Europe’s Biggest Soccer Teams Accept New Champions League Deal

European soccer’s governing body UEFA got the sport’s richest clubs to sign up to a new Champions League agreement, averting for now the threat of an oft-discussed breakaway competition run by the biggest teams.

The accord runs from 2018 through 2021, UEFA said in an e-mailed statement Friday. It means a larger share of the annual billion-dollar prize money, made up of television and sponsorship rights sales, will go to big teams like defending champion Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich. Among changes, the top four teams from the four top-ranked countries will qualify automatically for the competition’s group stage.

“Financial distribution to clubs will be increased significantly for both competitions,” UEFA said in the statement, also referring to the second-tier Europa League.

Among other changes, the winners of the Europa League will go straight to the group stages of the Champions League, having until now had only the possibility of participating in an earlier play-off round.

The European Club Association, whose members include Manchester United, Chelsea and Atletico Madrid, said its executive board unanimously endorsed UEFA’s proposal.

English Domination?

European clubs have been increasingly vocal on the need to get better payouts from the Champions League following a massive television contract agreed by clubs in England’s Premier League. Clubs there in August started the first season of a new international and domestic deal worth about 9 billion pounds ($11.9 billion) for the next three years. That’s far more than any other league, and sparked concern that English teams will dominate the sport.

English representatives on the influential European Club Association have said they don’t favor breaking away, an idea that had the strongest support among teams in Italy, whose top clubs are a shadow of the all-conquering juggernauts they were in the 1980s and 1990s.

Italian champion Juventus’s president Andrea Agnelli has said UEFA hasn’t maximized the value of a competition that has a worldwide following, contrasting its revenues with those generated by the National Football League. UEFA’s annual commercial revenue for the Champions League and the second-tier Europa League is 2.24 billion euros ($3 billion).

Each of the 32 teams that qualifies for the initial group stage of the Champions League gets a basic fee of 12 million euros, with incremental increases based on results and the size of the national television market in the country they are based. The biggest earner gets about 100 million euros, similar to what the last-placed Premier League team will earn from the league’s television and sponsorship contracts.