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UEFA’s Champions League Changes Avoid A Super League, But At What Cost?

The pot just got bigger for clubs in the UEFA Champions League — a lot bigger.

To forestall a virtual war between UEFA, the governing body of the Champions League (UCL), and football's biggest clubs, a deal has been reached that not only increases the global pot available for distribution to the clubs in the UCL but also guarantees that Europe’s top four domestic leagues will receive four guaranteed places in the group stages of the UCL for the 2018-2019 season.

According to UEFA’s current rankings, those leagues are Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga, the English Premier League and Italy’s Serie A. In the UCL's current format, those leagues are not allotted the same number of spots. Here’s the current breakdown:

La Liga, the Premier League and the Bundesliga are each given three automatic places in the group stage. They have the possibility of receiving a fourth spot through the UCL group stage playoff.

Serie A, on the other hand, is currently only assured of two places in the group stage and a possible third during the playoff.

For the 2018-19 season, they’ll each be guaranteed four spots in the group stage.

But what does this mean overall? Well, here’s the rub for Europe's other domestic leagues. Now, 16 of the 32 Champions League group stage spots will go solely to Europe’s top four leagues. The question becomes, is this a fair distribution?

UEFA’s chief of communications and media, Pedro Pinto, seems to think so. In a recent interview with CNN, he said:

"We now have four group-stage spots from the top four leagues, which means we believe that we're increasing the sporting value of the competition, which will then increase the financial value of the competition.

"This competition is as inclusive as it's always been," Pinto added. "Giving four group-stage spots to the top four leagues will help improve the sporting and commercial interest of the competition, so we can then spread the money across the competition and throughout all clubs."

Some leagues are already grumbling about leaving the Champions League. The true impact of all of this will take some time to register, but many already believe the changes to be a bad idea. For example, France's Ligue 1 are right to feel particularly aggrieved at the change.

The Bigger - In Dollar Terms - Change

While clubs may not be happy with what they may deem as unfair, you simply can’t deny the profitability of the league. As mentioned, the goal was to eliminate a war -–and a potential breakaway of certain leagues. Rumors had been swirling that major teams would leave and create their own “Super League.”

Now, UEFA is offering more money to teams with a “four-pillar financial distribution system (starting fee, performance in competition, individual club coefficient and market pool)”, not to mention a chance to increase viewership and TV revenue.

The English Premier League already has a £9 billion ($11.80 billion) television deal. The other clubs were falling far behind. Allowing the already popular, winning teams guaranteed spots is designed to bump up TV viewership and increase revenue. Teams get access to the UEFA TV income based on the proportional value of the different TV markets.

Now, let’s break the money even further. For the 2015-2016 season, UEFA already gives away around €15 million (nearly $17 million) to the winner and €10.5 million (nearly $12 million) to the runner up. Teams also get prize money along the different stages. Real Madrid walked away with a whopping €94 million ($105 million) in prize money with their win this year.

And this is set to drastically increase, while limiting the number of spots. Smaller leagues (who probably need the prize money more than others) will have fewer opportunities with the new deal to at least make it to the group stage.

Yet, between the TV income and their own potential winnings, a spot in the Champions League can mean millions for the clubs. It will be no surprise if many clubs are disgruntled with UEFA’s latest move.

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