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New Women’s Champions League format and financial distribution

UEFA presented the new Women’s Champions League format and financial distribution for the upcoming season of the most prestigious European football competition.

Barcelona and Chelsea will play in the Women’s Champions League final, a last game in the old UWCL format. The competition will undergo a big reform in the next season, mainly to increase competitiveness.

UEFA Women’s Champions League history

It all started in the 2001/02 season with UEFA Women’s Cup as the first edition of the women’s football European club competition. Each association got one entry to the newly formed competition with some teams qualified directly to the second qualifying round. One-venue mini tournaments in the first and second qualifying rounds, two legged knockout stage for the last 8 and two-legged final (from 2002/03). 1. FFC Frankfurt were crowned as the first champions of Europe.

Frankfurt winning Champions League in 2008 (Source: Dontworry / CC-BY-SA-3.0)
Frankfurt winning Champions League in 2008 (Source: Dontworry / CC-BY-SA-3.0)

First reform came in 2009. The competition was renamed as UEFA Women’s Champions League and for the first time, the top 8 leagues were awarded two entries to the competition, with some teams directly qualified to the round of 32. Started with 7, nowadays with 9 one-venue mini-tournaments in the qualifying round, with two-legged knockout matches from round of 32 to semi-finals. The format of the final was changed to a single match, as we know from the men’s competition. From 2019 onward, the host city changes every year.

New Women’s Champions League format

That brings us to a new Women’s Champions League format, that UEFA introduced already in December 2019. As the first direct result of UEFA Women’s football strategy, which goals are to expand the Women’s Champions League coverage.

A 16-team group stage will be introduced from next season onward as well as centralized marketing and TV coverage. The reform will bring 20% more matches. Apart from that, UEFA recently announced a new financial distribution model that will significantly increase the rewards for every club competing in the competition and presenting solidarity payments to all top division clubs of countries that will have a team playing in the competition. These payments must be reinvested for development purposes.

New Women's Champions League format (Source: UEFA)
New Women’s Champions League format (Source: UEFA)

As mentioned, the current knockout round of 16 will be replaced by a group stage, consisted of four groups with four teams that will play each other home and away. The top two in each group will advance through the quarter-finals. At the moment, home teams are responsible for media coverage of their games (except the final). From next season, UEFA will take over producing all the games already in the group stage. Matchdays in Round 2, Group stage and quarter-final legs will be scheduled, so they will not clash with other major football competitions.

“we think the time is right to do for women what we did for men many years ago”

– Giorgio Marchetti, Director of Competitions

The 6 best ranked associations according to UEFA women’s association club coefficients (currently, those are France, Germany, Spain, England, Sweden, Czech Republic) will be awarded three entries, while associations from 7th to 16th place (Denmark, Netherlands, Italy, Kazakhstan, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Scotland, Russia, Belarus) will be awarded two entries. All the other associations will be represented by their domestic champion as before.

Provisional entries for 2021/22 Women's Champions League (source: UEFA)
Provisional entries for 2021/22 Women’s Champions League (source: UEFA)

The qualifying round will be split into champions and league paths, as we know from the men’s version of competition. The titleholders and the champions of the three top-ranked associations will be automatically qualified for the group stage. The champions of associations ranked 4 to 6 and the runners-up of the associations ranked 1 to 6 will join the qualifiers in the Round 2, while all the others will start in the qualifying Round 1.

A qualification round will be split into two paths (source: UEFA)
A qualification round will be split into two paths (source: UEFA)

Round 1 (August) will be played as knockout mini-tournaments with a semi-final, a third-place match and a final with all the winners progressing to the Round 2. Round 2 (August/September) will be played in a two-legged knockout format and winners will qualify for the Group stage that is set to start in October.

The new format is set to ensure that teams from at least ten associations will reach the group stage. In the past, a lot of matches in the knockout stages were won by huge aggregate margins. UEFA said that the new format will “boost competitiveness and increase exposure of women’s club football.

Giorgio Marchetti, UEFA’s director of competitions:

“There is a clear increase of interest in the women’s game. We see it from everywhere. It’s been a long process. The talks about changing the format and creating a group stage started several years ago. We pushed it back because we felt the conditions were not yet met. But now we see that, with the investment of UEFA and the investment of the national associations and the investment of the clubs, the game is growing. Certainly, there is more interest also from the market and the media. So we think the time is right to do for women what we did for men many years ago.”

Another big addition to Women’s Champions League is an introduction of VAR (Video Assistant Referee) in the knockout stages. Currently, it is only used in the Women’s Champions League final.

New Women’s Champions League financial distribution

Starting next season, UEFA will redistribute a total of €24 million which is four times more than at the moment. Every club that will qualify for the UWCL will get a minimum €400,000 for the group stage participation (five times more than the current reward for the Round of 16) and the winner will earn up to €1.4 million.

Apart from reward distribution, UEFA introduced solidarity payments that will be distributed among teams from participating associations. The exact amount will be calculated according to the club’s performance representing their respective leagues in the Women’s Champions League. New regulations will also allow clubs to alter their squad list at any time, in order to replace players in case of pregnancy or maternity leave.

UEFA certainly made a step into the right direction. Women’s Champions League will gain more exposure, more money will be given to women’s clubs and smaller clubs will be able to benefit from the solidarity payments. But what does that mean for the clubs from associations where women’s football is of secondary importance? It seems that it will be even harder to compete with top women’s clubs in the future which may lead to ever-increasing gap between big and small clubs. Just like in men’s football.

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