By Brian Homewood
ZURICH (Reuters) – For the 80 teams who qualify for the group stages of European club football, the season starts with a glitzy party at the draw ceremony in Monaco and ends with millions of extra euros in the bank.
But while those clubs cash in on the riches produced by the Champions League and, to a lesser extent, the Europa League, more than 600 top-tier clubs who fail to qualify have to feed off leftovers.
Amid widespread concern that the financial gap between Europe’s elite clubs and the rest is still growing, UEFA is being asked by the continent’s domestic leagues to the alter the way it distributes the huge revenue from its competitions.
European Leagues, their umbrella organisation, says in a report seen by Reuters that it wants the unlucky 600 to get a larger slice of the cake.
Fearing the system is becoming financially unsustainable, it has also asked UEFA end payments which are based on a club’s previous record in European competition — something it says creates a snowball effect.
UEFA’s club competitions are expected to rake in 3.25 billion euros (2.92 billion pounds) this season but the manner in which that money is distributed has become increasingly contentious.
According to UEFA and European Leagues figures, the 32 Champions League teams will share 2.04 billion euros of that amount with Europa League participants receiving 510 million.
Only 7.3 percent of the total (237.5 million euros) will be distributed in so-called “solidarity payments” and split between the remaining 600 clubs.
The report, which has been sent to UEFA and the continent’s 55 national associations, said this was down from 8.5 percent in the previous competition cycle from 2015-18.
“The financial gap between participating clubs and non-participating clubs is increasing, creating a negative effect on competitive balance,” it warned, pointing out that the percentage was more relevant than absolute amounts.
The report proposed that the solidarity payments be increased to 20 percent in the next competition cycle which will cover the period 2021-24.
Based on an estimated revenue of 3.30 billion euros per season, it said this would provide 660 million euros for those who missed out on European competition.
Breaking down the figures further, it proposed that 3.5 percent of total revenue (116 million euros) be distributed among clubs eliminated in qualifying rounds and 10 percent (330 million euro) to clubs who did not qualify in the first place.
The European leagues also want 6.5 percent of total revenue to go into a new pillar which would be used to fund professional football development outside the top five countries.
UEFA has already decided on the competition format for the 2021-24 cycle, which will see the addition of a new third-tier competition provisionally known as UEL2 as well as the second-tier Europa League.
It is expected to decide on revenue distribution by the end of the season. UEFA said could it not comment as the issue has not been addressed yet.
The European Leagues also want a more equal distribution of revenue among the clubs who qualify for the Champions League, in particular the removal of rule which rewards participants for their historical record.
Thirty percent is distributed in the form of a “coefficient”, under a system introduced for the current cycle.
For this, UEFA ranks the 32 group-stage clubs according to their results over their European performances in the last 10 years. The total amount is divided into shares of 1.11 million euros, with the lowest-ranked club receiving one share and the top-ranked receiving 32.
The report said this “undoubtedly favours clubs that repeatedly participate” in European completions and would perpetuate their dominance.
Another proposal is that the money distributed to Champions League participants is no more than 3.5 times the amount handed to the Europa League teams, which in turn should not exceed 2.5 times the amount distributed among teams who qualify for the new third tier competition.
UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin has said since being elected in 2016 that his priority is to improve competitive balance in European football.
But he also acknowledges that the big clubs are responsible for the lion’s share of the revenue and has admitted it is a difficult subject.
The European Leagues report said that changes introduced for the current 2018-21 cycle — including more Champions League places for the top four leagues and the introduction of the coefficient pillar — would only make European football more unequal.
“The new distribution model further increases the financial differences between clubs in the same league,” it said.
“The current model is not beneficial for improving competitive balance in European football.”
(Reporting by Brian Homewood, editing by Ed Osmond)