The story goes that the Premier League is inexorably grinding its European rivals into the dirt, hoovering up revenues and ruthlessly asserting its financial strength.
A summer transfer window can entrench that narrative when Sheffield United can spend as much as Borussia Dortmund while Brentford are matching Inter Milan, but at the very top, there are still the old powerhouses that English football cannot subdue.
The European establishment fights on and, as Deloitte’s Football Money League 2024 underlines with its publication today, the Premier League’s biggest clubs can still find continental opponents mining greater revenue streams.
None more so than Real Madrid, who returned to the top of the club rankings for money generated last season. Despite relinquishing their La Liga and Champions League crowns in an underwhelming campaign, the Spanish giants turned over a record €831.4million (£723m; $921m) in 2022-23 to jump back above Manchester City (€825.9m) in what was a treble-winning season for Pep Guardiola’s side.
Paris Saint-Germain (€801.8m), who have never previously made the top three, and Barcelona (€800.1m) were following closely behind, while Manchester United, who led the way in Deloitte’s numbers as recently as 2017, are fifth with €745.8m. The advantage held over Bayern Munich (€744m) in sixth is narrow.
Then come the rest of the Premier League’s ‘Big Six’ _ Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Arsenal, in that order — but last season turned out to be one where European clubs began to make up lost ground.
Only eight Premier League clubs are included in the top 20 for 2022-23, as opposed to 11 in 2021-22, with Italy, Germany and France all increasing their representation in the elite group. The biggest financial gains were all made by European clubs, with Napoli (71 per cent increase), AC Milan (50 per cent) and Eintracht Frankfurt (41 per cent) all seeing their revenues balloon, thanks largely to progress made in European competitions.
Newcastle United have begun their inevitable ascent up the rankings under Saudi Arabian owners, climbing from 20th to 17th after building income from €212.2m to €287.8m (an increase of 36 per cent), but of the three clubs from the top 20 who saw revenues contract last season, two were English. Liverpool (three per cent decrease) and West Ham United (nine per cent) made less money year on year. Chelsea, meanwhile, saw only marginal growth when increasing revenues by four per cent during the first season shorn of Roman Abramovich’s support as owner.
Arsenal, Tottenham, and Manchester City could all point to a bottom line that included an additional €100m or so of revenue last season, but Paris Saint-Germain, Barcelona and Real Madrid found greater improvements still. Real Madrid’s turnover of €831.4m was made all the more impressive by a backdrop of renovation work at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, limiting matchday revenues to €122m.
Europe’s biggest clubs are still keeping pace with those in the Premier League, thanks largely to their commercial might. Bayern Munich, whose slick off-field operation yielded €419m inside 12 months, led the way for commercial income, ahead of Barcelona, Real Madrid and PSG, who last season had the benefit of the Lionel Messi factor during that loveless spell in the French capital.
Manchester City, whose commercial income was reported as €399m, remain the best in Premier League class, ahead of Manchester United and Liverpool. And it is necessary; City’s matchday revenue is still not high enough to make Europe’s top 10. Tottenham have never had it so good on that front, with €135m made through matchdays, second only to Manchester United (€151m) in the Premier League.
Commercial revenue, though, is increasingly king across Europe. In a season that saw broadcast revenues only increase by five per cent for Europe’s top 20 clubs combined, largely owing to stagnating TV markets on the continent, commercial income totalled €4.4bn in 2022-23 to again stand as the greatest revenue stream across the board.
Not since 2015-16, barring the Covid-19-impacted season of 2019-20, has that been the case. Matchday income also saw a notable leap after the interruptions of a pandemic were declared over, climbing from €1.4bn in 2021-22 to €1.9bn last season. Thirteen of the top 20 clubs, says Deloitte, reported record matchday revenue in 2022-23.
Tim Bridge, lead partner in Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, sees a changing pattern. “A high demand for live sport is pointing towards further growth for commercial and matchday revenues in particular,” he says.
“As clubs appear to no longer be able to rely on exponential broadcast revenue growth, creating a more commercially focused business model will support them to achieve greater control over their financial stability. This may include developing new merchandise or non-matchday events, such as concerts, to create new commercial offerings.
“In the coming seasons, European clubs may look to further diversify their revenues to gain control over a larger proportion of their total revenue.”
What cannot be in doubt is that this remains football’s boom era. The total revenues of the top 20 European clubs has climbed to €10.5bn, which equates to a 14 per cent jump from 2021-22. It is also almost double the figure Deloitte returned in the 2012-13 season, when a top 20 that included Galatasaray and Fenerbahce, the two Turkish giants, was generating just €5.4bn.
The Premier League’s monstrous TV deals have been the greatest force in driving that growth. They are why the clubs lined up below the top 20 depict a gathering of the nouveau riche. Brighton & Hove Albion remain 23rd in the Money League, and Fulham, who finished 10th last season in their return to the Premier League, are 26th. Leeds United, now a Championship club, are 27th.
With Aston Villa (21st), Crystal Palace (28th) and Everton (30th), there are 14 English clubs in Europe’s top 30. The next best? Italy, with five. None of those, however, can currently make the top 10.
It is there, what lies beneath the top 20, that best illustrates the shift towards the Premier League’s financial dominance, but those at the top of European football still know how to make a buck or two.
(Top photo: David Ramos/Getty Images)
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