Uefa set to share control of Champions League with clubs

Europe’s top football teams are set to win significant new powers to decide the commercial future of the Champions League, in what would be the biggest change to the running of the competition in decades.

Uefa, the European football governing body, is in advanced talks with the European Club Association, a group that represents more than 200 teams, over creating a joint venture that would control all media and sponsorship rights for contests such as the Champions League and the lesser Europa League, according to people familiar with negotiations. 

At the moment, these competitions are run solely by Uefa, which distributes about €3.25bn in prize money and television broadcasting deals to participating clubs each year. The Champions League is the biggest moneymaker.

The new model would be a fundamental shift in how Europe’s top competitions are governed. The talks are designed, in part, to head off an alternative $6bn JPMorgan-backed plan to launch a breakaway European “Super League”, which is being promoted by some leading clubs such as Spain’s Real Madrid and FC Barcelona.

According to people briefed on the talks, the ECA wants the governance changes alongside a plan to revamp the format of the Champions League from 2024, creating more matches between top teams. 

Ed Woodward, executive chair of Manchester United, gave an indication of the talks last month, saying that with any format changes he expected “greater involvement of clubs in the governance and control of the competitions”.

The changes would be the most significant since the European Cup, a knockout tournament including only national champions, was rebranded in 1992 as the Champions League, a broader contest featuring more of the continent’s best teams.

Ed Woodward of Manchester United says he expects ‘greater involvement of clubs in the governance and control of the competitions’ © Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty

As the competition grew to be watched by hundreds of millions of fans worldwide, clubs have demanded more control over the money they help generate.

In 2017, a company called UCC SA was set up to allow the ECA to advise Uefa on matters such as how best to sell TV and sponsorship rights. However, the final decisions still rest with Uefa.

The new model envisages either a new structure for the UCC SA or an entirely new company, according to those briefed on the talks. In either case, the ECA would be given an equal say on the terms of future commercial contracts.

Decisions on all sporting questions, such as the rules and the format of competitions, will remain the purview of Uefa.

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The changes should give clubs input on commercial deals that will help them generate more revenues.

One person with knowledge of the talks said some teams wanted TV contracts that would allow them to screen match replays soon after the final whistle, or allow club sponsors to feature more prominently at stadiums during games. 

The new company could also act as a vehicle for even more radical changes, said those involved in the talks. This includes developing internet streaming services to screen matches, rather than selling them to pay-TV broadcasters, or allowing private equity firms to invest in European competitions.

National leagues, such as Italy’s Serie A, Germany’s Bundesliga and Spain’s La Liga are in discussions over selling a stake in their competitions to outside investors. 

Asked if similar deals should be an option for the Champions League, Andrea Agnelli, ECA chair and president of Italy’s Juventus, said last month: “The possibility of welcoming investments from third parties . . . is not something that should be precluded.”

Uefa said: “Ahead of every cycle of club competitions, [it] engages with stakeholders to determine how to maximise their success.”

The ECA said: “We see deeper partnership and alignment of interest [with Uefa] as the way forward.”

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