Does European football really need the Conference League?

Does European football really need the Conference League?

Third-tier competition gives smaller clubs a chance at European glory, says sports economics expert- Smaller clubs have opportunity to earn ‘enormous money,’ according to Tomislav Globan- Current system creates domestic imbalance in smaller leagues.

By Emre Asikci

ISTANBUL (AA) – The UEFA Conference League, introduced in 2021, witnessed Roma and West Ham United adding trophies to their collections, triumphs that marked significant achievements for these clubs.

But questions surround the future trajectory of the Conference League, particularly in economic terms.

Will the third tier of European football club competitions be able to attain budgets comparable to the Champions League?

Speaking to Anadolu, Tomislav Globan, an expert on sports economics at the University of Zagreb, said the idea behind the Conference League was to give a chance to teams from smaller leagues to advance to the group stage of bigger European competitions.

“One problem that resulted out of this is that the money that comes usually goes to the champions from a smaller league, which are now even more dominant than before. So it creates an imbalance in domestic competitions,” he noted.

But he stressed that a win in the Conference League gives the sides the same number of points as a victory in the Champions League.

Globan said that despite the inequality in the coefficient system, the Champions League and Europa League bring more income.

“The Europa League is not that different from the Conference League and the teams get more money, but it’s still a huge gap when compared to the Champions League,” he said.

He went on to say that it is a tradeoff between how much money you get and what your position will be in the coefficient rankings.

- Win-win situation

The associate professor said the Conference League and Europe’s smaller clubs benefit each other and it is a win-win situation “from the financial perspective, a win-win both for UEFA and for other European nations.”

He thinks that smaller teams needed Europe and European football needed a third competition because essentially a lot of the teams cannot participate in the bigger ones.

“There’s not enough room, and there are many quality European teams that wish to participate and get some of the financial gain from UEFA,” he said.

While emphasizing the importance of smaller football clubs, Globan also pointed out that UEFA cannot continue without big clubs.

“Essentially what UEFA needed to do, they needed to include at least one club from the top five nations. They wouldn’t be able to sell this product to broadcasters, or at least the money would not be satisfactory without clubs from the top five leagues,” he said.

- ‘Enormous money’

Highlighting the importance of the money earned in draws and wins, Globan said smaller clubs can earn high incomes from this tournament.

“This is enormous money, and with that money, we can only expect them to boost their dominance,” he said.

“They will be champions again next year. Then they will get more money next year, then champions another year, and so on and so forth.”

He said in smaller leagues, the Conference League may create an even bigger domestic imbalance.

“If you (smaller teams) don’t participate in the European competitions, this is a big problem from a financial perspective,” he added.

Globan said that entering the Conference League group stage is not an easy task and although it is a lower quality league than the Champions and Europa leagues, there are many tough opponents.

“But quality wise, it’s very imbalanced. It’s extremely difficult to qualify for the Conference League if you’re not a champion of a country, so all of the vice-champions (are here),” he said.

- Coefficient calculation

Asked about the coefficient calculation being the same in the Champions League and the Conference League, he responded to the question by giving Portugal as an example.

"I don’t think this is a good thing. There is a weird situation like the case of Portugal. Portugal is the only nation in the top 30 in Europe that never participated in the Conference League group stage,” he explained.

“No team from Portugal ever participated there, but they have like three teams constantly in the Champions League that are good enough even to get past the group stage to play in the playoff rounds.”

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