ZURICH (AP) — Champions League clubs' share of billion-dollar annual prize money is set to rise through 2018 as their need for income increases in the "Financial Fair Play" era.

The agency marketing Champions League rights on behalf of UEFA said Monday that clubs will be "happy" with their increase when the next deals kick in.

Switzerland-based TEAM Marketing is currently selling broadcast and sponsorship deals for the 2015-18 seasons, which follow existing three-year deals worth 1.34 billion euros ($1.85 billion) annually.

"It is a fantastic time '15 to '18, we will generate growth and we will see happy clubs with the results," TEAM director Martin Wagner told The Associated Press in an interview. "The clubs are expecting growth and we will manage that."

The 32 clubs playing in this season's Champions League will share at least 900 million euros ($1.24 billion) in UEFA prize money.

Last season, Juventus was the biggest earner getting 65.3 million euros (then $86.3 million) from UEFA despite being eliminated in the quarterfinal. Each club is paid an entry fee for reaching the group stage, plus results bonuses through the competition and a share of their national broadcasting deal.

Champions League income is key for elite clubs trying to meet UEFA's "Financial Fair Play" rules which regulate spending and require clubs to approach break-even on their football income. In the most serious cases, clubs face being barred from the Champions League.

Missing out is increasingly risky — for broadcasters and clubs.

"The unique model of the Champions League is it's the mass (audience), you get the numbers," Wagner said on the sidelines of the International Football Arena conference.

Wagner told delegates at FIFA headquarters that a global average audience of at least 170 million watched Bayern Munich beat German rival Borussia Dortmund in the final last May — the biggest rating for a sports event in 2013.

"Everybody needs premium content," Wagner said, adding that the Champions League is "unique to have for sponsors who need to connect with consumers."

Wagner predicted "enormous growth" potential in the China, India and the United States, where Fox holds the 2012-15 rights. Some European markets — including Britain — would have strong competition between pay-TV broadcasters.

"What you get now, you have in the future," Wagner said of broadcasters' sports-led business model. "Bidders like Sky, they need to do the job now because then they have the so-called inertia benefit, meaning people are then reluctant to change to other systems."

The 2015-18 deals will likely be the last when a winning bid gets the broadcast rights across all digital platforms.

"The bidders know that something is coming," Wagner said, predicting big change driven by social media and young fans. "All the companies who try to sell devices will be strong bidders in future."

Change should also be lucrative for UEFA and clubs, with screen technologies such as virtual advertising set to "revolutionize everything," Wagner said.

"You can put your message regionally, you can target your groups better, so this will generate more income," he said.

 

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