Champions League reform shifts to 48 team expansion

12 June 2019 | Clubs & Rightsholders
Champions League reform shifts to 48 team expansion
UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, has been urged by its clubs to expand the number of teams competing in the Champions League, the continent’s elite club competition, from 32 to 40 or 48, according to the Times.

The report says that the new proposals will be submitted to UEFA ahead of an 11th September summit called to discuss changes to the competition.

This latest idea to increase the number of teams in the competition up to 48 was first mooted by clubs from smaller European leagues, including Celtic, Ajax and Anderlecht, two years ago.

Apparently, now there is continued pressure for UEFA to satisfy teams outside of the five big leagues who, despite their large fan bases and competition history, are not guaranteed a spot in the Champions League. This year’s semi-finalists Ajax, for example, will still need to go through two qualifying rounds to reach the group stages for next season.

The latest proposals would reportedly see a 40-team Champions League made up of eight, five-team groups, with the top two still progressing to the knockout stages or an expansion to 48 teams would see eight groups of six.

The new expansion proposal emerges as controversial plans to overhaul the Champions League put forward by the European Club’s Association (ECA) appear close to collapse after Juventus were the only club in Serie A, Italy’s top-flight, to vote in favour of the changes at a league meeting. They were the latest of Europe’s major leagues to reject the ECA reform plans.

ECA president Andrea Agnelli - who also holds the same title at Juventus – is keen to introduce a Champions League format that virtually closes off the elite competition via a promotion and relegation system with the second-tier Europa League.

But Agnelli’s proposition drew criticism for favouring Europe’s biggest clubs and creating a closed off ‘Super League’. Subsequently, all 20 of England’s Premier League teams opposed it. In Spain, only Barcelona and Real Madrid approved it, Germany’s Bundesliga rejected it and in France 17 of its 20 top division teams openly came out against the reforms.

According to Gazetto dello Sport, the Italian teams’ opposition to the plans were based on the belief that they could lead to a decrease of as much as 35 per cent in top-flight revenues.

The ECA has also tabled more radical changes, with a European competition made up of 128 teams in three divisions. The top division would be made up of four groups of eight teams, with the top six in each qualifying for the following season’s event irrespective of where they finish in their domestic leagues. There would be 32 teams in the second division, currently the pre-existing Europa League, and 64 in the third division, split geographically.

In a statement, UEFA has said the process for any Champions League changes, which would be effective from 2024, were part of a ‘wide and open consultation process and all ideas will be considered’.

Any changes to the Champions League would be influenced by any the potential impact on TV revenues, with UEFA expected to commission a study to uncover any potential change in earnings as it aims to satisfy top clubs’ demands for more high-profile games, while also providing greater access to elite competition for clubs from mid-ranking leagues.

With the meeting between UEFA, the ECA and the European leagues pencilled in for 11th September, the soccer governing body is under pressure to agree any Champions League changes before the end of 2019 to ensure enough time for discussions with FIFA about the international calendar to avoid fixture clashes.

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