The Campeonato Brasileiro Série A (Portuguese pronunciation: [kɐ̃pjoˈnatu bɾaziˈlejɾu ˈsɛɾii ˈa]; English: "Brazilian Championship A Series"), commonly referred to as the Brasileirão (pronounced [bɾazilejˈɾãw]; English: "Big Brazilian"), and also known as Brasileirão Assaí due to sponsorship with Assaí Atacadista, is a Brazilian professional league for men's football clubs. At the top of the Brazilian football league system, it is the country's primary football competition. Contested by 20 clubs, it operates on a system of promotion and relegation with the Campeonato Brasileiro Série B. In 2021, the competition was chosen by the IFFHS as the strongest national league in South America as well as the strongest in the world.

Due to historical peculiarities and the large geographical size of the country, Brazil has a relatively short history of nationwide football competitions. The main and most prestigious competitions were the state championships, run in each of the Brazilian states, with occasional inter-state tournaments, such as the Torneio Rio–São Paulo. In 1959, advancements in civil aviation and air transport and the need to appoint a Brazilian representative to the first edition of the Copa Libertadores, led to the creation of a regular nationwide tournament, the Taça Brasil. In 1967, the Torneio Rio-São Paulo was expanded to include teams from other states, becoming the Torneio Roberto Gomes Pedrosa, which was also considered a national tournament. The first tournament downright called a national championship was held in 1971, also won by Atlético Mineiro, although it was only referred to as "Campeonato Brasileiro" starting in 1989.

One of the historical characteristics of the Brazilian Championship was the lack of standardization in the competition system, the rules and the number of participants, which changed almost every season. Because of this, in several seasons there was no promotion and relegation system to the Second Division, and sometimes there weren't different tiers. Number of clubs also fluctuated, with the 1979 edition reached its peak, with 92 participants. The various formats already adopted include a knockout tournament system (1959–1968) and a mixed system with a group stage followed by playoffs (1967–2002). The championship's competition formula was standardized only in 2006, when the round-robin system with 20 clubs was adopted with all teams facing each other in home and away games.

In 2010, the champions of national tournaments from 1959 to 1970—Taça Brasil and Torneio Roberto Gomes Pedrosa—have been declared official winners of the Brazilian championship or champions of Brazil (not winners of Brasileirão or Série A) by the Brazilian Football Confederation. In August 2023, the CBF declared the 1937 Torneio dos Campeões retroactively a Brazilian championship. The titles of old tournaments, cited in the Brazilian championship history, are equated to the title of Série A, but the tournaments are cataloging with their original name in the statistics (despite being different competitions, they confer the same title).

The Campeonato Brasileiro is one of the strongest leagues in the world; it contains the second-most club world champions titles, with 10 championships won among six clubs, and the second-most Copa Libertadores titles, with 22 titles won among 10 clubs. The IFFHS ranked the league fourth in strength for the 2001–12 period after the Premier League (England), La Liga (Spain), and Serie A (Italy). The Campeonato Brasileiro is the most-watched football league in the Americas and one of the world's most exposed, broadcast in 155 nations. It is also one of the world's richest championships, ranked as the sixth most valuable with a worth of over US$1.43 billion, generating an annual turnover of over US$1.17 billion in 2012.

Since 1959, a total of 156 clubs have played in the Campeonato Brasileiro. Seventeen clubs have been crowned Brazilian football champions, thirteen of which have won the title more than once. Palmeiras is the most successful club of the Campeonato Brasileiro, having won the competition twelve times, followed by Santos with eight titles, and Corinthians and Flamengo with seven titles each. Santos' Os Santásticos won five consecutive titles between 1961 and 1965, a feat that remains unequalled. The state of São Paulo is the most successful, amassing 34 titles among five clubs.

History

Early competition and attempts to create a national championship

São Paulo Athletic Club and CA Paulistano in the final of the first São Paulo State Championship in 1902

Anglo-Brazilian Charles Miller introduced Brazil to football association rules to Brazil in 1894 upon his return from England, where he attended college and discovered the sport, and it soon became popular in the country. In 1902 Miller helped to organize the Liga Paulista de Foot-Ball (current Campeonato Paulista), Brazil's first football league. The league only played in the area of the State of São Paulo. Due the size of Brazil, economic and geographical challenges, and lack of transport infraestructure, the creation of a fully national league or championship was almost impossible. Instead the rest of Brazil followed São Paulo's example and founded state football leagues for each of the federative units of Brazil. The state leagues remained the main and most prestigious championships, and were considered the equivalent of national leagues of other countries.

