Uefa is considering a major revamp of the Champions League format

UEFA Champions League Trophy

Uefa is considering a major revamp of the Champions League, with the group stage potentially cut to 16 teams.

The move is being driven by continental clubs’ concern that they are being left behind by huge revenues generated by the Premier League and the revised format may mean so-called lesser teams having a reduced presence in the group phase.

Changing the group stage into what would effectively be two mini super-leagues is being considered by European football’s governing body, according to sources at a major Premier League club. Uefa is expected to announce any changes to their flagship competition next season, before the sale of the next cycle of commercial deals. As the Champions League is in the first term of a three-year rights contract it would be difficult for any change until after the 2017-18 edition.

A Uefa spokesperson told the Guardian: “Uefa is in constant contact with all stakeholders, including the clubs, on all football matters. Therefore, any plans to evolve the format of our club competitions would be coordinated and negotiated together with them. There are currently no concrete proposals on the table since we are at the beginning of a new cycle (2015-18) of our club competitions.”

The transformation of Europe’s blue riband club tournament might also include more knockout rounds before the revamped group phase. If there was one extra round the top-seeded 16 clubs might enter the competition at this point and would not be able to draw each other. The established continental clubs believe this would allow them a better chance of avoiding lesser teams at the group stage, which in an eight-team format would mean 14 matches, played home and away.

An example cited during discussions with Uefa came in 2008-09 when Real Madrid were drawn in a group that included Bate Borisov. The ties between the two sides attracted low viewing figures and there is a firm desire to avoid repeats in the future by having more high-profile games, generating a bigger income.

The Premier League’s record new domestic broadcast deal from next year of £5.14bn – plus an expected further ¤3bn (£2.37bn) from overseas rights – is causing concern. The budgets of all 20 Premier League teams will be greater than most of their overseas counterparts who compete at the top end of their domestic leagues.

Next season, the side relegated bottom from the Premier League will receive £100m, as much as Chelsea received when becoming claiming the title in May. The champions in May 2017 will be rewarded with prize-money of around £150m.

When monies from ticket sales and commercial deals– each worth £15m-£20m – are factored in, then Aston Villa, who are likely to be relegatedbottom this term, would receive a reward of around £140m next season, nearly three times the budget of many continental clubs. La Liga’s Sevilla, for example, operate on around £50m a year. Winning the Champions League offers a reward of £40m-£50m, a third of the prize-money received by next year’s Premier League champions.

The possible move to a larger group format could be seen as a first step towards a European Super League. At the start of the month senior executives from Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool, the Premier League’s “big five” met in London to discuss the Champions League with the American tycoon Charlie Stillitano, chairman of Relevent Sports, which organises of the close season International Champions Cup. The clubs were forced to deny there are plans for a breakaway European Super League.

But two days later Stillitano suggested a change to the Champions League might be for it to become a closed shop. “What would Manchester United argue: did we create soccer or did Leicester create [it]?” said Stillitano. “Let’s call it the money pot created by soccer and the fandom around the world. Who has had more of an integral role, Manchester United or Leicester? It’s a wonderful, wonderful story – but you could see it from Manchester United’s point of view, too. It’s the age-old argument: US sports franchises [which do not have relegation] versus what they have in Europe.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Jamie Jackson, for The Guardian on Wednesday 23rd March 2016 22.30 Europe/London

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