and winners all the time; there’s much more success to be had,” Reichert said. “In traditional football, the Bundesliga for example is 36 matchdays and at the end of that season someone wins - no-one would ever build a product like this again because that delayed gratification is so crazily delayed compared to what you can do.”

In the latter stages of Europe's top club competition last season, he noted, "all of those teams were in one place and it was played through [quickly]. I thought that was the best thing that ever happened to the Champions League; I got so excited about it that I didn't have to wait eight weeks for the next match to be played.”

Compress the regular international calendar?

Expanding on Reichert’s argument, Peter Hutton, the director of sports partnerships at Facebook, added that international football could benefit similarly from not spreading its schedule out over a whole year. “One of the things I find really frustrating with the international sports calendar and the soccer calendar in particular is the interruptions to the league season for international weekends.

"You have two weeks which don’t feel meaningful, which don’t feel like there’s a story at the end of it, and it’s interrupting the narrative of the league season,” Hutton said.

“I think that putting all the international football together in the summer, as the World Cup does perfectly, is a great way of building that story, of having a narrative, having something that sponsors and broadcasters can get behind. Whereas in the current model where you drop in a couple of games, players get injured, people travel all over the world - it doesn’t work from so many different perspectives.

I think that’s a real weakness of the current calendar. I love international football, but it’s got to have context and a story, and it doesn’t feel like it has a story on international weekends.”

World Cup: from every four years to every two years?

Declaring that four years between each World Cup is too long a wait for football fans, Reichert suggested that it become a biennial event - and Eleven Sports group CEO Luis Vicente agreed, saying: “I think you definitely need to make it less space in time, if you really want to have a chance to make it as relevant as it is for our generation to the new generation that is taking over the world.”

However, Ricardo Fort, the Coca-Cola Company’s vice-president for global sports and entertainment partnerships, was not on board with the proposal of a World Cup every two years or the idea of major surgery to either the club or international men's calendar. “I think there’s so much legacy and so much at stake, that expecting a traditional rights holder to change the calendar is crazy.

“The innovation, not only in the format of the games but in the form of the calendar, will need to come from different sources [such as women's and esports football]. For FIFA, or for the established leagues, it is really hard to change, because it takes now decades worth of contracts that need to be managed.”

And Fort, who is from Brazil, joked: “As a fan, I'd much rather have a FIFA World Cup played every four years, because it will be really hard to see Germany winning every two years.”