The Taça Brasil trophy.

As the sport grew in size, the local state federations and the recently created Confederação Brasileira de Desportos (CBD) started to organize a number of different interstate and regional tournaments. The most popular form of competition in a national level was the Campeonato Brasileiro de Seleções Estaduais (Brazilian Championship of State Teams), a tournament formed by Seleções, teams formed by the best representatives from each state of Brazil (a concept similar to national teams). Originally the nomenclature "Brazilian Championship" belonged to this tournament. While the most prestigious club tournament outside the state championships was the Torneio Rio–São Paulo, competed between clubs from the Campeonato Paulista and Campeonato Carioca. Since the two championships had the best teams of Brazil at the time, this tournament was considered sometimes a de facto Brazilian championship, for example, in 1951 the Spanish newspaper El Mundo Deportivo called the Rio-São Paulo Tournament the "unofficial Brazilian championship", stating that the two states had the best teams in Brazil.

One of the first experiences of organizing a club championship at national level was the Torneio dos Campeões de 1920 [pt], competed between the winners of the Campeonato Paulista (Paulistano), Campeonato Carioca (Fluminense) and Campeonato Gaúcho (Brasil de Pelotas). A second edition was done in the 1937 Torneios dos Campeões, won by Atlético Mineiro. It was the first with fully professional clubs. In August 2023, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) officially recognized the tournament as a Brazilian championship, thus conferring to Atlético Mineiro the status of first national champions of Brazil.

Taça Brasil and Torneio Roberto Gomes Pedrosa

The 1970 Taça de Prata awarded to Fluminense

The Taça Brasil was introduced in 1959, and ran until 1968. The Taça Brasil was created to select a representative for the newly created Copa Libertadores de América, and it was intended to become Brazil's new national competition, replacing the Campeonato Brasileiro de Seleções Estaduais. The Taça Brasil was a pure knockout tournament, with the participants selected from the champions of the state championships. The first champion was Bahia which defeated Pelé's Santos in a remarkable underdog victory. Breaking the Rio de Janeiro-São Paulo hegemony in national football.

In 1967, the Torneio Rio–São Paulo was expanded to include teams from other states of Brazil. Thus becoming the Torneio Roberto Gomes Pedrosa nicknamed the Robertão by fans and media. Differently from the Taça Brasil, the Robertão was competed with a round-robin system, with two groups in the first stage, and a quadrangular with the two best teams of each group on the final stage. It was competed for between 1967 and 1970. In 2010 the CBF announced that these were to be regarded as Brazilian championships.

In 1968, the delay in closing the 1968 Taça Brasil made CBD use the Robertão to determine the Libertadores representatives. With the extinction of the Taça Brasil, the Robertão, officially named by CBD as "Taça de Prata" (Silver Cup) remained the top Brazilian championship the following two years.

Campeonato Nacional de Clubes and Copa Brasil

Garrincha playing for Botafogo in 1975

Following Brazil's third world title at the 1970 FIFA World Cup, president Emílio Médici decided to better organize Brazilian football. The Brazilian military government had become heavily envolved in football as a way to promote the legitimization of the military regime, national unity and patriotism, as well as part of the Programa de Integração Nacional [pt], which sought the geographical integration of Brazil. In a meeting with the CBD and the club presidents in October 1970, it was decided to create the following year a Brazilian championship contested by twenty teams, inspired by the national tournaments in the European nations. The first edition was named "Campeonato Nacional de Clubes" ("National Championship of Clubs"), was held in 1971 and won by Atlético Mineiro. The top division was named "Divisão Extra" (Extra Division), while a newly created second division earned the "Primeira Divisão" (First Division) name. The second division was a fusion of the already existing Torneio Centro-Sul and the Copa Norte-Nordeste, with teams from regions with less expression in national football and weaker teams from the main footballing states of Brazil. The first champion was Villa Nova Atlético Clube, from the town of Nova Lima, Minas Gerais. There wasn't, however, a system of promotion and relegation. The clubs were instead selected to participate in either division according to their performances at their respective state championships.

In the next few years, due to the influence of the military regime, the number of clubs that participated in the competition steadily increased. The inaugural edition, inspired in the European leagues, had 20 teams. The second edition in 1972 expanded to 26 clubs and the second division was also extinct and its clubs were now participating in an unified national championship. The 1973 edition had 40 clubs. By the 1979 edition, the number of clubs participating peaked, with a total of 92 teams. From 1975 onwards, the competition was officially named Copa Brasil (Brazil Cup).

