The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) was launched in 1955, ostensibly to establish a competition involving national teams. However, many of the organisation’s founder members preferred inviting top clubs from around Europe to a challenge tournament. They reasoned, quite rightly, that contests among clubs with high fan appeal would be more successful than relying on national sides of pick-up players.
To address the problem of having established clubs travel and play away from their home countries during regular seasons, the UEFA came up with the idea of holding matches at midweek. Wednesday evenings were designated, and floodlights were used to illuminate the pitch.
In the inaugural tournament of 16 teams, Real Madrid CF triumphed and then went on to capture the next four finals in succession. AFC Ajax and FC Bayern München later had great success, with three consecutive wins each. Thereafter, the competition improved, with no single club able to dominate year upon year, although Liverpool FC managed four separate victories between 1977 and 1984.
For the 1992~93 season, the UEFA changed the tournament format, creating a group qualifying stage to precede the traditional four knockout rounds. The number of invitations sent out was extended to 32 clubs. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, they would compete in eight groups of four, round-robin, for the right to advance to the brackets and a shot at the prestigious “European Cup.” This new format was dubbed the UEFA Champions League.
Today, the Champions League season begins with a preliminary event, as 77 of Europe’s top domestic league teams compete in late June through August in three qualifying rounds of two legs plus play-offs to win spots among the elite 32. Ten of them will join the previous year’s champion and 21 other clubs pre-selected for invitations on the basis of UEFA coefficient rankings.
Six match days are then scheduled for the league’s group stage in September and October, with the round of 16 beginning in November through early December. The following year, in February through May, two legs are played, home and away, at each level of the knockout through the semi-finals. Finally, in late May, the finals are held at Wembley Stadium in London, where one club will claim the 8.5-kilogram UEFA Champions League Trophy, accumulating as much as €10 million along the way.
Every one of the 32 competing clubs featured in the group stage receives a participation bonus of about €3.8 million. A match bonus of €550,000 is awarded for every group game played. Clubs also get performance bonuses of €800,000 for each victory and €400,000 for every draw during the group stage. Clearly, pursuit of the European Cup is not the only reason sides are so eager to participate.
Ante post betting markets are highly competitive for the Champions League. The winners typically come from one of the three big European leagues—the English Premier League, La Liga of Spain, or Italy’s Serie A. High odds are given on next year’s champion from the very day after this year’s is decided. The earlier one places a wager, the greater the return on investment can be.
One the groups have been set, bets are taken on which sides will emerge to the knockout rounds. Of course, match betting is available at every stage of the nine-month, 32-club season, and many bookmakers offer in-play betting opportunities on televised matches. As in other football betting, there is handicap betting as well as betting on draws at fixed odds, which side will score first, and even which minute the first goal will be scored by. Betting on the recipients of the UEFA’s Club Football Awards, honoring outstanding performers, is offered, too. The awards are announced at the Champions League draw in August.