TURIN, Italy (AP) — Rewards for winning the often-unloved Europa League are getting bigger, maybe even enough to ignite more interest in countries like England and Italy.
Sevilla's penalty shootout victory over Benfica on Wednesday after a 0-0 draw was the last final before UEFA offers winners a place in the following season's Champions League.
"By introducing this reward there is a feeling that teams will take it more seriously," UEFA marketing director Guy-Laurent Epstein said.
An expected 20 percent increase in prize money from 2015 should also help, with clubs likely to share about $342 million.
The European Club Association says its 200-plus members are happy with the Europa League. However, it acknowledges a need to close a "big financial gap" between the globally successful Champions League and an event rebranded from the UEFA Cup only five years ago.
Today, that gulf is more than $1.4 billion each season.
"We have to be pragmatic — Europa League is not Champions League," Epstein said ahead of the final. "It's for teams that are more community (based) rather than international brands most of the time."
Sevilla is one club where the Europa League has no image or identity issues.
"It's a competition our fans really like," said Sevilla coach Unai Emery, whose club won the former UEFA Cup in 2006 and '07. "We thought we had the responsibility to win."
Still, even those UEFA Cups were different to its 1970s and 1980s prime.
Then, there was a popular trinity of UEFA competitions: the European Cup for national champions; the UEFA Cup for runners-up and other high-placed teams; and the Cup Winners Cup.
After the European Cup became the Champions League in 1992 — giving more games to elite clubs — the other two declined until the cup winners' event was abolished in 1999.
Continue reading this story on the...