A decision on the changes to the format of the UEFA Champions League has been delayed until April after clubs hit a stumbling block over who will have the commercial control over the competition, according to the PA news agency.
The governing body’s proposals, part of the ‘Horizon 2024’ package, would see the group stages of the tournament scrapped in favour of an expanded qualifying format, with two ‘wild card’ entries based on UEFA’s coefficient rankings.
In March, Chairman of the European Club Association (ECA), Andrea Agnelli, disclosed that a new ‘ideal’ structure for the Champions League was ‘very close’ to being agreed upon.
However, later in the month, it was reported that UEFA was in the process of holding discussions with the ECA over the formation of a joint venture to manage all media and sponsorship rights for the governing body’s competitions. The new setup would mark the ‘biggest change’ to the operating of the competition, and it now appears as though this is where clubs have hit an impasse, with some stakeholders insisting they should control the tournament’s commercial assets, such as sponsorship and media rights.
UEFA confirmed in a statement that ‘any official decision’ on the reforms will ‘only be made at the next UEFA executive committee meeting on 19 April, in order to finalise ongoing discussions’.
Meanwhile, the ECA released a statement on 30 March reiterating that the changes will be ‘crucial’ in safeguarding ‘European club football’s rebuild and long-term sustainability’, while also detailing the events of the meeting held on 29 March.
“The board reviewed in detail the current state of play relating to discussions and plans with UEFA for the post-2024 period,” it read. “Discussions focused on the future of the UEFA club competitions (UCCs) along with ongoing talks between ECA and UEFA around their future stakeholder relations given that the current memorandum of understanding which enshrines all aspects of this relationship is also set for renewal in 2024.
“The executive board, which is made up of 28 members and representatives from European clubs representing ECA members across all four ECA subdivisions, unanimously agreed that it was not yet in a position to formally endorse key changes to the UCCs for the period post-2024 in isolation.
“The executive board believes that if European football is to meet the challenges it currently faces, the foundations for ECA and UEFA’s future relationship also need to be given due consideration at the same time.”
Reports have also suggested that the English Premier League has raised concerns about the changes to the qualification process, which will be based on historic performance and providing a safety net for bigger clubs which miss out on the tournament.
For instance, if the proposed format was active now and based on the current top flight rankings, the changes would see Liverpool qualify for the Champions League, despite sitting in seventh.
Furthermore, Crystal Palace Chairman, Steve Parish, warned of the ‘devastating effect’ the reforms could have on English football in an interview with BBC Sport, indicating that it could threaten the existence of the EFL Cup.
“This would have a devastating effect on domestic competitions in England,” he noted. “The League Cup is the largest financial contributor to the Football League and this will either be the end of that cup in its entirety or reduce it to a youth competition.
“For clubs like us, it’s very difficult to understand where you have a voice in these conversations. We feel very remote from the decision-making.”