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Evolution of competitive balance in the Champions League (2003-2018)

The 42th Monthly Report of the CIES Football Observatory analyses the evolution of the competitive balance in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League since the introduction of the current format in 2003/04. The study illustrates a clear trend towards less balance and more predictability. Changes in the competition format and the redistribution of resources are needed to preserve a sufficient level of sporting and economic balance.

The analysis of the distribution of points at the end of the group stages shows that teams at the top of the table have progressively obtained more points and significantly improved their goal difference. The opposite trend was observed for teams at the bottom of the group. The average goal difference in group stage matches also increased. This is notably linked to the growth of fixtures which concluded with at least a three goal difference: from 16.9% during the first four seasons analysed to a new record of 22.9% between 2015 and 2018.

The study also reveals the greater predictability of matches. The percentage of fixtures where teams that are clear favourites according to odds on the betting market go on to win went clearly up: 81.4% of wins at home between 2014 and 2018 (+5.3% in comparison to 2004-2008) and 74.6% away (+12.1%). A good compromise to preserve the interest of the Champions League over the long term would consist of reducing the number of participants in the group stage, while keeping an open system of competition and guaranteeing a greater percentage of revenue to those excluded.

Solidarity could operate through a meritocratic basis by keeping aside part of the revenues for all of the teams having participated in the training of players fielded. Such a redistributive mechanism would have the great merit of recognising the fundamental role played by a multitude of clubs in developing the players who guarantee the high quality spectacle that the major teams produce and from which they derive benefit. Go to the study here.