Football is a religion: a game created for the poor and by the poor has seen a massive influx of money in recent years. In these years of growth, the top teams have been able to take advantage of their popularity to increase their financial strength while others have invested in clever dealings to increase their fortunes. It goes without saying that performances on the pitch play a massive role in the financial growth of a club, but behind them the management and the executives play a huge role in securing the financial stability of these clubs.
Let’s take at a look at the finances of the top 10 football clubs currently ranked richest as per Forbes’ evaluation.
Valuation – US$2.3 billion
Owner – Joe Lewis
League – Premier League
Stadium – Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Spurs have grown into one of the biggest clubs in England in recent years. Since the 2013-14 season, they have seen continuous revenue growth, both in matchday and broadcasting revenues. With consistent performances in the Premier League, almost finishing in the top four every other year, and a berth in the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League final saw them record their biggest revenue intake in the 2018-19 season. Another reason for their exponential growth in valuation is their newly constructed stadium that was opened to fans in April 2019.
With football being played behind closed doors since March 2020, the Matchday revenue and broadcasting income took a hit all around the world. Tottenham lost £69 million on revenue compared to their 18/19 season revenue index. Matchday revenue rose from £81.7 million to £94.5 million due to their new stadium, while broadcasting revenue fell from £244 million to £136 million in the 19/20 season.
Apart from their losses in revenue, the club’s finances are in dire situations. According to UEFA, the club has amassed a debt figure of over £1.117 billion, which is not taking into account the £207 million they owe in tax debt and to other creditors. With empty stadiums for more than 18 months now and the increasing debt going out of control, no doubt the owners were going for a quick solution via The Super League, but the fact that the club has also secured a loan of £175 million from the Bank of England means that they should be able to navigate the foreseeable future without any hiccups until the fans return to the stadium.
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Valuation – US$2.5 billion
Owner – Qatar Sports Investment
League – Ligue 1
Stadium – Parc des Princes
Once a sleeping giant of French football, Paris Saint-Germain have imposed themselves as one of the biggest financial powerhouses of football. Founded in 1970, the club enjoyed relative success in Ligue 1, before their decline in the 2000s which saw them narrowly avoid relegation on multiple occasions.
Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, along with closed shareholders Qatar Sports Investment (QSI), bought the club in 2011. Since then, the fortunes of the club have changed dramatically. With increased financial backing, the Parisians have gone on to clinch seven Ligue 1 titles and eight National Cups. They also made it to their first-ever Champions League Final against Bayern Munich in 2020. Since taking over, QSI has pumped in €1.36bn on player transfers alone, with the notable signings of Neymar for €228 million and Mbappe for €191 million making up a third of their spending.
After the 19/20 season was abruptly called off in April 2020, all French clubs including PSG suffered losses. The league suffered losses close to €700 million in 2019/20. Compared to the losses suffered by the likes of AS Monaco (€203m) and Olympique Marseille (€155m), PSG recorded a moderate loss of €41 million. With all of their previous debts cleared off with a €440 million cash injection by QSI, the Parisians are in a good position to capitalise on a fractured transfer market this season.
Valuation – US$2.88 billion
Owner – Stanley Kroenke
League – Premier League
Stadium – The Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal are going through one of the toughest periods in their history after failing to qualify for the Champions League for several seasons now. The club is facing the consequences of a decade of mismanagement. After the glory days of the ’90s and the early 2000s, the Arsenal faithful were shown a dream of being the best club in the world with a new stadium when they left Highbury. Since moving into the Emirates a decade and a half ago, the club sell their best players every season to pay off their stadium debt while replacing those stars with cheaper alternatives who, more often than not, don’t pay off.
In the period between 2003/04 to 2013/14, the gap between their last Premier League title and their next trophy, Arsenal were running on a profit of £20 million on transfer dealings, while the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City had spent close to over £400 million. The 16/17 season, their last in the UEFA Champions League, saw them rack in £422.4 million in revenue. Ever since the 17/18 season, though, their revenue intake has been drying up with each passing year.
