Even though football continues to dominate the sports world, many fans would argue that the standard tournaments are starting to feel a little boring. It’s not that great football isn’t being played and broadcast, but the game can feel a little stale at times for some fans. For example, Manchester City’s meteoric rise to dominance once made for essential viewing, but now, the fact that they’re often considered a safe bet on home soil and abroad takes some of the thrill out of things.
For years, many observers have suggested mixing things up with a few changes to football regulations. Daring new formats have worked well for other sports, with The Hundred reinvigorating the world of cricket. In addition to becoming a staple of TV fixtures, this rapid-pace cricket format has led to a record number of live spectators. Can format changes work for football? In Barcelona, the Kings League is giving organizers in the UK and elsewhere food for thought.
Although the Kings League seems like a fairly typical seven-a-side football league, there are some differences that set it apart from informal competitions. It’s the brainchild of Spanish former footballer Gerard Piqué, who partnered with several other footballing legends and internet personalities to make the project a reality. The bare bones of the format are simple enough, but beyond the seven-man squad, there are a lot of quirks that set this league apart from the rest.
The Kings League’s strength lies in its flexibility. While the key rules of the game still apply, rigid regulations are abandoned and there’s a focus on bringing some variety to matches. A typical match begins with a neutral start, with the ball thrown from the ceiling and players forced to guess where the ball will land. This might sound like a small revision, but this single change means that calculated formations and strategies are thrown out the window.
Although the Kings League serves as a high-energy alternative to traditional tournaments, it’s vaguely inspired by Spain’s split-season format. The overall season is divided into a summer and winter split, with each one made up of a league stage and a playoff stage. Currently, the Kings League has 12 competing teams, with each squad facing each other once during the league stage of each split.
Once this stage is over, the match results are used to determine league rankings. The eight best teams then progress to the playoff stage, where the real action gets underway. Unlike traditional football formats, Kings League matches last 40 minutes, with each one split into two halves of 20 minutes.
One of the biggest draws of the Kings League is its eclectic lineup of players. Here, you’ll find recently retired professionals playing alongside more established names from the world of sport. Anyone who applies can potentially be picked during the draft. Each squad has to pick 10 players from the draft, with teams later given a chance to select an additional two players. Some teams choose to turn to former players to bolster their ranks, although currently competing footballers are also eligible for selection.
There’s no such thing as a standard Kings League match. This is largely down to the five golden cards that teams are required to select before matches begin. When called, these cards allow teams to trigger one of the many advantages that are allowable in this dynamic format. This can include calling an instant penalty, taking a player from a rival squad off the pitch temporarily, or stealing a card from the opposition.
This energetic football format has proved an instant success in its native Spain. In 2022, more than 340,000 viewers were following the action regularly across streaming platforms like YouTube and Twitch. While the novelty factor might make it seem like the King’s League will have a pretty short shelf life, it is important to consider the degree of variety here. This is a format where a match can never end in a draw and goals can be doubled if the right golden card is called.
Can the King’s League work in the UK? If television was the only broadcasting avenue for it, the answer would probably be no. However, this is a format that’s been designed with online streaming in mind. It’s also cost-effective, making it an attractive prospect to organizers who are eager to move away from the eye-watering sums spent on the highest levels of football in England.
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