The world of European club soccer is big business, with worldwide interest never higher, and revenue streams more open than ever. However, for some of the biggest clubs, times are hard domestically — at least on the field, and where they sit in league tables.
Big clubs not getting big results has led some members of the European Clubs Association — a group that includes the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, AC Milan and Chelsea — to come together and propose a major change to the make up of the UEFA Champions League format.
That change is the proposal of automatic slots for the “most attractive” clubs, to appease television sponsors and partners, per Martin Lipton of The Sun in the U.K.
Among the ideas which gained traction at the meeting in Nyon, Switzerland, was for places to be reserved, every year, for those clubs most attractive to broadcasters, whether they qualified or not.
It’s a change that seems wholly unfair to the point of the Champions League competition — mainly that champions of leagues in Europe would have places in the competition for, you know, winning a league.
However, the proposal got so much traction UEFA has responded, with a less-than-emphatic denial of said idea.
“UEFA constantly reviews the format of its competitions in close consultation with stakeholders, including the European Club Association,” said a UEFA spokesperson.
“There are no concrete proposals on the table at this stage as we have just begun a new three-year cycle (2015-18) for club competitions. There is therefore no further comment to be made at this stage.”
Why propose such changes? It would be especially beneficial to clubs like AC Milan, Manchester United and Liverpool as they see their coffers getting smaller and smaller without the extra money provided by getting to or running deep in the Champions League.
Manchester United were bounced out of the 2015-16 UCL at the group stage and are currently out of position to make it next season. It would be two of three years out of the most lucrative competition in world soccer.
AC Milan is facing a third straight season out of the league based on its current position in Serie A, while past winners like Liverpool and Chelsea are currently in no position to even sniff next season’s UCL.
Given the money these clubs have dolled out in transfer fees and wages to players, making the UCL is also about balancing out the books inside the club as well. So, why wouldn’t these big clubs want to keep the cash cow that is the Champions League to themselves?
However, will leagues across Europe support a scheme that flies in the face of the whole point of domestic competition? It appears at least one league is willing to do so — the Bundesliga.
League boss Christian Seiffert has given his blessing to the proposals. ”If a Super League comes in the way you’ve heard it, and I’ve heard it, that could help us with brand recognition,” he sad.
“As with any company in the world, Uefa or the ECA has to think about what can be done better in the future.”
Brand recognition? Outside of the Super Bowl and World Cup, there simply isn’t a bigger brand in the world of sport than the Champions League as it currently stands.
This proposal seems like nothing more than a ploy to try and wrestle power away from smaller clubs who are becoming more and more competitive with the increased parity in money these days. Allowing the Leicester’s of the world to gain a bigger financial foothold would likely make it harder for the big-spending clubs to stay competitive with the wages they doll out on a weekly basis.
It remains to be seen if anything will come of the rumored proposals, but UEFA’s refusal to deny this scheme outright is a bit troubling for the future of the world’s biggest club tournament.