The future of the Champions League is set to be decided in a series of crucial meetings this week.
The executive board of the European Club Association is meeting in Madrid today to decide whether to continue to support controversial proposals to allow two clubs the safety net of qualifying for the Champions League based on their historic performance in Europe.
The Champions League is expected to expand from 32 to 36 teams from 2024 which has led to heated debates about how the extra four places should be awarded and how many group games each team should play.
As well as the ECA meeting on Monday, UEFA’s executive committee and its club competitions committee are meeting on Tuesday and, the following day, Vienna is hosting UEFA’s Congress.
The so-called new “Swiss model” format of the Champions League will have 36 teams in a single league playing eight or 10 matches against opponents based on seeding. The top 16 teams will go through to the knockout stage. The new format is designed to generate more revenue for clubs and appeal more to fans and broadcasters.
The controversial UEFA plans in summary
- UEFA planning to offer two Champions League wildcards from 2024 onwards
- Expected to be ratified at UEFA Exco meeting, May 10
- Historical success in Europe would be key to gaining a wildcard
- PL clubs fear it’s ‘introducing a form of European Super League by the back door’
- ‘Big Six’ in England could all qualify for Champions League if they finish in top six places
- Premier League anti-breakaway Owners Charter dropped off the agenda
- Extra Champions League place via FA Cup hugely unpopular outside ‘Big Six’
Many clubs in Europe fear that UEFA club competitions are getting too big and damaging their own domestic competitions. But as far as UEFA are concerned they have to satisfy the demands of the so-called big clubs who tried to form a European Super League last year for more games and more revenue.
ECA chairman Nasser Al Khelaifi expects the broadcast rights for the new-look competition to rise by 40 per cent to £3.8 billion a season.
How will the extra four places be awarded?
The proposals mean that, from 2024, there will be an extra two places in the Champions League reserved for European clubs who have failed to qualify via their domestic league, but who have traditionally done well in Europe’s elite club competition.
The team which finishes third in the French or Portuguese leagues could qualify automatically for the group stage, for instance, and on the basis of current UEFA rankings so could the champions of Ukraine.
Under the original proposals each team would play 10 group games but UEFA is under pressure from domestic leagues to cut that to eight. Whatever is decided this week, it is likely to see the biggest changes to the Champions League format since multiple clubs from certain countries were awarded places in 1997.
One other topic which will be discussed this week is the future of two-legged Champions League semi-finals. Some powerful voices in the game would like to see the Champions League finish with a week-long festival of football with two one-leg semi-finals and the final in one city.
Premier League clubs concerned over ‘unfeasible’ CL reform
Premier League clubs have major concerns that plans to expand the Champions League will lead to “unfeasible” fixture congestion, and the potential for European matches to be staged on the same day as top-flight domestic games.
Up until now, there has been an agreement with UEFA that there should be no clash between Champions League matches and Premier League games, with the weekend protected for domestic fixtures.
But Sky Sports News has been told there are widespread concerns that UEFA’s plans will be unworkable, and may lead to European and domestic games going head to head.
We understand the Premier League is currently lobbying UEFA for only two extra matches per team in the group stages instead of the proposed four. That would take the total number of games in the group stages to eight per team.
Under the current system, there are 125 Champions League games in total per season. If the tournament is expanded to include eight group games per team, that would mean 64 more matches – 189 in total (a 50 per cent increase), while 10 group games would lead to 100 more games, and a total of 225 Champions League matches throughout Europe, over the course of the tournament – a 80 per cent increase.
Some officials have told Sky Sports News that such a sizeable expansion could well lead to a drop in UEFA revenue, because broadcasters across Europe might be put off from bidding for the rights to host the tournament. UEFA rules dictate that broadcasters who win the rights must show all matches, and not cherry-pick the best.