European leagues group says there's room for more CL games

GENEVA (AP) — An expanded Champions League format with four extra games per team can be made to fit in soccer’s congested calendar, the head of Europe’s domestic leagues group said Wednesday.

Elite clubs have been pushing for more guaranteed Champions League matches and revenue starting in the 2024-25 season, but UEFA-led talks failed to reach an agreement last year amid opposition from leagues and less wealthy clubs.

UEFA is now ready to propose revamped ideas in a fresh wave of negotiations that will start to involve the 29-nation European Leagues organization next week.

One option is replacing traditional four-team groups with a format that would see each club play 10 games that determine the standings of a single league table. The 16-team knockout stage would be retained.

“I think it could be possible to squeeze another four dates into the calendar,” European Leagues chairman Lars-Christer Olsson told reporters in an online briefing.

Olsson said the schedule of national-team games would also have to be considered, and was cautious about details before formal talks with UEFA.

National leagues are wary about any proposal that would cut teams from their own competitions or give up prized weekend fixture slots.

Instead, space can be created by modifying domestic cup competitions and playing the Champions League's round of 16 over two midweeks instead of four.

Olsson said he was optimistic about next week’s talks and that UEFA promised “a proper procedure” after last year’s proposal was widely seen as heavily favoring the European Club Association.

A strict principle for European Leagues members is how to qualify for the Champions League. They insist qualifying must be earned only by domestic league positions or winning the previous season’s Champions League or Europa League.

“That is definitely a red line,” Olsson said. “I think UEFA has the same opinion.”

The idea that Champions League semifinalists, and maybe even quarterfinalists, could be rewarded with entries into the next edition won support after Ajax’ reached the last four two seasons ago.

“We don’t think that is correct, definitely not,” Olsson said.

As a former UEFA chief executive, Olsson said the kind of recent threats that elite clubs could form their own closed league had been heard since the 1990s.

“I think the breakaway alternative is already dead,” the Swedish official said.

European Leagues also wants more of the prize money in top UEFA competitions to be spread in so-called solidarity payments to top-tier clubs who do not qualify. That figure is currently around 140 million euros ($170 million) each season. The 32 Champions League clubs will share about $2 billion in UEFA prize money this season.

Separate talks with UEFA are scheduled next week on how to distribute European prize money for the next three seasons until format changes can take effect in 2024.

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More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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