Swiss Super League – Are playoffs the right choice?

On Friday, May 20, the Swiss FA announced a raft of changes to the country’s top-flight football model. From the 2023/24 season, the Super League will be made up of 12 teams instead of the usual 10, and there will be a post-season playoff system for both the European spots and the League Championship.

After the first half of the season is complete, the league table will be split into the “Championship Group” (Top 6) and the “Qualification Group” (Bottom 6), similar to the Scottish League model. The teams in each group will play each other twice more, then the post-season begins.

The top two sides will compete in a “best of three” playoff series for the League Championship, with the side in first place playing games one and three at home. The remaining four sides in the Championship Group will join up with the top four of the Qualification Group, playing a knockout tournament for the final European spot.

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This season would have seen FC Zurich and FC Basel compete in the Championship Playoff

The Swiss FA and the clubs who voted for these reforms clearly believe that these changes will increase interest in the Swiss League, which should subsequently increase the attendances and revenue of the individual clubs. It’s hard to imagine that, in particular, a Championship Playoff series wouldn’t draw a higher audience than the average Super League game, and would most likely attract more attention from outside Switzerland, especially if it was between two of the better-known sides.

The addition of two more teams to the top flight should also improve the general competitiveness of the league. Many casual fans of the Swiss game would argue that watching mostly the same teams every year can get a little dull, so the injection of fresh, Challenge League talent should stir things up somewhat, as well as giving those “smaller” teams a chance to increase their standing within the game.

However, aside from the potential benefits to the post-season viewing figures, there are significant arguments against the changes ratified in the last few days.

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Would Zurich deserve to miss out on their first title since 2009?

The main argument being, of course, that the Super League is, as its name suggests, a league competition. This season, FC Zurich regained the title for the first time since 2009, out-performing FC Basel by 14 points. The season before, Young Boys finished 31 points ahead of second place. It seems almost wrong that either of those teams could have put together such incredible seasons, only to have their rightly-won prize taken away from them by a team that finished so far behind in the competition.

Not only that, but given that the league will be shifting to a Championship Group format, the eventual league “winners” (whoever ends up in first place) will have already competed solely against the “best” teams in the league for the second half of the season, rendering a final playoff series even more unnecessary.

Similarly, it could be argued that, given the nature of the “European Playoff” tournament, a deserving team could miss out on European football altogether because of a single poor performance after an impressive season. Take a team like Servette, for example, who qualified for the Conference League last season after a solid campaign – why should they then miss out on a European adventure (and possible revenue) because they were beaten in the post-season by the team who finished seventh or eighth in the league?

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BSC Young Boys ended this season in third, qualifying for the Conference League. In the new format, they could miss out altogether.

Whatever the reasoning, the FA and clubs have spoken, and the majority have backed the new changes. The hope remains that the new model will have the desired effect of advertising the Swiss game to a wider audience, improving its standing in the process, while not harming the competitive nature of the Super League itself. Many are unhappy with the changes, including the reigning Champions, but all they can do now is wait to see what kind of effect they have on the sport in Switzerland as a whole.

Despite their fears, they will no doubt be hoping that the overall result is a positive one.

The Author

Patrick Gunn

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