Asian Football Confederation to review AFC club competitions

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has announced a revamp of its club competitions. This will take effect from the 2024/25 campaign.

The current two-league structure with the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup will be transformed into a three-tier system. The number of teams participating in the three competitions, 76, will not change. Still, the competition format is a complete overhaul. In the end, the total number of games increases from 274 to 287.

AFC club leagues are seeing change from top to bottom

The still nameless replacement of the current Champions League sees 24 teams split into two “leagues” – East and West. The 12 teams in each league play a total of eight matches. Four are home and four are away, against eight different opponents. The top eight teams from each competition advance to the Round of 16.

After the Round of 16, the Quarter-Finals, Semi-Finals and Final follow a traditional single country tournament style. The elimination of the common ‘group stage’ borrows from the UEFA Champions League, which will move to a single competition in the same 2024/25 season.

Second/Third Level Competitions and Other Changes

The second tier of competition saves the traditional ‘Group Stage’ format. Thirty-two teams compete in eight groups of four. Similar to the World Cup or the modern UEFA Champions League, the top two teams from each group advance to a 16-team knockout stage. All knockout rounds will be played in a home/away format. Then the final is a single event.

The third level has 20 teams divided into 5 groups. There are no home and away games in the group stage. Rather, there are some matches in a centralized location. The eight best teams from the five groups will advance to the quarter-finals. The last eight and last four of the league have traditional home and away games. The final is only one game.

More changes to the AFC club competitions

A major change for the AFC club competitions is the relegation between competitions. Teams that lose in the Preliminary Round and Playoff Rounds will drop down a level to remain active in other leagues. It is comparable to when a team loses in the play-off round of the UEFA Champions League, only to run into the group stage of the Europa League.

The final change expected for 2024/25 is the lifting of the rules for foreign players. Currently, clubs must adhere to a ‘5+1’ rule for foreign players. Essentially there are five foreign players from a confederation plus one from another AFC country. The ‘5+1’ rule was only introduced this year and replaced a long-standing ‘3+1’ rule. From 2024, any limits for foreign players will be determined by each country’s national regulations. In many cases this means no limits for foreign players.

US TV RIGHTS TO AFC Club Competitions

The current AFC league rights holders is CBS/Paramount+. The current rights expire at the end of the 2023/24 season. That’s why the big changes in the leagues start with who owns the rights after the current CBS/Paramount+ deal expires. Time zone differences with the United States tend to negatively affect the value of these rights. Still, CBS and other bidders could find themselves in a battle to grab the rights.

The Qatar World Cup has raised the profile of many players appearing in these competitions. When the rights hit the market (expected in the second half of 2023), see if CBS has any competition from Apple, Amazon, and maybe even ESPN.

PHOTO: IMAGO / Arnulf Hettrich

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AFC,AFC Champions League,Asian Football Federation,changes,club competition,tournament,World football news

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