By Simon Evans
MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - Europe's leading clubs were meeting on Friday to thrash out their position on reforms and the financial structure of UEFA's Champions League as fan groups criticised them for "crisis profiteering" in supporting plans to expand the competition to 36 teams.
The European Club Association (ECA) was holding a board meeting, with UEFA's Clubs Competitions Committee due to meet later.
UEFA's ruling executive committee meets on Monday ahead of Tuesday's congress where president Aleksander Ceferin hopes to have his plans voted through.
The ECA has been supportive of UEFA's plans to expand the Champions League from 32 to 36 teams and change the group stage to a single-table format with 10 games instead of the current six.
However the top clubs have made a late push for greater control over the business, finances and running of the competition which they want to be tied in to support for the new-look competition. [L1N2LT0NQ]
The UEFA plan has been produced against the backdrop of reports of a proposed breakaway Super League, run by the top clubs without the governing body involved.
The ECA are already involved in UEFA’s club competition structures, including the second-tier Europa League through a joint company, known as ‘UEFA Club Competition SA’ but they want a much bigger role.
As the clubs went online for their meetings, Football Supporters Europe (FSE) wrote an open letter to ECA chairman Andrea Agnelli, who is the president of Italian club Juventus, saying the plans presented a "serious threat to the entire game".
"You will only make the gap between the rich and the rest bigger, wreck domestic calendars, and expect fans to sacrifice yet more time and money," the fans wrote.
The letter is signed by supporters' groups of clubs on the ECA's board including Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.
The supporters' groups said the plans would benefit "a handful of already wealthy clubs, investment firms and sovereign funds, none of which have the legitimacy to decide how football should be run. Even most ECA members stand to lose out from the proposed reforms."
The supporters were critical of the changes coming during a pandemic.
"Such a blatant power grab would be indefensible at the best of times, but at the height of a global pandemic it is nothing more than crisis profiteering, not to mention a stark contrast to the solidarity displayed by fans.
"Over the past year, we have supported our clubs unconditionally, buying season tickets with no hope of attending games, and paying for TV subscriptions to watch repetitive ties held in empty, soulless stadiums, all while you were working behind the scenes to find new ways to bleed us dry," they added.
The fans' groups said they did not want to see more European games and wanted to see a fairer distribution of resources.
"We therefore demand that you drop your reckless plans. We also call on football’s governing bodies to stop making concessions to elite clubs and intervene to protect the future of the game," the letter concluded.
The ECA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; editing by Clare Fallon)