Belgians agree top tier format but TV schedules upset amateur game

July 8 – The Belgian Pro League has confirmed a 16-team top flight format for next season with season-ending playoffs and a broadcast schedule that has incensed amateur clubs further down the pyramid.

In April, the Pro League was the first European league to cancel the season because of the coronavirus pandemic, but since then confusion has reigned in Belgian football over the league’s future format, relegation, TV rights income and the calendar.

On Tuesday, the Pro League met again and Cercle Brugge’s proposal to expand next season’s top flight to 18 teams was shot down, but the second placed team in the second division will play a relegation/promotion match against the top division’s number 15 team, opening a new pathway to the top flight for second tier clubs.

The format of the season-ending playoffs has also been tweaked with the top four teams crowning a champion and deciding who gets the coveted Champions League berths, while the clubs ranked fifth to eighth will vie for a Europe League ticket in a separate playoff.

From next season, when the league’s next TV deal with Eleven Sports enters into force, matches in the topflight will be played across the entire weekend with the first match kicking off on Friday night. Two new TV slots have been created on both Saturday and Sunday, with no matches taking place simultaneously.

Pro League chairman Peter Croonen justified the new broadcast schedule as a reflection of international scheduling trends, but amateur clubs reacted with dismay fearing that they will lose both fans and income to top flight matches broadcast on TV.

“This is a stab in the back,” chairman  of ‘Voetbal Vlaanderen’ Marc Van Craen told local media. “We regret this development. Last year we raised our concerns, but the Pro League is clearly not concerned. The time to remain measured is over. So we expect financial compensation, because we are already having a hard time because of corona.”

On August 8, reigning champions Club Brugge and Charleroi will kick off the new season.

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1596498469labto1596498469ofdlr1596498469owedi1596498469sni@o1596498469fni1596498469