By Brian Homewood
NYON, Switzerland (Reuters) - The women's Champions League is to be transformed with the introduction of a group stage in what European governing body UEFA says will be a "game changer".
UEFA said on Wednesday that, instead of the knockout format which is currently used, the competition would consist of groups of four once it reached the last 16 from the 2021-2022 season onwards.
"The world's best women's club competition will get both the platform and visibility it deserves," said UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin.
UEFA added that marketing and television coverage would be centralised from the group stage onwards and matches would be scheduled to avoid clashing with any other major European football.
"There is a clear increase of the interest in the women's game. We see it from everywhere," UEFA deputy general secretary Giorgio Marchetti told reporters.
Marchetti said that UEFA had wanted to introduce the system earlier but decided that conditions were not quite right. "But now, with the investment of UEFA, investments of the national associations, investment of the clubs, we see that the game is growing," he said.
"We think the time is probably right to go, to try and do for women what many years ago was done for men," added Marchetti.
"So definitely we expect a better competition. We expect a growth of the club system as a whole and we expect much more interest coming in from the public."
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis)