The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has announced a restructuring of its men’s club competitions and the launch of a new Women’s Champions League.

The new format for the men’s club competitions will see 76 participating clubs compete across three tiers instead of the current two-tier structure featuring the Champions League and AFC Cup starting from the 2024-25 season.

The AFC’s top-tier men’s club competition will be rebranded as the AFC Champions League Elite (ACLE), which will see the continent’s top 24 clubs compete.

The competition will be divided into 12 teams across the West and East regions competing in a league format, with each club playing four home and four away matches against eight different clubs within its region. The top eight sides (16 in total) will advance to the round of 16, also played in a home and away format.

The eight winners will move on to the quarter-finals, before the semi-finals and finals, which will all be played as single-leg ties.

The second-tier men’s club competition will be named AFC Champions League 2 (ACL2), with the 32 clubs divided into eight groups of four teams each. The clubs will play home and away matches in a round-robin format in the group stage, with the top two sides advancing to the round of 16.

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The round of 16, quarter-finals, and semi-finals will be two-leg ties, with the final as a single-leg tie.

The third-tier competition, meanwhile, will be known as the AFC Challenge League (ACGL), with the 20 competing clubs divided into five groups. The clubs will play single-leg ties in a centralized format with the top eight sides qualifying for the quarter-finals.

The quarter-finals and semi-finals will be played over two legs in a home-and-away format before the final.

The restructure will see an increase in matches from a minimum of 274 to 287, bringing in more revenue for the AFC and its member associations. The federation also announced an increase in funding to the 76 participating teams, with the top-tier ACLE winners to receive $12 million compared to the $4 million that will be awarded to this season’s Champions League champions.

The runners-up will receive $6 million – a $4 million increase on this season – while the AFC said the ACL2 and ACGL will also see a boost in prize money and benefits.

The move comes after the AFC approved the establishment of a dedicated Professional Football Task Force in February to oversee the restructure of its club competitions to drive commercial value.

Meanwhile, the AFC said its member associations have been issued with an invitation for clubs to participate in its new Women’s Champions League that will launch in the 2024-25 season.

It added a financial distribution model was already in place and will be announced “in due course.”

In preparation for the competition, the AFC previously organized two pilot Women’s Club Championships in 2021 and 2022. The third edition will take place between November 6 to 12.

AFC president Shaikh Salman said: “Our club competitions are already amongst the best and most lucrative in continental football, and today the AFC is embarking on a new and historic era with these forward-looking initiatives in both men’s and women’s Asian club football.

“The AFC has outlined its ambitions to ensure our teams and players continue to shine through world-class competitions and a major part of this ambition is anchored on our promise to reinvest in our competitions, which is the lifeblood of development for all our member associations.

“The AFC has always held the belief that we have a duty to reward success and the increase in prize money and the travel contributions in recent years created a lasting impact on our clubs and we have every faith that the strategic reforms and the new funding model will further raise the intensity, stature, and quality of the Asian club game.

“The AFC Women’s Champions League is a major step aligned with our strategy to provide a platform to showcase the talent of women players on a continental stage and we are confident that the competition will empower women in Asian football, contributing to gender equality and breaking down societal barriers, to make a positive impact on the growth of the women’s game.”

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