The Premier League’s dominant financial position is underlined in the 26th edition of Deloitte’s Football Money League report, with 11 of the world’s 20 highest-earning clubs coming from the English top flight.
This is the first time in the report’s history that a single country has provided more than half of the rich list, with Manchester City topping the rankings for the second year in a row, Liverpool climbing to third, their highest position, and Leeds United and Newcastle United returning to the top 20.
“The question now is whether other leagues can close the gap, likely by driving the value of future international media rights, or if the Premier League will be virtually untouchable, in revenue terms,” said Tim Bridge, lead partner in Deloitte’s Sports Business Group.
The report notes that the Premier League was the only one of Europe’s “Big Five” leagues to grow its media income in the most recent set of rights auctions, with the league’s international broadcast rights now be worth more than its domestic deals.
Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal — the clubs which comprise the rest of the Premier League’s so-called “Big Six” — were all among the game’s top-10 highest earners in the 2021-22 season, with West Ham (15th), Leicester City (17th), Leeds (18th), Everton (19th) and Newcastle (20) being the other English clubs to make the list.
And the league’s economic muscle goes even deeper than that, with five more clubs making the top 30.
“The Premier League’s financial superiority is unlikely to be challenged in the coming seasons,” said Sam Boor, another of the report’s authors. “It’s now likely a case of not if, but when, all 20 Premier League clubs will appear in the Money League top 30.”
Deloitte ranks the clubs by how much money they earn from broadcasting, commercial deals and match days, and the overall picture is one of a post-pandemic recovery across Europe.
In 2021-222, the top 20 combined to earn 9.2billion euros (£8bn), slightly down on the record totals of 9.3bn euros in 2020 and 2021, but 13 per cent higher than 2022’s dip to 8.2bn euros (£7.2bn). The main driver of this rebound was the return of fans, with matchday income rising from 111m euros (£97m) to 1.4bn euros (£1.2bn).
Commercial revenues also rose significantly, as confidence returned to the global economy, but this was offset by a fall in broadcast revenue, although the year-on-year comparison is skewed by the fact that last year’s figures were artificially boosted by a chunk of the 2019-20 broadcast revenue being deferred to the 2020-21 accounts because the start of the pandemic in 2020 delayed the end of that season.
But looking more closely at the recovery, it is clear the Premier League weathered the storm better than its peers, with the “Big Six” seeing their combined revenues grow by more than 15 per cent.
Liverpool are the biggest climbers — going above rivals Manchester United for the first time in Money League history — with their income rising 28 per cent from 550m euros (£487m) to 702m euros (£594m) on the back of their run to the Champions League final.
Real Madrid, the team that beat Liverpool that night in Paris, saw their turnover grow by 11 per cent last year but it was still 43m euros down on what they earned in 2018-19, the last season before the pandemic.
And that failure to bounce back is even more marked at their La Liga rivals Barcelona, who topped the Money League in 2020 and 2021 but fell to fourth in 2022 and seventh this year. The Catalan giants earned a record 841m euro (£736m) in the 2018-19 season but only 638m euros (£541m) in 2021-22, a staggering decline of 203m euros (£178m).
The Premier League’s financial strength has been a topic of conversation — and bone of contention — across the European game in recent years, with many believing the English competition is the de facto European Super League.
Recently-departed Juventus president Andrea Agnelli, whose team slipped two places in the Money League to 11th, with Spurs and Arsenal climbing past them, referred to the Premier League’s dominance in a farewell speech to Juve shareholders on Wednesday.
“European football needs a new system,” said Agnelli, one of the architects of the European Super League that so spectacularly failed to launch in 2021.
“Otherwise it risks a decrease in favour of a single dominant league, which within a few years will attract all the talent of European football within its league, completely marginalising the other leagues.”
Agnelli’s comments come less than a week after La Liga boss Javier Tebas told an audience in Brussels that the Premier League was financially “unsustainable” because it allowed its club owners to finance large losses, and that was the only reason English clubs were able to spend so much in the transfer market.
For its part, the Premier League seems happy to let its clubs do their talking on the pitch, with the league this season stretching its lead in UEFA’s country coefficient rankings, which are based on the clubs’ results in European club competitions.
But Deloitte’s Bridge did sound two notes of caution for England’s elite: the wider UK economy and the prospect of an independent regulator forcing them to share more of their media income with the rest of the pyramid.
“Commercial partner, fan and investor interest in the Premier League appears higher than ever before,” said Bridge.
“While this suggests optimism for further growth, continued calls for greater distribution of the financial wealth of English clubs across the football system and the impact of a cost-of-living crisis makes it all the more important for the game’s stakeholders to keep a clear focus on their responsibility as stewards of leading clubs.”
For the first time, this year’s report also reported on revenues from the women’s teams at the Money League clubs. They showed average revenues of €2.4m (£2.1m) attributable to the women’s sides in the 2021-22 season.
Barcelona generated the highest revenue of all 2023 Money League clubs from its women side (€7.7m/£6.7m) with Manchester United second (€6m/£5.3m) and Manchester City third (€5.1m/£4.5m).
Bridge concludes: “The women’s professional game is still near the start of its journey and revenues reported by top clubs at this early-stage hint at the significant value women’s sides will generate in future seasons. Coupled with long-term and growth-focused decision making, we expect that the development of industry data analysing women’s sport will also support success in the women’s game. This will enable clubs and leagues to clearly demonstrate the value of their women’s sides and the fan base that they’re attracting.”
(Photo: Getty Images)
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