UEFA announced yesterday that next years it will rename its venerable UEFA Cup tournament the Europa Cup in an effort to boost is prestige and appeal. It will also feature a 48 team field with home and away matches plus a more concerted marketing effort, new sponsorship, and will be more widely broadcast in Europe.
UEFA boss Michael Platini stated that “These changes will improve this historic competition which is very important for UEFA and for European football, as it gives more fans, players and clubs the thrill of European club football” and added that “I am convinced the new format will give the UEFA Europa League a successful new impetus.”
Since the advent of the UEFA Champion's League, the UEFA Cup has been seen as something akin to the NIT tournament when compared to the NCAA basketball tournament. Fans know that the best of the best play in the Champion's League while the rest play in the UEFA Cup so this may be a tough sell. That said, there may be some hope.
Where a new Europa League could find its niche is in selling itself as featuring the best clubs from the less wealthy leagues where the level of play is good but the passion is equal to or exceeds that of the Champion's League. In the same way some Americans prefer college football to the NFL, there are millions of Ukrainians, Danes, Germans, Belgians, Swedes, and others who take great interest in watching their own local teams during European competitions. Capitalizing on that dynamic is what the Europa League should be all about.