The 19/20 financial figures saw matchday revenue drop by 18% to £78.7 million while broadcasting revenue dropped by 35%, from £183 million to £118.9 million, due to the Covid Pandemic. Arsenal have the fifth biggest wage bill in the Premier League with £225 million; a team that have not played in the Champions League for five straight seasons need to trim it down significantly to stand a chance of rebuilding their squad. If the owners don’t stabilise the situation, we could have another big English club getting lost in mid-table obscurities like Nottingham Forest, Leeds United and many others.
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Valuation – US$3.2 billion
Owner – Roman Abramovich
League – Premier League
Stadium – Stamford Bridge
Under the ownership of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, Chelsea have maintained their position as one of the wealthiest football clubs for many years now. When Ken Bates sold Chelsea to Roman Abramovich in 2003 for a deal worth £140 million, over £100 million was spent every season in the coming seasons to bring Chelsea back to the summit of English football.
Under Roman’s ownership, Chelsea have won five Premier League titles, five FA Cups, three League Cups, one Champions League and one Europa League. Due to their lavish spending on players, Chelsea faced a transfer ban in the 19/20 season as per a breach of Financial Fair Play regulations, but the following season Roman gave a £200 million war chest to then-manager Frank Lampard to rebuild the squad. Chelsea’s revenue intake for the 19/20 season was £407 million, a £40 million drop because of the Coronavirus pandemic.
While matchday revenue only accounted for £54.5 million, Chelsea’s Champions League qualification and superstar signings saw both their broadcasting and commercial revenue bringing in over £170 million each. Though they have no significant debt, like many teams on this list, the club themselves owe £1.4 billion to Roman Abramovich.
Valuation – US$4 billion
Owner – Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan
League – Premier League
Stadium – The Etihad Stadium
Founded in 1880, Manchester City won their first major honour in 1904. The club enjoyed their most successful period in the ’60s, winning the league title, the FA Cup, the League Cup, and the European Cup Winners Cup under the management of Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison. As the ‘80s started, so did City’s decline, from losing the 1981 FA Cup final to getting relegated to the third tier of English football in 1998.
In 2008, when the Abu Dhabi United Group purchased Manchester City for £210 million, they invested heavily, not only on the playing staff but also on club facilities as well. Since their takeover, Manchester City have spent over £1.5 billion on player purchases, though credit should also be given to the recruitment department for unearthing those players. This has resulted in City winning the Premier League five times in the last decade. Under the management of Pep Guardiola, City became the only team in Premier League history to amass 100 points in a season, while also winning four trophies in the 2018-19 season, completing an unprecedented sweep of all domestic competitions and the first English team to win the domestic treble.
Their success on the pitch has resulted in their valuation and revenue growing at a speedy rate in this last decade. In Sheikh Mansour’s first season, the club had a revenue turnover of £88.4 million, by the end of their domestic treble-winning season, City racked in £527 million, nearly six times the revenue from the 08/09 season. The 2020 figures showed a £57 million drop in revenue, but even in this pandemic hit period their commercial revenue increased by £19.4 million (9%). With all of their figures taken into account, City have amassed a loss of £125 million in the 2019/20 season.
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Valuation – US$4.1 billion
Owner – Fenway Sports Group
League – Premier League
Stadium – Anfield
Liverpool are valued at a staggering US$4.1 billion and recorded a revenue of £489.9 million. They have long been synonymous with fame and glory both domestically and internationally. One of the most remembered moments in the club’s history is their 3-0 comeback in Istanbul to beat AC Milan in the Champions League final of 2005. The club have an exceptional production line of world-class talents and sell them at extremely high prices, which has helped them to bolster their financial standing in recent years.
