Why are we talking about the Champions League in the middle of August? It takes a lot of games that aren't on a lot of people's radar to get the tournament to the group stage. Right now, we're in the Playoff Round.
So Why Are We Here?
The Champions League is the biggest club tournament in world soccer, full stop. It's bigger than FIFA's Club World Cup and any of the confederation club tournaments. There's a good argument that it's bigger than any of the confederation national team tournaments, especially since the Champions League generates giant audiences and massive amounts of money every season. In 2013-14, Jermaine Jones's Schalke 04 are trying to progress to the group stage through the playoff round.
Is That It For The American Involvement?
No, Sacha Kljestan's Anderlecht are already in the group stage. It's a push/pull for American players. Play in the smaller leagues with a higher likelihood of making the Champions League, or play in the bigger leagues with a lower likelihood that your club qualifies for the Champions League. Clint Dempsey was part of a strong Spurs squad last season, but their 5th-place Premier League finish means the Europa League this season.
How Is The Tournament Organized?
Once upon a time... ok, it was before 1992, the tournament was called the European Cup and featured the winners of Europe's domestic league playing off against each other in a home and away tournament. Just as an example, when Liverpool won their second straight title in 1977-78, they didn't have to play the first round as defending champions, beat Dynamo Dresden in the second round, Benfica in the quarterfinals, 'Gladbach in the semis, and Club Brugge for the title. That's seven games, as many as what a team that qualifies directly for the group stage in the current tournament plays midway through the Round of 16. Staying in 1977-78, 31 teams qualified for the European Cup. In 2013-14, 76 teams made the tournament. Of course, that's way more than make the group stage, meaning a summer full of first, second, and third qualifying rounds before the final pre-group hurdle of the playoff round.
Wait A Minute, Are There Really 76 First Divisions In Europe?
Nope, 52. The bulk of them only qualify their champions. The top three in the UEFA ranking put four teams in the Champions League. Before asking why, it's a result of the pressure that a European Super League might form, cutting UEFA out of the lucrative elite club business entirely. To satisfy the top teams, more clubs were added. To give them more guaranteed games, the Champions League has a group stage.
How Lucrative Is Lucrative?
All values are in Euros, but last season failing to make the group stage was worth €200,000. Making the group stage meant a minimum of €8.6 million with an additional million for each game won and €500k for each game drawn. The knockout round means an additional €3.5m, the quarterfinals another €3.9m, and the semis at €4.9m. Last year's runner-up got €6.5m and the winner - we'll spoil it for you, it was Bayern Munich - got €10.5m. That's just the prize money. There's also the marketing pool that's divided among teams based on the strength of their market. That's how Juventus made the most money from last season's Champions League even though they fell at the quarterfinal stage: €65.3m to Bayern's €55m. From the marketing pool perspective, it's better to be an Italian team in the later stages of the Champions League than a German team, but had Juventus been the only Serie A team in the knockout stage they would've made even more. For those of you not up on your Euro to dollar conversions, Juventus made $86.3m from the Champions League in 2012-13.
Ok, So Does An American's Club Have A Chance This Season?
Maybe. Schalke made the knockout stage last season and they're a team with a solid core that turned around what looked like a disappointing Bundesliga season. It's the Champions League, and it's normally safe to pick the four biggest names that make the knockout round with the expectation that at least three of them end up in the semifinals.
Where Can I Watch?
Fox has the rights to the 2013-14 Champions League in the United States.