Star Balls – the start of the UEFA Champions League

In 1992, I was approached by Peter Robinson, FIFA’s Official Photographer for many years – and a personal friend. He had been asked to find a photographer to work with UEFA and TEAM Marketing on their new concept of the UEFA Champions League. He felt as FIFA’s photographer, he could not get involved – and I was honoured to be asked.

Starting with the first matches in 1992, I worked as the marketing photographer for the UEFA Champions League – and when I left EMPICS in 2005, the business was still assisting in this work. It still remains one of the most exciting and innovative commercial and marketing projects in sport.

Juergen Lenz of TEAM Marketing Back in 1992, the Champions League was a very small operation. The concept was to take the European Cup “knockout” competition – and add a league format with centrally controlled branding, sponsorship and television rights. The initiative was led by Juergen Lenz (who had in the mid-80s developed the concept of “The Olympic Partners”- TOPS for the International Olympic Committee – IOC). In the early days, I would arrive at venues and in between taking pictures of the build-up to the match, would spend time with Juergen and his colleagues stapling press releases together and creating press or hospitality packs. It was great to feel part of this excellent concept – and Juergen was a great leader.

UEFA Champions League player portraits TEAM Marketing worked hard to ensure that the presentation of the UEFA Champions League was first-rate. The major income stream to finance the competition was television revenue – and they made sure that the package for broadcasters was excellent.

A couple of seasons in, I suggested that every player in the competition should be photographed against a “star ball” background. TEAM loved the idea – and in the ensuing years we spent August sending a photographer to every major club in Europe to photograph each member of their squad. It was a major logistical challenge – I remember landing at the airport in Croatia to photograph Hajduk Split while there were UN planes on the tarmac during the break-up of Yugoslavia – but it dramatically improved the opening graphics on television. This style of photography has now become part of every sports programme but it was a first back in the early 90s.

Photography always sounds a glamorous profession and I greatly enjoyed the respect that TEAM Marketing gave me. I would travel in Business Class, the same as their executives and the UEFA officials – and be picked up wherever I went by a driver.

San Siro Stadium in Milan with UEFA Champions League star ball As well as taking sports pictures, the main brief was to capture the sponsorship and branding activities. My first duty at every game was to climb to the “rafters” of the stadium and photograph the “star ball” being held by ball boys on the centre circle as the teams came out to the sound of the UCL Anthem.

For a man with no head for heights, this was quite a challenge. At huge stadia like the San Siro in Milan, I’d not get back to the pitch side until well into the first half!

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