Creation of the CBF, new reformulations and crises

Zico playing for Flamengo at the 1981 Taça de Ouro

In 1980, the CBD was dissolved and on its place was created the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF). This coincided with the 1980s financial crisis in Brazil, which together with the previous decade's oil crisis and the gradual end of the military dictatorship, led to major reorganization of Brazilian football. The Championship was downsized and a new format was introduced. The 1980 edition was named "Taça de Ouro" (Gold Cup). The second division was also reintroduced, now with the name "Taça de Prata" (Silver Cup). A mechanism of promotion also first appeared in this edition: the four best-ranked teams in the first phase of the "Taça Prata" would go on to compete in the second phase of the "Taça Ouro". The Taça de Bronze (Bronze Cup) was also created as a third division in 1981, with the inaugural champion being Olaria Atlético Clube, a club from the neighbourhood of Olaria in the city of Rio de Janeiro. But citing financial issues, the CBF announced, shortly after the end of the first edition, that the tournament would be discontinued. The third division would later return in one-off editions in 1988, 1990, 1992 until it became regularly competed from 1994 onwards.

In 1987, CBF announced it was not financially able to organize the Brazilian football championship, a mere few weeks before it was scheduled to begin. As a result, the thirteen most popular football clubs in Brazil created an association, called Clube dos 13, to organize a championship of their own. This tournament was called Copa União and was run by the 16 clubs that eventually took part in it (Santa Cruz, Coritiba and Goiás were invited to join). CBF initially stood by the Club of the 13 decision. However, weeks later, with the competition already underway, and under pressure from football clubs excluded from the Copa União, CBF adopted a new set of rules, which considered the Copa União part of a larger tournament, comprising another 16 teams. According to that new set of rules, the Copa União would be dubbed the Green Module of the CBF championship, whereas the other 16 teams would play the Yellow Module. In the end, the first two teams of each Module would play each other to define the national champions and the two teams that would represent Brazil in the Copa Libertadores in 1988. However, that new set of rules was never recognized by the Club of the 13 and largely ignored by most of the Brazilian media, who concentrated their attention in the independent league, eventually won by Clube de Regatas do Flamengo. The eventual final tourney was set to have Sport and Guarani, from the yellow module, and Flamengo and Internacional from the green one. It never materialized, however, as Flamengo and Internacional refused to partake in it. As a result, Sport and Guarani played each other, with the first one winning the Championship for 1987 and both going on to represent Brazil in the 1988 Copa Libertadores. Although Flamengo has attempted to gain ownership of the championship multiple times through the justice system, Sport remains recognized by both CBF and FIFA as 1987 Champions. Part of the football fans in Brazil still consider Flamengo as the Brazilian Champion of 1987, or at least co-champions.

After the chaos caused by the 1987 edition, the CBF and Club of the 13 reached an agreement on how to organize the next year's edition of the Copa União. The 1988 Campeonato Brasileiro reduced the number of participants, to hold a more competitive championship with just 24 teams. Furthermore, for the first time, the competition had a true promotion and relegation system, as required by FIFA. The last four placed in the first division (Bangu, Santa Cruz, Criciúma and America) fell to the second division in 1989, being replaced by Inter de Limeira and Náutico, respectively champion and runner-up of the 1988 Special Division. The 1989 edition was the first to use the terminology "Série A", inspired by the Italian league system.

Changes to CBF and transitional period

On January 16, 1989, Ricardo Teixeira assumed the presidency of the CBF. He came to command the Confederation at a time when it was facing serious financial problems. Teixeira managed to turn it into a profitable operation through millionaire contracts involving the Brazilian national team. During his management, the Brazilian Championship became more reorganized and the revenue generated by the clubs was increased, both in television quotas and sponsorships. However, since the first decade of his administration, Ricardo Teixeira has been involved in several allegations of corruption.

The Brazilian Championship had already been tested with countless different formulas and names, being quite bloated and confusing in several editions. However, from 1987 onwards, with the creation of the Copa União, there was a decrease in the number of participants in the championship. As a result, several clubs from less popular regions that entered the national competition because they were state champions no longer faced clubs considered "big" and traditional, and as a result, some associations were even at risk of becoming extinct. To calm the discontent of these clubs and smaller federations, the CBF was forced to create a national "cup" along the lines of the European ones. In 1989, the entity created a secondary national competition, the Copa do Brasil, which allowed clubs from all states to enter. With the creation of this new tournament, the CBF decided, for the first time, to officially name the country's main national football tournament the "Campeonato Brasileiro", to make it clear which was the national tournament in Brazil that would give its winner the title of Brazilian champion and, also, to avoid confusion between "Copa do Brasil" and "Copa Brasil", one of the old names used between 1975 and 1980.

