UEFA revamps UCL to keep big leagues happy and formally partners with ECA


By Paul Nicholson

August 26 – UEFA has agreed proposals to revamp the qualifying for the Champions League with the top four clubs from the four top-ranked European national leagues automatically qualifying for the group stages. The winners of the Europa League will also qualify directly to the following season’s Champions League group stages.

The new qualification format will start with 2018/19 season and run for three seasons. There are no changes to the competition system itself.

Under UEFA’s current rankings are Spain, Germany, England and Italy would be the top four nations with four teams automatically qualifying for the group stages. Spain, Germany, and England currently have three teams as automatic qualifiers plus one play-off place. Italy has two places, plus one play-off position.

The new system while guaranteeing more places for the big leagues and their clubs, does not guarantee Champions League participation for the big clubs like Manchester United, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Liverpool or Chelsea who all failed to qualify through their domestic leagues this season.

At the core of the decision to change entry qualification was a need to head off the clubs threat of forming a Super League. Clubs wanted an increased slice of the Champions League TV and sponsorship revenue which they claim would not be there without their participation.

UEFA has bowed to their demands saying “financial distribution to clubs will be increased significantly for both competitions”, though detail has yet to be released.

Significantly UEFA says “a subsidiary company will be created that will play a strategic role in determining the future and the management of club competitions: UEFA Club Competitions SA, where half of the managing directors will be appointed by UEFA and the other half by the ECA (European Club Association).”

By formalising the creation of a new company with the ECA, UEFA could potentially be handing over a large part of its ownership of its club competition rights to the shared ownership company. Much will depend on the shareholding of that company and its executive powers. At press time no further detail had released on who holds the shares.

TEAM Marketing currently sells the broadcast rights and sponsorship for all UEFA’s club competitions on long term deals that go through to the end of the 2020/21 season but will be extended until 2024 if TEAM hits certain performance targets. It is unclear whether the newly formed UEFA Club Competitions SA will impact on this agreement.

UEFA General Secretary ad interim Theodore Theodoridis said: “The evolution of UEFA’s club competitions is the result of a wide-ranging consultative process involving all stakeholders and taking into account a wide range of expertise and perspectives.

“The amendments made will continue to ensure qualification based on sporting merit, and the right of all associations and their clubs to compete in Europe’s elite club competitions.

“We are happy that European football remains united behind the concepts of solidarity, fair competition, fair distribution and good governance.”

The changes certainly mark a ‘saved the day’ moment for UEFA’s club competitions which were under very real threat from the establishment of a Super League, potentially funded by the deep pockets of Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda who had met with the ECA. But the club politics in terms of the long term control of the competitions, their insatiable demands for more money, and the big clubs’ desire for security of tenure in the big-revenue competitions will still remain as motivating forces.

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