Leo Messi of Barcelona; Jesse Lingard and Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United; and Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid © FT montage; Getty Images
Manchester United may have lost its place at the summit of the English Premier League in recent years, but it has returned to the top of the annual ranking of Europe’s richest football clubs for the first time in more than a decade.
According to Deloitte’s annual “money league” report, which analyses the accounts of the continent’s highest-earning clubs, Manchester United achieved record revenues of €689m in the 2015/16 season. The English club supplanted Spain’s Real Madrid, which had led the rankings for the previous 11 seasons but has slipped to third place, behind domestic rival FC Barcelona.
The three clubs have held the top three spots in the rankings in its 20-year history. Each reaped more than €600m in revenues last season, the first year in which any club has surpassed that figure.
“Every year we get asked, ‘Is the bubble bursting in football?’,” said Dan Jones, partner in Deloitte’s sports business group. “But we have always felt there has been room for growth.
“The real question is, how fast will that growth be? Twenty years ago it would have been hard to envisage clubs achieving €600m in revenues. Now, we have clubs saying they want to achieve €1bn in revenues. I don’t think that’s an unrealistic goal.”
Manchester United’s rise is largely the result of a €100m increase in commercial revenues, achieved through sponsorship deals, as well as continued growth in income from broadcast rights and match-day takings.
Last season, its players began to wear Adidas jerseys after the German sportswear giant secured a 10-year kit deal for £750m with the club in 2014.
Over the past year, Manchester United has also secured a diverse range of corporate tie-ups, including “global partnerships” with India’s Apollo Tyres, US car-booking app Uber, and Chinese mattress maker Mlily.
But poor results on the pitch could see the club quickly cede its place atop football’s rich list. Manchester United qualified for the Uefa Champions League last season which provided another boost to its income, but the team has failed to qualify for Europe’s most prestigious club tournament this season. Meanwhile, Real Madrid won last year’s trophy and is performing well in this season’s competition.
The rankings also emphasise the growing financial might of English clubs compared with their continental rivals. Eight Premier League teams make the top 20, with Leicester City joining the list for the first time after the club’s unlikely league title victory last season.
All Premier League clubs have been boosted by a £5.1bn domestic broadcasting deal with Sky and BT Sport for the next three seasons, an increase of £600m compared with the previous contract.
Deloitte predicts the massive television deal, as well as a further £3bn gained through overseas rights deals, could see all 20 Premier League clubs included within the top 30 highest-earning clubs in Europe next season.
In recent years, interest in the game, particularly in the top leagues of England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France, has led to ever-larger contracts with broadcasters and sponsors, and higher gate receipts at stadiums. Last season, the combined revenue for the top 20 clubs in Europe rose 12 per cent to €7.4bn.