European rugby chiefs are considering bids which would see the Champions Cup final staged in the Middle East or the United States, City A.M. can reveal.
But the success of taking the finals to Bilbao, Spain in 2018, and the continued ferocity of competition across the tournaments has led to an expansion in the number of bids being made for the 2025 and 2026 finals.
Why not the Middle East?
“We are looking at final options for 2025 and 2026, we have nearly 30 bids from places like the United States, Middle East and around Europe, closer to the traditional markets,” Dominic McKay, chairman of the competition’s governing body the European Professional Club Rugby, told City A.M.
“We’re in the midst of assessing those bids at the moment so we want to make sure that we drive revenue to the clubs, but also do it in a way that helps grow a lot of ambition.”
Though specific locations are unknown, a Champions Cup final in the Middle East would represent the latest move for rugby in the region, which has seen rugby sevens, women’s rugby and World Cup play-offs in recent years.
“Why not,” EPCR chief executive Jacques Raynaud said when asked whether the sport would take finals to the United States or the Middle East. “The Hong Kong sevens tournament and the British and Irish Lions [go beyond] so why shouldn’t we think about the Champions Cup one way or another?
“Doing something innovative, but it has to be fan led and has to be in that iconic location.
“[It needs to be} ‘Let’s book a trip to [place] and watch the final’.
“We initially had an interest from 23 stadiums in 12 countries [for 2025 and 2026 finals] and then firm bids from 12 stadiums in five or six countries.”
Champions Cup as an asset
Last year’s finals were held in Dublin with the prior final in Marseille. This year’s finals weekend will be held at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in north London.
And though it has not yet been done in European rugby competitions, the English Premiership has previously played games in the United States and the French league have played matches in Spain.
“This proves yet again that there are no limits to Gulf nations’ sporting ambitions,” commented Simon Chadwick, Professor of Sport and Geopolitical Economy at Skema Business School, to City A.M.
“Although the likes of football and motorsport have drawn major investment from the region, rugby has received less attention, albeit Dubai’s rugby sevens tournament has established itself as part of the sport’s annual calendar.
“Yet countries in the Gulf are not currently in the business of making vanity purchases, instead they are making bets that are intended to generate significant financial returns.
“With rugby now an Olympic sport, and with territories such as the United States and China beginning to engage with it, one suspects that Gulf officials see rugby as a legitimate long-term target for their economic and geopolitical ambitions.”