Ahead of the 2014 UEFA Champions League final — a Madrid derby in Lisbon’s Estadio da Luz — famed choreographer Wanda Rokicki said the prematch entertainment would honor Portuguese traditions “including naval history or the art of tiles.” The following year in Berlin, an estimated 180 million viewers in 200 countries watched Barcelona dust Juventus 3-1, but not before opera stars Nina-Marie Fischer and Manuel Gomez Ruiz sang hymns with the Junges Ensemble Berlin Choir.
Somehow that was a departure from the 2013 iteration, which included a giant game of chess, 300-plus drummers and Joey, the equine puppet from Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse,” galloping around the Wembley pitch.
Europe’s answer for a Super Bowl halftime show, this was not.
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But that was all before PepsiCo — whose 10-year Super Bowl halftime show sponsorship deal ended last year — entered into a partnership with UEFA that has seen it sponsor the Kick Off Show since 2015. In 2016, fresh from joining Season 11 of “The Voice,” Alicia Keys — keen to point out that the UCL final reaches “every corner of the world” — debuted new music in Milan ahead of that year’s final.
“By creating a global stage as part of the UEFA Champions League final for the first time will produce an epic, memorable moment that will draw an even broader global fan base to the pitch, elevate the excitement of the 2016 final, and establish a new tradition for one of the world’s most beloved sport spectacles,” Carla Hassan, then-senior vice president of PepsiCo’s global brand management, said at the time.
But multi-Grammy winner Keys’ performance did not leave an impression on the San Siro crowd. The following year the Black Eyed Peas, flanked by dueling keytarists, ran their hits — including “Let’s Get it Started” off 2003’s “Elephunk” — but did so without Fergie, whose departure from the band was announced the day before.
“I noticed a change in 2017 in Cardiff [with] the Black Eyed Peas,” Andy Elliot, UK media liaison of UEFA, told ESPN. “To get them to play a football match was quite something — it was the first big one [Pepsi] did and they really cut it fine. [In the end], they were being chased off the field.”
Taboo, will.i.am and APL.DE.AP, the remaining Peas, entered the Millennium Stadium pitch in a full sprint. “People in Cardiff, put your hands up!” Taboo beckoned amid “Boom, Boom, Pow” — a plea which, a panning camera revealed, went largely unfulfilled.
Global pop stars such as Dua Lipa, Sean Paul, Imagine Dragons, Marshmello, Selena Gomez, Khalid and Camila Cabello have all showcased their talents before kickoff in club soccer’s biggest match in the years since, to mixed receptions.
“We start internal discussions with UEFA in the summer and with artists typically about nine months before the UCL final,” said Mark Kirkham, PepsiCo’s chief marketing officer of international beverages. “We usually then begin the creative process with the artist about seven months before the big date.
“We see the Kick Off Show as a creative platform to bring international genres to a mainstream stage and celebrate diversity in the music industry: Camila Cabello and how she infused aspects of her Cuban-Mexican heritage, this year Burna Boy celebrating his Nigerian roots and Anitta bringing Brazilian flair,” Kirkham added. “[We ask ourselves]: ‘Are they the biggest name in music right now? Are they the next big thing?'”
In total, Kirkham says, from inception to execution, the process takes almost a full year.
“It’s not a stretch to say they looked at the Super Bowl and saw the kind of impact the entertainment had on the [game],” Elliot said. “[UEFA] have tried to make [the final] a much bigger occasion and the entertainment is part of that.”