- Arsenal and Juventus have both failed to qualify for this season’s UWCL
- Fears grow that present structure is hindering growth
Key stakeholders from European soccer’s governing body are reportedly discussing the move amid fears the competition’s current structure is hindering the growth of the female game.
The Women’s Champions League’s present format, which has been in place since the 2021/22 season, comprises four groups of four teams. Uefa also took the decision to centralise media rights as part of a wider shake-up to the tournament designed to increase visibility.
Now it has been reported that the organisation could expand the Women’s Champions League by increasing the number of groups, which would allow more teams to quality, or by altering the coefficient system, thus giving greater priority to top domestic women’s leagues. The Times adds that ‘all options remain on the table’, including restructuring alternatives that would not involve expansion.
Currently, there is a champions’ path and a league path to qualify for the Women’s Champions League. In the case of the Women’s Super League (WSL), the number of teams who automatically qualify for the group stage is dependent on England’s coefficient system.
Last season saw WSL champions Chelsea handed an automatic spot in the 2023/24 Women’s Champions League group stage. Runners-up Manchester United are in the second qualifying round and will face Paris Saint-Germain next month. Third-placed Arsenal were eliminated from the qualifying process this month after losing on penalties to Paris FC.
While Uefa was already purportedly discussing the future of the Women’s Champions League, the early exit of Arsenal, as well as other big hitters such as Italy’s Juventus, looks to have increased the pressure to expand or restructure the tournament, especially as clubs view it as a key driver of interest and revenue for their women’s teams.
In the case of Arsenal, the Gunners had planned to play all their Champions League games at the Emirates Stadium if they qualified, having attracted a sold-out crowd of more than 60,000 at the venue for their semi-final second leg against Wolfsburg last season.
Expanding the Women’s Champions League feels inevitable given the competition’s trajectory. Last season saw sold-out stadiums and record viewing figures for DAZN, which has championed the tournament’s increased commercial viability. Revenue for the 2021/22 edition also rose to €15.2 million (U$16.2 million).
Clubs want to recreate the experience and atmosphere of men’s Champions League fixtures, which are typically played in the evening under the lights, for the women’s equivalent. There is also scope to make it an important revenue pillar, particularly if teams play more regularly at their club’s main ground.
Big clubs certainly won’t be complaining if a rejigged format means a more likely seat at the top table of European women’s soccer, but the process of getting there would not necessarily be a breeze. Different teams have different interests and some are more reliant on the Women’s Champions League than others, especially those without the backing of well-resourced men’s clubs.
Whatever changes do come in, Uefa must ensure they are designed to support the tournament’s long-term growth, rather than satisfy the wishes of select clubs – something it has frequently had to battle against in the men’s game.