After acquiring the ownership of the club in 2010, John Henry of FSG has paid particular importance to lay a strong foundation on revenue generation. In the 09/10 season, Liverpool’s revenue income was at £194 million; by 2018, it almost doubled to £365 million. Their progress to the Champions League final in 2018 and winning the tournament one year later increased the revenue to £520 million. When Forbes released their club valuations for 2021, Liverpool were valued at US$4.1 billion, a 176% increase in five seasons.
As the COVID pandemic hit in March 2020, like every other club Liverpool suffered losses close to £46 million, but in the grand scheme of things, it is a nominal loss for the owners as the market valuation and their brand growth suggest otherwise, which was evident from their commercial growth of 16% over the previous season. One major concern for their fans will be owner FSG’s lack of investment from their own pockets as they have barely spent £20 million since taking over, with the club running on a self-sustainable model.
Valuation – US$4.2 billion
Owner – Glazer Family
League – Premier League
Stadium – Old Trafford
Known as the Red Devils, Manchester United have always been a footballing giant and at the top of the English game. Though after the retirement of legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, United have not been able to hit the same heights again, which has not stopped the club from earning just as much money.
In 2005, the Glazer family bought Manchester United in a highly leveraged takeover valuing the club at £790 million at the time, but much of the takeover money was borrowed by the Glazers which resulted in the debts being transferred to the club. That took the club from being debt-free to being saddled with debt of over £500 million, at interest rates between 7% to 20%. By 2011, the debt had risen to over £700 million before the Glazers approached Credit Suisse in preparation for a US$1 billion initial public offering (IPO) on the Singapore Stock Exchange that would value the club at more than £2 billion.
As we are approaching the last leg of football remaining in this 20/21 season, Manchester United have a debt of around £771 million, of which only £149 million accounts for transfer debts. In the last 15 years of their ownership, United have generated an impressive £5.9 billion in revenue, but have also had £5.4 billion in expenses (including £2.9bn on wages and £1bn on player amortisation), leading to a £467 million profit on operating front. This was further boosted by £257 million from player sales, but £817 million on interest meant a loss of around £92 million over this period.
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Valuation – US$4.215 billion
Owner – Club Members
League – German Bundesliga
Stadium – Allianz Arena
Bayern Munich have been a member-run professional football team throughout their history. In 1998, the German Football League (DFL) ruled that clubs could become private or public limited companies rather than fully member-owned clubs. Bayern are run by a spin-off organisation, FC Bayern München AG – the club run like a joint-stock company, whose stocks are not listed on the public stock exchange but owned privately.
As the construction of the Allianz Arena started in late 2002, German sports goods manufacturer Adidas bought 8.33% shares of the club for €77 million. The money helped finance the initial payments of the stadium. In 2009, German car manufacturer Audi bought 8.33% shares for €90 million, which was used to repay the loan of the stadium. In early 2014, German financing group Allianz became the third shareholder of the club, buying 8.33% shares for €110 million, which helped the club pay off the rest of the stadium loan. By selling 25 percent of their shares, Bayern paid off their stadium debt 16 years ahead of schedule. Still, 75 percent of the voting rights remain in the hands of the parent club and their members. Bayern’s enormous wealth has been amassed over decades of success in the German and European arena and shrewd commercial deals.
The Bavarians accrue half of their revenue through commercial deals, with over €350 million in earnings from the 2017/18 season onwards. With only half of their broadcasting revenue coming from the Bundesliga, they usually have to rely on their European exploits to generate a substantial sum of broadcasting revenue. Despite the effects of the global pandemic, Bayern only suffered a loss of €30 million in revenue, falling to €630 million in the 19/20 season from €660 million in the 18/19 season. Of those €30 million, over €20 million were lost in matchday revenue due to the pandemic which will boost itself once the fans return to the stadium.
Out of all the clubs in this list, Bayern Munich have been the most profitable club, generating profits for five seasons straight, from 2014/15 to 2018/19, before the pandemic hit. Due to the club members ownership and a self-sustainable transfer policy model, Bayern have reported debts close to less than 5% of their revenue. This leaves them in a good position to counter the losses of the 20/21 season.
