The Swiss football championship at the dawn of a revolution: the stakes in seven questions

The Swiss football championship is at the beginning of a possible revolution. From the 2023-2024 season, the course of the competition could be completely turned upside down. The decision rests with the country’s twenty professional clubs, which together form the Swiss Football League (SFL).

Since the 2003-2004 season and the disappearance of the National Leagues A and B in favor of the Super League and the Challenge League, the formula of the first two divisions has remained virtually unchanged. Will it be this Friday at an extraordinary general meeting of the SFL, in Ittigen (BE)? The outcome of the elections remains very uncertain. Overview of the problems.

1- What is the current formula?

Each of the first two divisions of the Swiss Championship has ten teams, who compete four times for a total of 36 matches. In the Super League, the first team in the standings is crowned champions, the last is relegated. In Challenge League, the former is promoted, the latter is relegated. Since the 2018-2019 season, a back and forth barrage also sees the penultimate team in the Super League and the second team in the Challenge League face a possible second promotion relegation.

2- What can change?

Two aspects, which only concern the Super League. First, the number of teams: the SFL committee is proposing to increase this to twelve instead of the current ten. It would be a return to the number of 2003, which had been tightened to promote the professionalization of the other clubs. The new change will only come into effect if a two-thirds majority – so 14 of the 20 clubs – votes in favour.

Second aspect: the formula as such. The new project provides for home and away games between all teams (22 games), after which a division into two groups of six teams, with home and away games again (10 games). Thereafter, the top two teams of the ‘Championship Group’ would battle for the title in a best-of-three series, while the bottom two of the ‘Qualification Group’ would again face relegation, again in a three-game winning streak. . The remaining eight would play an ice hockey play-off tournament for the allocation of European places.

Also read: In Basel, the funny game of the brothers Degen

This “big piece” will be voted in several “slices” (the principle of division into two groups, then the different elements of the last round). Every decision is made by a simple majority: 11 out of 20 votes are needed to proceed.

3- What are the trends?

The increase in the number of teams seems to be very widely supported. There are currently more clubs in the Super League format (by their economic base, their organization, their infrastructure) in Switzerland than available places. Hosting two additional teams means reducing the major economic risk associated with one or more seasons in the second division. At the cost of, of course, dividing the TV rights into twelve parts instead of ten.

As for the formula, some leaders are very much in favor of change, others are vehemently against it while a few want an evolution… but not the one proposed. The playoff principle is polarizing and is heresy for some decision makers.

4- Where did the idea of ​​a play-off come from?

Ice hockey, we have to start answering since we are in Switzerland. It should also be remembered that in 2017 the Swiss football league had an audit of its championships carried out by the Dutch company Hypercube, which presented many variants of formulas in consultation sessions. Many included playoffs, which ensure intact tension until the last game. But finally, after a few months, the Swiss clubs had given up on the revolution. Other championships of similar size and level have taken the plunge: Belgium has been in the playoffs since 2009 and Austria since 2018, while Denmark played in them between 2016 and 2020. In Switzerland , the first division for women is trying for the first time .

Also read: Peter Zeidler, to the bone

5- Why change?

To hold the flame to the end. This season FC Zurich was crowned after 32 days. Last year, Young Boys got it after 29 games. In the play-offs, such as in ice hockey, the tension builds mechanically towards the awarding of the title. This tension has, for the supporters of the change, the attractiveness of the championship. The interest of the supporters and the amounts paid by the broadcasters and sponsors would depend on it. The challenge for them is to break a long-established routine to reinvigorate Swiss football.

6- Why is it urgent to wait?

There are not so many defenders of the status quo as there are murderers of the play-off principle. They are against it for a “cultural” reason. Traditionally, in football, the Swiss Cup rewards opportunists – who can surpass themselves in a cleaver competition – and the championship rewards regular teams. This leads to a certain reading of sporting fairness: for example, for FC Zurich president Ancillo Canepa, it is unbearable that the team that finishes at the top of the ‘regular season’ standings is not crowned champions. Some voices argue in favor of not rushing everything as the Swiss championship seems to have left the problems of bankruptcies and the sporting hegemony of one club (long-time Basel) behind.

Also read: Live sports on the SSR: the erosion of the Swiss exception

7- And the Challenge League, in all this?

In the short term, nothing will change in the second class. However, the SFL plans to lead a discussion about “the size, format and positioning” of the Challenge League, which has several issues of its own. In the beginning, the Super League revolution would only have the direct effect of setting up two of its best teams on the floor above. Good or bad news in the interests of the elite antechamber? That’s another debate.

Leave a Comment