How the competition’s format will change in 2024

Unless you’re an avid football fan (or Football Manager player), it may have skipped your mind that the UEFA Champions League will be changing next year. That’s right — the premier competition in Europe will be changing its format for the 2024/25 football season and will even have more teams competing than usual.

Confused? Shocked? Don’t worry. Here’s everything you need to know about the UEFA Champions League and its new format going into next year.

How many teams will be in the Champions League?

Traditionally, there’s been 32 teams in the Champions League each season. Starting from next season, however, it will increase to 36. Given that it’s not a perfectly divisible number like 32, how will this work in the group stage and subsequent elimination rounds, you may be asking? Well, actually, there’s no more group stages. The Champions League will now operate under a Swiss model.

What is the Swiss model?

The Swiss model is named after the Swiss system used in chess tournaments where players “earn points for their results in each round, and the player with the most points after the end of the last round wins.” So with the Champions League, unlike the traditional group stage format, the Swiss model will have all 36 teams competing in a league table.

Each team will play eight matches — four at home and four away — against randomly assigned opponents. These matches will take place over a ten-week period before the next stage is determined.

How is the round of 16 decided?

You might be thinking the teams that finish in the top 16 of the league table end up going to the round of 16. Actually, only the top eight teams will automatically qualify. The teams that finished 9th to 24th, meanwhile, will compete in two-legged ties to determine the remaining eight teams that advance to the round of 16.

By the way, the round of 16 will have some changes too. Clubs from the same country can now be paired against each other at this stage which wasn’t possible under the current format. Additionally, the round of 16 will be seeded. That means, just like tennis, the teams that finished first and second in the league table can only meet in the final of the Champions League which makes for a grander spectacle.

Otherwise, the rest of the tournament will go on like the usual knockout stage that we’re used to.

Can teams that don’t make the last 16 still enter the Europa League?

Previously, any team that finished third in the group stage would enter the Europa League round of 32. That won’t be the case anymore as even the Europa League is changing its format to this system and will have 36 teams.

Who gets the extra Champions League spots?

With four extra teams in the competition, which countries will get the extra spots? As per UEFA, two of the four slots will go to the nations that have the best collective performance in Europe during the 2023/24 football season. So, if the new format started this upcoming season, it would mean that England and the Netherlands would each get an extra spot based on their performances last season.

This also means a nation like England could potentially have seven teams competing in the Champions League assuming an English club that wins the competition doesn’t finish in the top four (or five) and an English club wins the Europa League the previous season.

One other spot will go to the club ranked third in the fifth-placed nation. Right now, that’s France who have their third-placed team go in through the third qualifying round. Instead, the third-placed team will go in automatically while the fourth-placed team has a chance to enter through qualifying. This is because the third and fourth-placed nations already have their top four going into the group stages automatically. Additionally, UEFA wants the top two nations to send in five teams while the third, fourth and fifth nations send in four each.

The final spot will go to a domestic league champion by adding an extra spot to the number of clubs qualifying from the “Champions Path.”

Why is the Champions League changing format?

There are many reasons why the Champions League is switching to this format. With four extra teams, it allows for more competitiveness (some groups in the current format are all but decided by the fourth matchday), ensures all the best clubs in the top five European leagues have a better chance of qualifying for the Champions League and provides a greater chance for the lower-ranked teams to make the last 16.

But in reality, the main reason is more money for UEFA.

With four extra teams and this new format, the Champions League goes from its regular 125 matches a season to 189. That means more broadcast money and more commercial opportunities. UEFA already rakes in €3.5 billion ($3.92 billion) every year from the Champions League. With this move, it can now make as much as €4.5 billion ($5.02 billion) each year.

All that said, these moves do seem promising and could very well make the Champions League even more entertaining.