Champions League reform: fans and leagues for changes, top clubs against – Champions League

On the current match day of the group stage of the Champions League, a banner was present in several stadiums: “Stop UCL Reforms” (“Stop the reform of the Champions League”). The identical poster was placed by fans of Borussia Dortmund, Bayern Munich, Young Boys Bern, FC Porto and FC Liverpool at their clubs’ games. “Football for millions of fans – not for billions of euros”, it said on other banners.

What is meant is the reform of the Champions League from 2024, which the UEFA Executive Committee decided on April 19, 2021. Many fan groups are completely dissatisfied with these plans.

The key points:

  • Elimination of the group phase, introduction of an overall table: the clubs in places 1 to 8 play in the round of 16, those in places 9 to 24 in a second round.
  • 36 instead of 32 teams take part.
  • Of the four additional teams, two should no longer qualify via their national league, but rather via the five-year coefficient of UEFA. This is a ranking of the clubs taking into account the European Cup results for the last five years. It is a rescue network for ailing top clubs if they miss the Champions League in their domestic league.
  • The preliminary round should include ten instead of six games per club.
  • The total number of games increases from 125 to 225.

In its decision, UEFA has clearly opened a back door for changes to these plans. It says literally in it: “Changes to the new format (…) can still be made if necessary.” And the need is there.

League association: “We are not happy with a lot of things”

“We think there will be changes”said Jacco Swart, managing director of the European leagues association, European Leagues. He made a statement on October 28 after the general assembly of the association in which the German Football League is organized.

“It is clear that we are not happy with many of the things that have been decided. There will be a second phase in this process.”said the Dutchman. A lot is at stake for the leagues, including the Bundesliga.

The leagues’ problems and fears are:

  • More match days for the European Cup means fewer dates for national competitions. That could question many national things in European football: the league cup in England, second legs in Italy’s cup, 20 clubs with 38 match days like in England and Spain or even the German winter break.
  • More games in Europe could also lead to a shift in TV revenues and sponsorship money, because the media and companies could then put the money into the Champions League instead of, for example, the Bundesliga.
  • As a consequence, even more money could end up with the big clubs and fuel the big problem of inequality in national competitions with permanent champions such as Bayern Munich, Red Star Belgrade or Celtic Glasgow.
  • A qualification for the Champions League over the coefficient devalues ​​the national leagues. You would no longer be the only key to participating in the premier class.

Claus Thomsen from Denmark, the new chairman of the European Leagues, particularly criticized the coefficient rule, which looks back on five-year-old results. “We want to address that. Access must be regulated through sporting performance, not through historical results”said Thomsen.

Club Association: “From our point of view, the overall package remains meaningful”

The European club association ECA contradicts this. “It’s easy, a little too easy, to pounce on a single aspect when it’s a big package of reforms.”said ECA CEO Charlie Marshall after the organization’s general assembly on September 7, 2021.

He clearly rejected the approach that the coefficient does not reflect any sporting performance. Achievements in the European Cup are of course sporting achievements. “There is a logic behind this. The concept is based on all European competitions”said Marshall. “From our point of view, the overall package makes sense.”

Every concession has to be bought at a high price

The negotiating positions of the camps for the talks with UEFA about the format from 2024 are clear, but compromises are likely to be expensive. For example, a concession by the top clubs with the coefficient could deprive the leagues of the opportunity to reduce the number of match days in the negotiations – but this is one of the main concerns. The result could even be the opposite: the ECA recently said that the Europa League and the Europa Conference League should each be expanded from 32 to 36 teams, which was previously only intended for the Champions League.

With the new regulation of financial fair play, another topic may also play a role. In football politics, such issues can never be completely separated, especially when they are negotiated in parallel. On the other hand, a concession in the reform of the Champions League could lead to a concession in the financial regulations.

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Champions League reform: fans and leagues for changes, top clubs against – Champions League