Associated Press sources: UEFA explores the inaugural 4-team season

VIENNA (Associated Press) – Forget the fourth final, European football could be the fourth-place finisher.

UEFA has discussed creating a mini-tournament to start the season with four teams from the Champions League, people familiar with the talks told The Associated Press. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private conversations.

The discussion comes on the heels of UEFA’s decision to reverse the Champions League final reconfiguration by replacing the two-match semi-finals with singles matches at the same location as the final. This idea was tested in 2020 out of necessity due to pandemic scheduling issues when the quarter-finals and semi-finals were switched to semi-final singles matches. All matches were held in Lisbon.

At the time, there was no need to accommodate different groups of fans in the Portuguese city because stadiums were empty amid the pandemic. Having supporters of many teams in one city could put pressure on infrastructure and limit the number of cities able to host the Final Four.

The creation of a four-team pre-season tournament would allow UEFA to test the organization of the event outside Europe, with the United States choosing the preferred option. With clubs already doing pre-season tours around the world, going away from home could face less resistance.

It should be profitable enough for clubs to want to send strong teams to compete in the mini-competition, which could give more opportunities for elite teams to play each other for the trophy.

One option is to pick the four teams that finish top of the 36-team standings that will become the new format for the main stage of the Champions League from 2024, replacing the eight groups of four. With the top eight teams automatically qualifying for the Round of 16 in the new format, this will provide an incentive for clubs to continue chasing points until the eighth and final round to win the top four.

The four-team tournament will likely mean the Champions League winner no longer plays the Super Cup in August. One option is for that match to become a meeting between the Champions League and Europa League champions.

UEFA is already in partnership with Relevent Sports, which created the International Champions Cup as a pre-season tournament to put a bigger – and more lucrative – structure around pre-season friendlies. Relevent Sports, controlled by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, has a deal to sell commercial and broadcast rights to the Champions League in the United States from 2024 to 27.

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