UEFA scraps tradition and turns to tech for future Champions League draws

New Champs League format could take up to four hours if done manually.

UEFA Champions League cup and draw
(Image credit: Fabrice Coffrini / AFP via Getty Images)
Quick Summary

The new 36-team Champions League format comes into effect for next season, but is so complex that UEFA is having to turn to computers for the official draw.

A manual trial run saw the draw process take up to four hours to complete, hence the change.

UEFA's drastic restructure of the Champions League from next season is set for at least one sacrifice – the traditional, televised manual draw.

That's because the new format is so complicated that the European football body has no choice but to use computer-aided drawing of teams instead. A trial run of the age-old manual system, whereby legendary players pick balls out of transparent globes, took around four hours to complete.

The Guardian reports that the draw will therefore be digitally-assisted, with the only the first team from pot one being drawn by hand. The rest will still be shown live on TV – on TNT Sports and the Discovery+ streaming service in the UK – but a PC will be responsible for filling out the group stage.

It's not yet known how this might be presented, but anyone who's played the latest Football Manager 2024 might already understand the system, as that features the new format and computer-aided draws.

UEFA will make sure that there can be no questions about the legitimacy of the draw by hiring accountancy firm Ernst and Young as an independent adjudicator.

The new Champions League format includes 36 teams (there were 32 entering the group stage this year). Each team will play eight fixtures, but there are no individual groups, as such.

Instead, all of the teams are entered into the same table with the top eight at the end of the stage going forward automatically into the first knockout round. The following 16 will then be pitted against each other in playoffs to determine the last eight places.

The stage one fixtures will be determined by each team's UEFA ranking, with the group split into four pots depending on their status. Teams drawn against each other will only play the one match, home or away, not both.

Now you can see why it'll take technology to decide the matches. It makes our heads hurt just trying to think of the different options and, particularly, how to make it absolutely fair.

What about the Champions League knockout rounds?

The fun doesn't even stop there. There are big changes to the knockout stages too.

The new format adopts a similar seeding structure to tennis Opens. Those finishing in the first eight places in the table will be separated based on their position, meaning the top two cannot face one another until the final if they get there.

To be honest, we actually like this tweak to the system, as it's easier to see which teams can face each other in each round.

Still, it'll be interesting to see the first draw this autumn, to see if the tech even holds up. Let's hope it's not being run on a Commodore Vic 20, eh?

Rik Henderson
News Editor

Rik is T3’s news editor, which means he looks after the news team and the up-to-the-minute coverage of all the hottest gadgets and products you’ll definitely want to read about. And, with more than 35 years of experience in tech and entertainment journalism, including editing and writing for numerous websites, magazines, and newspapers, he’s always got an eye on the next big thing.

Rik also has extensive knowledge of AV, TV streaming and smart home kit, plus just about everything to do with games since the late 80s. Prior to T3, he spent 13 years at Pocket-lint heading up its news team, and was a TV producer and presenter on such shows as Channel 4's GamesMaster, plus Sky's Games World, Game Over, and Virtual World of Sport.