Question: The new format will be introduced from 2021/22. How excited are you?
Nadine Kessler: I’m thrilled that we are taking this significant and critical step for the development of women’s football.
Women’s club football has seen impressive growth in recent years. It deserves a competition that not only better reflects the progress but enhances it. We witnessed a fantastic Women’s Wold Cup in the summer and the UEFA Women’s EURO in 2021 will make more headlines. This made it even more important that we raised the bar for the UEFA Women’s Champions League and put the focus on women’s club football. The competition is the most prestigious club competition in female football globally. We want to build on this reputation in the future.
We are excited about this step, because it’s the right one. I hope players, teams and fans get behind it too. My only regret is that I can’t play in it any more!
Q: Can you explain UEFA’s thinking behind the change?
Kessler: First and foremost, we wanted to create a format that would accelerate the development of women’s football. We did not only want to provide more matches and strengthen the competitiveness of the Women’s Champions League. We knew it would also be crucial to bring the competition to the people, in other words to boost its visibility. The result is a package of sporting and commercial changes that has the potential to be a game changer.
The new format is also a direct result of #TimeForAction, UEFA’s ground-breaking women’s football strategy, which was launched earlier this year. One of its main objectives is to transform competitions and increase their value and reach. Today’s decision is living proof of our #TimeForAction slogan.
Q: Why was there a need to alter the current format?
Kessler: As I’ve said, we needed to work on both improving the competitiveness of the UEFA Women’s Champions League and giving teams more guaranteed matches.
Introducing a group stage will help address both of these issues. It will also provide a better platform for the competition’s promotion, raising interest among the general public, media and commercial partners.
Currently, for example, the competition is played on a knockout basis. Teams therefore start the competition not knowing how many matches they will play, with only one home game guaranteed.
Q: Who did UEFA talk to?
Kessler: A range of stakeholders have worked together, and an extensive consultation process took place over the past two years to perfect the new format. This involved representatives from different-sized clubs, the European Club Association, the UEFA Women’s Football Committee and UEFA experts across a range of topics – women’s football, club competitions, media rights and marketing.
It was especially important to ensure the project was a joint venture with the clubs, to make sure the new format answered their concerns.
Q: The new Women’s Champions League will be centrally marketed. That means UEFA will produce every game for television. How will it work?
Kessler: We want as many people as possible to tune into the matches. For that, they need to know when and where the Women’s Champions League is taking place. The new format’s regular schedule, with matchdays exclusive to the competition, provides the foundation to make this possible.
We are fully centralising media rights from the group stage. That includes guaranteed broadcast production of all matches as well as centralising most of the sponsorship rights.
We have reviewed the calendar carefully to help streamline the match schedule. Four matchdays in the group stage and the two quarter-final legs will be scheduled for days when no other major competition matches take place. These matches will be played on weekdays, either before or immediately after men’s international matches. Exclusive exposure like this will give women’s football a massive boost.
Q: What will be the impact on the number of matches and teams taking part?
Kessler: I am very happy that we are increasing the number of matches by 20%. The number of teams participating in the whole competition will also rise from 62 to 72. It remains an open competition. Every team in the game can still dream of winning the most prestigious trophy in women’s club football.
We hope the increased level of participation will drive further development of Europe’s domestic leagues as well as opening the door for more investment in women’s club football. The Women’s Champions League will remain the ultimate competition for all female footballers.
Q: Do you think investment in women’s football is starting to pay off?
Kessler: Yes, and it will continue to do so. Women’s football has become mainstream and is driving gender equality within and outside of football.
Interest in the game has soared, players have become icons for young footballers, while investment and efforts are growing across all stakeholders. Most important of all, the level of football is excellent and constantly improving. This snowball effect is what the women’s game needs.
I cannot believe the pace of change in our sport. Looking back to my playing days, I believe perceptions have shifted forever. The world has understood that football is for everyone. If a little boy can play football and dream of winning trophies, then why not a little girl too?