Expansion: 16 teams and Final 8
The LEN Bureau has approved to expand the men’s water polo Champions League field. In the coming season the main round will feature 16 teams while eight sides can qualify for the final round to clinch the most prestigious club trophy on Earth.
The recent format of the Champions League – launched in the 2013-2014 season – turned out to be a tremendous success. Eight wild-card holder sides and four coming from a really high-level qualification process resulted brilliant matches and constant excitement all year long. Six teams could advance after playing ten rounds and the climax of the season, the three-day Final Six tournament was a real hit both in the first two years when it was staged in Barcelona and on the past two occasions in Budapest. The last one, played in the brand new Duna Arena, brought the biggest ever single-match crowd of 10,000 fans in the Champions League history.
Now the success story continues by involving even more teams and securing a greater reach as wild-cards are allocated for teams from the Netherlands (AZC Alphen), Russia (Dinamo Moscow) and Romania (Steaua Bucharest) where fans couldn’t watch Champions League matches in recent years. As the expansion will see 16 teams competing in the main round, stakeholders agreed to add two more teams to the final phase of the series.
Accordingly, a Final 8 tournament will be held (in Genova, the host is Pro Recco of Italy) which might see more balanced performances as all qualifying teams shall play the same number of matches (in the Final Six the group winners got a bye and advanced to the semis directly). From next season the scheme will follow the usual quarter-final match-ups (1-4, 2-3, 3-2, 4-1). It’s yet to be decided whether it’s going to be a three- or four-day long tournament. The latter would allow a rest day for the two finalists and those going for the bronze medal while the other four sides would use the third day to decide the final rankings for the 5-8th places. More teams mean higher prize money so every match will have something at stake – the final distribution chart will be announced soon.
“Through this expansion, Champions League will reach more water polo fans and not just in our continent as we have witnessed huge interest from the Americas for instance as we offer free live streaming from each game” LEN Operational Manager Marco Birri said. “We are proud that our premium water polo club competition are reaching higher and higher in all fields. Champions League has become a brand and it’s a really good selling one but we would like to further improve some aspects, including promotion and TV coverage quality to offer the best possible product for water polo lovers.”
Champions League, 2017-18 – Season Dates
Qualification Round I
15-17 September 2017
Qualification Round II
29 September-1 October 2017
Qualification Round III
14 & 18 October 2017
Group Stage (14 rounds)
25 October 2017-9 May 2018
6/7-9 June 2018