The UEFA Champions League is the most prestigious annual sports competition in the world. Its championship match is the most-watched annual sports broadcast, with viewership that makes the Super Bowl look like a How I Met Your Mother rerun on WGN.
Some places, it seems, don't get that excited. Here's the crowd for yesterday's Champions League playoff match between host Israeli champions Kiryat Shmona and Belarusian representatives BATE. That's 3,106 attendees for a UEFA Champions League playoff match. For sure, location played a part: Kiryat Shmona wasn't allowed to host the match at its own stadium (because UEFA said it was too small) so the team had to travel to Tel Aviv, a two-hour trek across Israel. Kiryat Shmona isn't the most populous place to begin with; the New York Times said it's a city of about 23,000 people.
But certainly soccer fans in Tel Aviv would have come out to watch history, right? I mean, my high school back in Ohio (in a town of 8,000) had more people in attendance at Friday night's football game than Israel had for its entire country's entrant to the Champions League. Israeli league rules mean only five players on each squad can be internationals; one of Kiryat Shmona's is American Bryan Gerzicich. The rest of the team is made up of Israelis, so you'd think the country would see this not only as its Champions League nominee but as a representative of the nation itself?
Whatever the reason, people didn't come. Kiryat Shmona needed at least a 2-0 score by the end of regulation to force a deciding overtime, but in the end could only come to a 1-1 draw with BATE, which will move on. Kiryat Shmona has a consolation prize: the group stage of the Europa League.