The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has announced a revamping of its club competitions. This takes effect starting in the 2024/25 campaign.

The current two-competition 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, does not change. Yet, the competition format is a complete overhaul. Eventually, the total number of games increases from 274 to 287.

AFC club competitions see change from top to bottom

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

Following the Round of 16, the Quarterfinals, Semifinals & Final follow a traditional tournament style in a single country. The elimination of the common ‘Group Stage’ borrows from the UEFA Champions League which will go to a single-league format during the same 2024/25 season.

SECOnd/THIRd Tier Competitions and Other Changes

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

The third tier has 20 teams divided into 5 Groups. There will be no home/away matches in the Group Stage. Rather, there are single matches in a centralized location. The top eight teams from the five groups punch a ticket to the quarterfinals. The last eight and last four of the competition have traditional home and away ties. The final is just one game.

More changes to the AFC club competitions

A major change for the AFC club competitions is the relegation between leagues. Teams losing in the preliminary and playoff rounds move down a tier to remain active in other competitions. It is similar to when a team loses in the UEFA Champions League playoff round, only to bump into the Europa League group stage.

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

US TV RightS TO AFC club competitions

The current rightholders to AFC competitions is CBS/Paramount+. The current rights expire at the end of the 2023/24 season. Therefore, the major changes to the competitions begin with whoever owns the rights after the current CBS/Paramount+ deal expires. Time zone differences with the United States tend to negatively affect the value of said rights. Still, CBS and other other bidders could find themselves in a battle to grab the rights.

The Qatar World Cup has raised the profile of many players that feature in these competitions. Whenever the rights hit the market (expected in the second half of 2023), look for CBS to have some competition from Apple, Amazon and perhaps even ESPN.

PHOTO: IMAGO / Arnulf Hettrich