#2 Real Madrid
Valuation – US$4.75 billion
Owner – Club Members
League – La Liga
Stadium – The Santiago Bernabéu Stadium
Los Blancos are the most successful team in Spain and Europe. They have won 66 domestic trophies, including a record 34 La Liga titles. Los Merengues have also won the Champions League a record 13 times and the FIFA Club World Cup seven times.
Founded in 1902, Real Madrid established themselves as a major force in both Spanish and European football during the ’50s, winning five consecutive European Cups and reaching the finals seven times. This success was replicated in the league as well as they won it five times in seven seasons. This team that had the likes of Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskás, Francisco Gento, are considered as one of the greatest teams of all time.
Owing to their success on the pitch and their massive wealth, the club have been able to acquire any player they wish for, which has enabled them to build a formidable squad year after year. But the dreams of club president Florentino Pérez to form a new team of galácticos, coupled with the investments in stadium renovation, have surged their debts to a whopping €901 million, of which €290 million need to be paid in the short term, by the end of the 21/22 season. The global pandemic has come at the worst possible time for Los Blancos as the empty stadiums and rebate in broadcasting revenue has dampened their revenue generation this season.
Revenue has dropped by €38 million from €757 million in the 18/19 season to €715 million in the 19/20 season. Raise in wages bill and player amortisation has resulted in an operating loss of €101 million for the season. With fans returning to the stadium in full capacity still a long way away, and the club facing losses in the 19/20 financial year, Real Madrid will have to sell some of their assets before splashing the cash on recruiting another galáctico.
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#1 FC Barcelona
Valuation – US$4.76 billion
Owner – Club Members
League – La Liga
Stadium – Camp Nou
Founded in 1899 by a group of Swiss, Spanish, English, and Catalan footballers led by Joan Gamper, FC Barcelona became a symbol of Catalan culture and hence the motto “Més que un club” (“More than a club”). Like Real Madrid, the Blaugrana have a rich history in Spanish and World football. Domestically, they have won 74 trophies, including 26 La Liga titles; in international club football, they have won 20 European and worldwide titles, notably the five Champions League titles and three FIFA Club World Cups.
After initial success in the ’40s and ’50s, the club suffered a decline that lasted for more than three decades, winning only two La Liga titles and 11 Copa del Rey trophies. In 1988, when Johan Cruyff returned to the club, this time as a manager, it marked the start of Barcelona’s golden era, which was later dubbed as “The Dream Team”. Under Cruyff’s guidance, Barcelona won four consecutive La Liga titles, the Champions League in 1992, and many other domestic trophies, he served for eight years before a fallout with president Josep Lluís Núñez resulted in his departure. But on the legacy of Cruyff, future coach of Barcelona, a certain Pep Guardiola, would state, “Cruyff built the cathedral, our job is to maintain and renovate it.”
The start of the 21st century saw Barça emerge as the dominant force in Spain, which saw them win 10 La Liga titles, seven Copa del Rey titles and four Champions League titles, with the last one coming in the treble-winning 2014-15 season. But a decade of poor financial decision making has seen them amass a total debt of €1.173 billion.
Their 2019/20 financial figures show a loss of €128 million. Their revenue dropped from €852 million in the 18/19 season to €729 million, whereas broadcasting revenue fell by €50 million, followed by marketing & advertising which dropped by €40 million, and competition income fell by €33 million. With short term debts that need repaying mounting to €730 million, Barcelona have €133 million to pay in transfer fees and €266 million to bank loans as soon as next summer. When asked about the repayment of debts, the newly elected President Joan Laporta said, “We will have to roll up our sleeves, take our suitcases and sell ourselves to find new forms of income. We have a detailed shock plan that we will announce in due course.” It will certainly be interesting to see what they come out with, in this pandemic hit market, especially after the Super League fallout, of which they’re still officially a part of.
(Source: Forbes, Deloitte, Swiss Ramble)