UEFA Women's Champions League to introduce a group stage from 2021/22
Photo by Laszlo Szirtesi/Getty Images

The news will not be a shock to Women's Football supporters, with many rumours circulating the space for the past month. However, the governing board for European football have now confirmed that these changes will take place, and leagues that currently see two teams elected into the UWCL will see that expand to three.
This change brings it more in line with its corresponding men's counterpart, where 32 compete in the group stage (16 in the UWCL) after preliminary rounds have taken place for the continent's lower-ranked leagues. The movement in format will now also result in a number of more games taking place for women's sides between September and December, with an increase to six games instead of the four seen in a straight knock-out campaign.
The change has been wanted by many, and the manager of quarter-finalists Arsenal, Joe Montemurro, spoke to the i last month about how he was eager for it to happen:
“We want the top three in England, the top three in France, in the Champions League.

“They have got to work out a way where the top teams are there for longer and playing each other more regularly. That will showcase the level of the game and show how fantastic the top teams are.”

Could this bring increased exposure?

The hightened number of games provides an opportunity for clubs to capitalise and increase their coverage of the UWCL. Currently, it is up to each side to individually choose whether or not they want to broadcast their matches - and this has resulted in sometimes weak opportunities for fans to watch games even in the most important ones. For example, Manchester City's game away to Atletico Madrid sparked discussion across the community for their viewing options, fans needed a supported Apple TV, Fire TV Stick, LG Smart TV or Roku device, with no option to see the game on a computer or mobile phone. This prohibited access for prospective supporters to see what was the most important game of the round, with only a small amount of people able to watch due to supported technology even if they chose to stump up the fee for City TV.

The involvement of BT Sport and the FA Player in the Women's Super League this season has coincided with an increase in attendances throughout the division, even when excluding the matches played at men's stadiums. A broadcaster could take this increased Champions League as an opportunity to capitalise and show the games in what is the premier Women's Football competition across Europe. 

What impact would this have?

The move to a competition with a group stage could also make a large impact on the level of how competitive it is. This change will see the top six countries by coefficient now have three teams enter into European competition, including the likes of Germany, France, England, Sweden and Spain. These would then create a positive effect in their leagues, with more teams able to reach the UWCL and so more pushing for it.

However, this could also prove to have serious repercussions on the women's game as a whole. Firstly, the group competition will now see teams participate in more games, for those sides who are semi-professional and already struggle financially to stay afloat, the increased pressure of having to pay for more European games could be damaging. As well as this, each of these clubs will also have to play more games than their counterparts in their league, possibly having to trade domestic chances for those on the continent as was seen in the WSL last year with Chelsea's UWCL run which coincided with a third-place league finish.

Lastly, more teams at the higher echelons of the world game could widen divisions that are already increasingly prevalent in their domestic divisions. Last weekend, Arsenal ran out 11-1 winners against Bristol, and although coverage of the result was painted as a celebration of Vivianne Miedema's prowess (and rightly so), it also echoed the ever-expanding gap between clubs in the Super League. It is one of the pitfalls that can be seen in the Women's game and is a sentiment shared by many that change is needed from clubs to help to close that gap, and stop larger franchises from relying on funding from their retrospective men's side to use their purchasing power to climb their way to the top.