UEFA’s Champions League reforms may focus on the elite European clubs, but they have also sparked concern among EFL teams who fear they will be left with another huge hole in their finances.
The European football governing body is at a critical stage in its efforts to enlarge the Champions League.
It is desperate to force through changes to their premier competition this month to make it more attractive and lucrative to the continent’s biggest clubs, and to ward off the threat of a rival European Super League.
The Carabao Cup is a vital source of income for EFL clubs but its future could be affected by the expansion of the Champions League, under proposals put forward by UEFA
But if officials achieve their aim of increasing the number of group matches from the autumn of 2024 from six to 10, it will heap more pressure on the already congested fixture schedule in England.
And that will call into question the future of the Carabao Cup, which is a vital source of income to EFL clubs.
The competition is reportedly worth £86m per year to the EFL in TV revenue and sponsorship by the Thai drinks company, but that arrangement is dependent on the involvement of the country’s top teams.
If they don’t participate the values will undoubtedly fall.
The Carabao Cup has been criticised by managers in previous seasons for putting too much pressure on fixture schedules, but it has been hotly contested by top clubs this year
The League Cup competitions in other European countries have already been abandoned, most recently in France, where the tournament was curtailed last season due to coronavirus and is now unlikely to return.
In addition, the English version has been targeted by Uefa’s president, Aleksander Ceferin, who said in March it would be ‘better for everyone’ if the competition was dropped.
‘He means better for the big boys,’ pointed out one EFL club chief executive spoken to by Sportsmail. ‘There would be a big cost to all EFL clubs if that went, under the current model of funding.’
The Carabao Cup generates around £80m annually in TV revenue under a deal with Sky, and in a contract initially settled in 2017 it brought in a further £6m per year from Carabao.
Some of the money is distributed to clubs through EFL central funding.
Manchester City delighted in knocking Manchester United out of this year’s competition
Brentford lost 2-0 to Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-final of this season’s competition
‘It’s big for us and the Premier League involvement in the competition is vital because that is what the broadcasters want,’ said the executive.
Participation in the competition is also an earner for lower-league clubs. The prize pot of the Carabao Cup stands at £1m plus the additional income from TV coverage and gate receipts.
A good draw away from home, or an appearance in the later stages, like Brentford’s losing semi-final to Tottenham Hotspur this season, brings in hundreds of thousands of pounds.
However, yet again, the power plays at the top of the game impact all the way down the pyramid.
Aleksander Ceferin, president of UEFA, believes the Carabao Cup should be ‘dropped’
The changes being pushed by UEFA will have a direct bearing on funding and any reform in the English game.
‘This is another piece of the jigsaw,’ said another EFL executive. ‘If the top clubs want to take out the Carabao Cup to play more Champions League there has to be some give and take.
‘They need to recognise the impact it has on us. Compensation could be an option.’
This will be a further consideration in the long-awaited reform of English football governance, an important element of which is how the money in the game is distributed.
Under UEFA’s proposals, teams with a good record in Europe could qualify for the Champions League even if they finished outside of the qualifying places in a Europa League spot
Currently, the Premier League is reviewing the structure and funding of English football and the Government is yet to launch a fan-led review of the game.
In addition, a consortium led by former FA chairman, David Bernstein, and ex-Manchester United and England full back, Gary Neville, is calling loudly for an independent regulator to oversee a fair and sustainable funding structure.
As reported by Sportsmail on Friday, UEFA is desperate to push through Champions League reforms after detailed proposals emerged last month for the European Super League.
Pushed by Real Madrid President Florentino Perez, and reportedly supported by Manchester United and Liverpool, the new Super League aims to offer the 15 most wealthy clubs guaranteed access to a new competition and increase prize money and TV earnings.
Real Madrid’s Florentino Perez is said to be leading campaign to form European Super League
UEFA has suggested increasing the number of clubs in the Champions League from 32 to 36 and offering a safety net to big clubs by suggesting that previous records in European competition will be considered for three of the four new qualification spots. The fourth would go to France.
The proposals were put to a meeting of the European Leagues, which is a representative body that includes the Premier League, last week.
The leagues pushed back, expressing ‘strong concerns’, and suggested an increase in groups matches from six to eight, not 10, as well as no protected access for the big clubs.
UEFA is due to present its proposals to the football associations this week.
UEFA could axe the competition’s current format and move to a ‘Swiss system’ of mini-leagues
Along with their European counterparts, the Premier League has argued for reforms to maintain a balance between domestic and European competitions.
However, at this stage there has been no specific consideration of the future of the Carabao Cup.
The EFL has not received any formal representation about the future of the competition, although it has been raised by club managers as an additional pressure on resources.
In 2017, then Chelsea manager Antonio Conte followed Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola’s criticism of the Carabao Cup, claiming the competition was ‘not important to him’.