UEFA, European football's governing body, has been planning a revamped format for the Champions League, their premier club competition, for months now. However, after yesterday's shocking European Super League announcement—a breakaway league founded by 12 charter members from various European leagues—the redesigned Champions League now suddenly seems more important than ever.
The new Champions League format, which will begin during the 2024-2025 season, will see 36 teams involved, up from the current 32 clubs, and will alter the structure of the competition itself. Per the official UEFA release:
Taking the total number of teams from 32 to 36 in the UEFA Champions League, the biggest change will see a transformation from the traditional group stage to a single league stage including all participating teams. Every club will now be guaranteed a minimum of 10 league stage games against 10 different opponents (five home games, five away) rather than the previous six matches against three teams, played on a home and away basis.
The top eight sides in the league will qualify automatically for the knockout stage, while the teams finishing in ninth to 24th place will compete in a two-legged play-off to secure their path to the last 16 of the competition.
Qualification for the UEFA Champions League will continue to be open and earned through a team’s performance in domestic competitions.
One of the additional places will go to the club ranked third in the championship of the association in fifth position in the UEFA national association ranking. Another will be awarded to a domestic champion by extending from four to five the number of clubs qualifying via the so-called “Champions Path”.
The final two places will go to the clubs with the highest club coefficient over the last five years that have not qualified for the Champions League group stage but have qualified either for the Champions League qualification phase, the Europa League or the Europa Conference League.
TL;DR: more clubs, more matches, more money, more avenues for qualification. The changes will also trickle down to the Europa League where clubs will play eight “league-stage” matches and the new Europa Conference League (the lowest point of the UEFA club competition pyramid) where clubs will contest six “league-stage” fixtures.
UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin explained the rationale for these changes:
This new format supports the status and future of the domestic game throughout Europe as well. It retains the principle that domestic performance should be the key to qualification and reconfirms the principles of solidarity right through the game and of open competition.
This evolved format will still keep alive the dream of any team in Europe to participate in the UEFA Champions League thanks to results obtained on the pitch and it will enable long-term viability, prosperity, and growth for everyone in European football, not just a tiny, self-selected cartel.
Football is a social and cultural treasure, enriched with values, traditions and emotions shared across our continent. As the governing body and responsible stewards of the European game, it is UEFA’s role to safeguard this legacy while leading positive future development of football in Europe for national associations, leagues, clubs, players, and fans at every level. This is why we had an extensive consultation process over the last two years which led to the unanimous backing of our proposal and we are convinced that these reforms achieve those objectives
While these proposals were in place prior to yesterday's Super League shocker, they definitely carry added significance now. Will these new measures—more matches, more revenue, more clubs—satiate the Super League charter members' desire for more cash and lure them back into the fold, or is this too little too late?
The odds that the Super League in and of itself was merely an extremely aggressive negotiating tactic remain quite high—there are just sooo many obstacles standing in the way and UEFA seems hell-bent on handing down sanctions on these clubs and players—so this new format could prove to be a calculated olive branch from Čeferin and the rest of the UEFA brass.