Saudi Arabia to stage finale of AFC’s new Champions League Elite

Featured image credit: AFC

Saudi Arabia has added another major football event to its portfolio, with the news that it has seen off competition from Iraq to stage the finale of the Asian Football Confederation’s revamped top-tier club tournament, potentially through to the 2028-29 season.

The AFC has today (Friday) confirmed the Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) as the host association for the Champions League Elite – Final Stage for the 2024-25 and 2025-26 seasons.

The continent’s top 24 clubs will be divided into two leagues of 12 teams across the West and East regions, who will compete in a home and away league format for a place in the Round of 16, where the eight winners will advance to the Final Stage.

As part of what the AFC claims are the “most strategic and game changing reforms” ever to be introduced in the history of the Asian club game, the Final Stage – comprising the quarter finals, semi finals and final – will be played as single-leg ties in Saudi Arabia.

The decisive games of the Champions League Elite – Final Stage 2024-25 are scheduled to be held from April 25 to May 4, 2025, with the eventual winners poised to claim the biggest-ever prize purse of $12m (£9.5m/€11m).

This financial reward is three times more than the $4m that the eventual victors of the current Champions League will receive this season. Similarly, the losing finalist will also receive a threefold increase of $6m.

On September 12, the AFC issued an invitation to member associations asking for Expressions of Interest (EOI) to host the AFC Champions League Elite – Final Stage for a minimum of two seasons starting from 2024-25. As a result of this process, the SAFF and Iraqi Football Association submitted EOIs by the deadline of October 15.

The AFC said: “The SAFF was selected as the eventual host after evaluating the infrastructure and accommodation requirements as well as all other key operational aspects needed to stage a tournament befitting the prestige and stature of the continent’s newly revamped premier club competition.”

The AFC added that “in accordance with the interest submitted”, the SAFF has also been provisionally awarded the hosting rights for the next three seasons, from 2026-27 to 2028-29. The AFC said this extension will be subject to a review of the SAFF’s performance in the initial seasons, along with the governing body’s general requirements with the hosting of the competition, whilst also taking into consideration the “progressive needs” for each season as well as any other expressions of interest in the hosting rights.

The formation of the Champions League Elite was confirmed in August, as part of the AFC’s wider overhaul of the club game on the continent, both for men and women. In February, the AFC unanimously approved the establishment of a dedicated Professional Football Task Force to oversee the transformation of the club game.

The AFC initially announced plans in March 2022 to launch an elite club competition task force, made up of members from Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan.

The task force was established to explore means to transform the Champions League and AFC Cup competitions into more attractive propositions to enhance their commercial value. The March 2022 announcement came just over a month after the AFC stated that its premier club tournaments would revert to an autumn-spring calendar from the 2023-24 season.

The award of the Champions League Elite hosting rights comes after Saudi in February secured the 2027 Asian Cup national team tournament. The Kingdom’s significant moves into the sports event hosting space, as part of the Vision 2030 strategy, include major plays in the football market.

In October, Football Australia opted against bidding for the 2034 edition of the FIFA World Cup, leaving the path clear for Saudi to be awarded hosting rights. FIFA announced in June that all matches during the 2023 Club World Cup in Saudi Arabia will be held in the city of Jeddah. Hosting rights to the tournament were awarded back in February, with the event to be held from December 12-22.

Saudi will host four of the next six editions of football’s Supercoppa Italiana, with the competition to expand to a four-team tournament from next year. Lega Serie A, the governing body of the top division of Italian football, announced the hosting deal in March.