In the 1999 edition, a new relegation system was adopted, similar to that used in the Argentine football league. The two clubs with the worst campaigns in the first phase and in the previous season were relegated. However, this system only lasted a single season. During the first phase of the competition, it was discovered that the player Sandro Hiroshi of São Paulo was registered irregularly. Botafogo, at the risk of being relegated to Série B, requested a 6-1 loss to São Paulo to be annulled. Later Internacional also successfully appealed to have a match result voided (a 2-2 draw) on the same grounds. The Supreme Court of Sporting Justice (STJD) ruled in favor of Internacional and Botafogo, and they both gained points. Botafogo was saved from relegation, and the change made SE Gama, from the Federal District, to be relegated instead. Gama, together with the Distrito Federal Football Coaches Union and political party PFL immediately sued the CBF to return to the Série A. The common courts decided in favor of Gama, going against the STJD's decision. By June 2000, the trial was not solved, and CBF could not organize the 2000 edition of the Brasileirão.

Without the CBF, the Clube dos 13 decided to organize the Brazilian Championship, which became known as the Copa João Havelange. To avoid further legal problems, the championship would encompass all divisions. This edition became controversial for its organization: 116 clubs from all the three divisions, divided in four "modules" organized as the championships before the Sandro Hiroshi case. The Blue Module, equivalent to the Série A, Yellow Module, equivalent to the Série B with some Série C clubs, and the Green and White Modules from Série C clubs, the former from the North, Northeast and Central-West regions of Brazil and the latter from South and Southeast of Brazil. Although equivalents to different tiers, the best placed teams from the all modules would qualify for the play-offs. Another controversy was the choice of clubs for the Blue Module: Fluminense, which had played in 1999 Campeonato Brasileiro Série C and obtained promotion to Série B, was included in the Blue Module of the new competition, where the elite of Brazilian football was, without having to go through the second division. Similarly, Bahia, playing at the 1999 Campeonato Brasileiro Série B failed to promote back to the top division, was included in the Blue Module.

Modern championship: round-robin format, stabilization and growth

Tifo organized by Corinthians supporters to celebrate its 6th title after winning the 2015 Campeonato Brasileiro Série A

One of the historical characteristics of the Brazilian Championship was the lack of standardization and constant change in the competition system, as well as the rules and the number of participants. Changes to the format started being discussed in favor of a regular and stable form of competition ever since Ricardo Teixeira's election in 1989, but the chaos of the 2000 edition made it even more apparent that change was necessary. In 2002, the Clube dos 13 voted in favor of adopting a European-style round-robin format: The matches are divided into two rounds, and the team that scores the most points is declared champion. The tiebreaker criteria vary, from goal sequence to number of victories. Rede Globo, the Brasileirão's main broadcasting partner was against the removal of playoffs, arguing for a loss of revenue and audience without decisive games. 24 clubs disputed the 2003 Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, the first one with the round-robin system, and Cruzeiro won Brazil's first domestic treble after winning that years's Série A, Copa do Brasil and Campeonato Mineiro. The next years saw the number of clubs later scaled down to 22 in 2005 and 20 in 2006. In what the CBF itself confirmed as a "definitive format", with the four best teams qualifying for the Copa Libertadores, and the four worst teams being relegated to Série B with the season being between May and December. This was the last change to the competition's format, which has remained stable ever since.

In 2008, the CBF announced the creation the Série D as a fourth division. In 2009, the number of clubs in the Série C was downsized from 63 to 20 teams. The 2009 Campeonato Brasileiro Série D had 39 teams and its first champion was São Raimundo from Santarém, Pará. Currently the Série D has 64 teams and serves as the lowest national tier.

In 2010, CBF decided to recognize the champions of both Taça Brasil (1959–68) and Torneio Roberto Gomes Pedrosa (1967–70) as Brazilian Champions, creating some controversy as there was a two-year period when both tournaments were held, thus Palmeiras was awarded two times for winning both in 1967 and both Santos and Botafogo were recognized as champions in 1968 as each tournament was won by one of them. In August 2023, the CBF declared the Torneio dos Campeões 1937 retroactively a Brazilian championship, giving a Brazilian title to Atlético Mineiro.

The titles of old tournaments, cited in the Brazilian championship history, are equated to the title of Série A, but the tournaments are cataloging with their original name in the statistics (despite being different competitions, they confer the same title).