In recent years, the football industry has spent long hours discussing how changes in the UEFA Champions League’s format and revenue distribution method will impact the European landscape. At the same time, less attention has been paid to similar discussions taking place in almost every other continent as governing bodies seek to revamp and maximize the value of their continental club competitions.
As the UEFA Champions League gathers momentum this autumn, its counterparts in other confederations are reaching a conclusion, with South America, Asia and Africa all hosting finals during November 2017. In this article, the Football Benchmark team looks at top international club competitions outside Europe.
Most recently, reforms have been implemented at CONMEBOL’s renowned Copa Libertadores. Following pressure from leading South American clubs, now represented by the newly formed Liga Sudamericana de Clubes, the continent’s governing body has doubled payments to clubs hosting matches, from USD 300k to USD 600k, and cancelled the need for them to pay 10% of matchday revenues to the confederation.
Moreover, starting this season, the Copa Libertadores has revamped its format, moving from a seasonal tournament (February to July) to a year-long competition (March to November) and extending the number of participants, including qualification to the group stage, from 38 to 47. While this may result in the best performing clubs losing some of their talent to rivals in Europe, and now MLS, halfway through the competition, changes are expected to pay-off as confirmed by CONMEBOL’S new USD 1.4 billion (minimum guaranteed) deal with IMG and Perform for the 2019-2022 media cycle (USD 350m per season).
Prior to the reform, one of the proposed alternatives was the creation of a Pan-American club competition, including the best clubs from both CONMEBOL and CONCACAF. Ironically, the new format of the Copa Libertadores has led to Mexican clubs - competing as guests since 1998 despite being a CONCACAF association – withdrawing in 2017 as the extended calendar conflicts with their domestic competition. On the other hand, from next February, Mexican clubs will take part in a newly-reorganised and significantly shorter CONCACAF Champions League.
Seeking to revitalize their top club competition, CONCACAF has opted for quality rather than quantity, moving from a 24-team group stage with a play-off tournament to a 16-team knock-out format. With everything at stake in every match and more than half of the teams coming from Mexico (4) and the increasingly strong MLS (4 from United States and 1 from Canada), CONCACAF has created an interesting structure that is likely to foster intense cross-border club rivalries.
The African governing body, which entered this season a controversial 12-year USD 1 billion media cycle, has also reviewed the format of the CAF Champions League, increasing the number of participants from eight to sixteen. However, with only maximum of two clubs per association – even though reigning champions automatically qualify - further modifications may be expected in the coming years. These may reportedly include the allocation of additional slots for the most professional leagues (e.g. Egypt) and the possible alignment of the competition, currently played from February to November, with the European calendar.
On the other hand, the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), which significantly reviewed its club tournaments back in 2002, last modified the AFC Champions League in 2014. Covering a vast territory, long-distance travel represents a challenge for clubs and fans alike, while multiple time zones plays havoc with broadcasting schedules. Thus, the last modification included further regionalising of the competition, separating western and eastern clubs, something which had previously only occurred in the group stage, all the way through to the final.
In this case, critics of the new format argue that clubs on the Eastern half of the draw have a tougher path to the final. Indeed, the high level of professionalism in Japan’s J-League and South Korea’s K-League, combined with the rapid growth of China’s Super League and the Australian Association joining the AFC in 2006, has resulted in East Asian clubs often being final favourites.
Closing this review, Oceania’s OFC – arguably the weakest among the continental competitions - has also reviewed the format of its Champions League in 2017. The 16-team tournament, which was until 2016 hosted in a single country, now consists of four groups, hosted by different nations, and two-legged play-offs, thus helping a larger number of clubs to generate much needed matchday revenues.
Football continues to grow and professionalise at a fast pace outside Europe and as domestic competitions grow stronger this also improves the regional Champions Leagues, creating exciting cross-border rivalries and increased media attention. However, with clubs often being national brands rather than international names, governing bodies need to step-up their efforts to continue raising the profile of their club competitions. In this process, KPMG’s Football Benchmark team can assist governing bodies and competition organizers to analyse different alternatives and identify the most attractive format for fans, participating clubs, media and commercial partners.