A facelift? Rather a facelift: the Football Champions League, threatened by the short-lived European Super League project, will experience a small revolution from 2024-2025 starting with a mini-championship with 36 teams, against 32 currently. This controversial reform, adopted on Tuesday, is supposed to appeal to broadcasters.
At the end of its Executive Committee in Vienna, the European body has apparently opted for a compromise to erase the reluctance: the “Swiss system” (sic), a mini-championship inspired by chess tournaments, s will indeed apply during the first phase instead of the current group stage, but with eight days, against ten initially imagined and six in the current format.
Read also: Why is Unai Emery so strong in knockout matches?
The expansion of the European queen event suits some clubs by allocating four additional qualifying tickets: two additional places allocated to the two best European nations over the previous season, a sort of catch-up net for the big names, and a third qualified club for the fifth nation in the UEFA index, currently France.
This reform, the most radical for twenty years, was validated a year after the storm of the Super League, an ephemeral private competition project launched by several big mischievous clubs, including Real Madrid and Liverpool… who will face each other on May 28. in the Champions League final. “We are convinced that the formula chosen is harmonious, that it will improve the balance of the competitions and will ensure solid receipts which can be redistributed […]while increasing the appeal and popularity of our interclub competitions,” said UEFA boss Aleksander Ceferin, quoted in a press release.
By stretching out the first phase, the objective is to satisfy both the broadcasters, with 225 matches in total instead of 125 today, the clubs, assured of higher ticketing income – even in the event of early elimination – , and viewers, in search of prestigious posters.
Two subjects raised questions, in European football with an already saturated calendar and precarious economic balances. First the number of mini-championship days, initially set at ten but finally reduced to eight, then the possible allocation of two of the four additional tickets for the benefit of the UEFA coefficient of each non-qualified club, a proposal which favored the big stables by erasing the sporting hazard.
Read also: The magical realism of Real Madrid
The continental body accepted a concession on the two points, by awarding two additional tickets via the classification of the championships concerned, and not directly to the best clubs. The top eight teams at the end of the first mini-league stage will qualify for the round of 16, while the teams that finish from 9th to 24th place will go through play-offs in the home and away format.
UEFA has also announced that apart from the final, all matches will continue to be played in the middle of the week, a confirmation awaited by the national leagues which usually play at weekends. Finally, Aleksander Ceferin’s proposal to bring together the semi-finals and final in the same city and on a dry match, in the form of a “Final 4”, has apparently been abandoned, preserving the current two-way semi-final format that have been so spectacular this season. The Europa League and the Conference League are also affected by this reform, with a format modeled on that of the new Champions League.
If some voices have been raised to criticize the reform, accusing UEFA of wanting to modify a proven formula, the sharp increase in revenue expected from 2024 may have something to convince the undecided. At the beginning of 2022, TV rights for European club competitions were awarded for 5 billion euros per year over the period 2024-2027, a jump of more than 50% compared to TV rights for 2018-2019. “No discussion has yet taken place” about the financial distribution of this new windfall, which will take place in a second time, nevertheless specified Tuesday at a press conference Giorgio Marchetti, deputy general secretary of UEFA.