Market research, Soccer (football)

Champions League goes West. What does it mean for sports and betting?

This years’ edition of the Champions League seals the domination of Europe’s Big Five (England, Spain, Italy, Germany, France) domestic leagues over the underdogs representing all the other countries. What does this mean for teams, fans, and betting organisations? Let’s find out with STATSCORE.

For the first time in the history of the competition, the last 16 has been made up only of clubs representing Europe’s Big Five leagues – English Premier League, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A, German Budesliga, and French Ligue 1. This could be seen as a symbolic breakthrough in the long process which started with the inclusion of more than one team from the best leagues.

Long ago, when all leagues were created equal…

Before the 1997-98 season of the UCF, each domestic league could be represented solely by its champion (the only other team allowed to participate was the title holder).

In the 1992-93 season, which was the first one after the competition was re-organised from European Cup to Champions League, the group stage included just the best 8 teams: AC Milan, Marseille, Porto, CSKA Moscow, IPK Goteborg, Rangers, Club Brugge, and PSV Eindhoven. What diversity, wasn’t it? And yes, you read it right! No team from Germany, not a single one from England – they simply didn’t make it.

Though it’s true that almost all the following seasons of the Champions League were dominated by clubs from the Big Five leagues, there was always room for teams from weaker leagues. It’s pure maths – even if the Big Five teams took five spots in the quarter-finals, you still had three that were up for grabs!

That’s why it wasn’t so shocking to see Croatian Hajduk Split in quarter-finals (1994-95), or Polish Legia Warsaw (last 8, in 1995-96), and Greek Panathinaikos (semi-final, in 1995-96), or Norwegian Rosenborg (last 8, in 1996-97). Not to mention the Portuguese and Dutch teams, which were able to reach the final or even win the competition, as Ajax did in the 1994-95 season.

Yeah, we could say that, in some ways, the Champions League was much more unexpected. And it was surely more engaging for fans from countries like Greece, Poland, or Sweden.

Then rich got richer, and better

The 1997-1998 season of the Champions League was the one in which runners-up of eight domestic leagues entered into the competition for the first time. This could be seen as the start of transition to, what some expect, may end up with establishment of some kind of a super league for the richest teams.

In the following years, the tournament evolved to enable participation of up to four teams from the best leagues. It has been gradually getting more and more elitist, as it was more difficult for teams from weaker leagues to stand up to the giants from the West. Their road, not just to the final but also to the group stage, got longer and more bumpy.

Though it wasn’t rare for clubs from weaker leagues to advance from their groups, they very rarely made it to the quarter-finals. In fact since the 2013-14 season, only three teams managed to do that – Porto (2014-15), Benfica (2015-16), and Ajax (reached semi-final in 2018-19).

What does it mean for sports fans and betting?

As the divide between the richest leagues and all the rest is getting wider, it seems that fans from weaker leagues will have to accept that their teams will never reach the level of the Big Five leagues. The gap will probably be growing, and the rich will be getting richer and stronger, while all the rest will be left behind.

There will still be some exceptions to this rule, as teams from Portugal and the Netherlands will be occasionally able to reach final stages of the competition. At the end of the day, however, with all the resources and power concentrated in the top five countries, it seems that we’re moving towards some kind of a super league.

The fact that only top teams will be playing against each other will also influence betting. At the last stages of Champions League season, with the underdogs out, it will get increasingly rare to see odds higher than 2,5:1. Things will probably be getting more even, and the odds may start to look more like those in the NHL, where it’s often 2,1:1 for one team and 2,5:1 for the other. The art of setting the odds may get a bit tougher for bookmakers, as the outcomes of the games will often boil down to some nuance.

The more even the game, the harder it will be for players to guess who is going to win it. Some of them may even get discouraged because of the low odds. The other ones will get even more determined, and will keep looking for in-depth analysis and stats before placing their bets.

In any case, we can be sure that following and betting on Champions League games will never be the same again!

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