UEFA will introduce a 16-team knockout phase in place of the second group stage in 2003/04.
The format of the world's most prestigious club football competition – the UEFA Champions League – will change as from the 2003/04 season.
Sixteen-team knockout phase
UEFA's Executive Committee decided at its two-day meeting in Nyon to maintain a field of 32 participants and an opening group stage with eight groups of four. However, following this first group stage, the competition will revert to a two-leg knockout phase with 16 teams.
Second group stage abolished
The decision will mean the abolition of the second group stage, which currently features 16 teams playing in four groups of four, with the knockout phase beginning at the quarter-finals. Under the revised format, the two teams reaching the final will play a total of 13 matches from the start of the group stage, compared with 17 at present.
UEFA President Lennart Johansson, who chaired the Executive Committee meeting, said that the format changes had been made with the best interests of the competition and European football in mind. "We believe this reduction in the size of the competition is in the longer-term interests of everyone involved – clubs, players, fans, broadcasters, sponsors and European football in general," he said.
Act for the future
"It is not easy to change a competition which is recognised as the best club event in the world, but sometimes you need to act for the future," said the UEFA President. "We have been listening carefully to our stakeholders, and it is clear that there are a variety of views – however, we believe this is a moment for leadership in the wider interests of the game.
"As the European governing body, UEFA has to consider many different factors, both sporting and commercial, and at the same time think ahead," explained Mr Johansson. "We want to see a better balance in European football, a less congested fixture list for players and clubs and a flagship competition which has the right sporting mix and brand strength.
"Changing circumstances in the commercial environment are important, but so is planning for the future and basing your competitions on public interest and long-term development," he added. "We believe that this move will send the right signals to the whole of European football about how we can work together to tackle some of the challenges ahead."
European football's governing body has continually adapted the format of its blue-riband club competition since the Champions League was launched in the 1992/93 season with a field of eight teams.
In line with football's development over the past decade, the competition has expanded considerably in terms of the number of participants and commercial appeal. UEFA has maintained constant dialogue with the European football community and the many commercial partners involved to fine-tune every element of what has become one of the world's major sporting attractions, in which not only the participating clubs, but also European football as a whole, benefit from the income generated.
Clubs who competed in last season's Champions League will receive CHF768m (€523m) from the revenue generated. Spanish club Real Madrid CF received more than CHF55m (€37.5m) for their successful campaign which culminated in them winning the competition.
UEFA also operates a solidarity principle whereby national associations and clubs from throughout Europe also receive a share of the Champions League revenue. The 51 UEFA associations – as at last season, as new members Kazakhstan were not included – each receive a direct payment of CHF300,000 (€205,000).
It was announced on Wednesday that UEFA would also be allocating nearly CHF59m (€40.2m) in 2001/02 Champions League solidarity payments to the top leagues of its member associations.