The spending strains of Europe's top soccer leagues

Marc Jones
·4-min read

By Marc Jones

LONDON (Reuters) - The furore created by what looks to be a now-failed plan for a breakaway European soccer 'Super League' was born out a need to stabilise the games finances its architects argued.

The charts below show some of the mind-boggling numbers involved in the world's richest leagues and where the financial strains are most acute.

WORTH IT

The combined value of the top 32 European teams has grown over 50% since 2016 according to accountancy firm KPMG which looks at clubs' overall 'enterprise value' -- their owners’ equity, plus total debt, minus cash.

The rise has been driven by an aggregate annual 11% increase in total operating revenues. That has been led by the 65% leap in broadcasting revenues the clubs netted between 2016 and 2020 and respective 22% and 39% rises in average matchday and commercial revenues.

Olympique Lyon have seen the biggest individual rise over that period at 193%. Tottenham Hotspur have jumped 158% from being worth 800 million euros to just over 2 billion, while Manchester United and Barcelona and have seen relatively modest 15% and 16% gains to around 3.3 billion and 3.2 billion euros.

Graphic: Revenue growth of Europe's 'Big 5' soccer leagues - https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/rlgvdzqznvo/Pasted%20image%201619093328235.png

COVID CRUNCH

Europe's top 20 clubs generated 8.2 billion euros ($9.86 billion) worth of revenues in the 2019/20 season according to Deloitte's annual football money league report file:///C:/Users/u8017043/Downloads/deloitte-uk-deloitte-football-money-league-2021.pdf.

That was down from 9.3 billion euros in 2018/19, and although it is partly distorted by the fact COVID-19 led to some broadcast revenues pushed back into the next accounting year, it is estimated the pandemic will cost those 20 clubs over 2 billion euros in missed revenue by the end of this season.

The figures also show that the dozen clubs involved in the breakaway 'Super League' plan earned just over 5.5 billion euros ($6.61 billion) -- 67% -- of last year's 8.2 billion total.

Graphic: Share prices of some of Europe's listed soccer teams - https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/jbyprwbyove/Pasted%20image%201619097051587.png

DEBT

Plenty of clubs now have significant debts due to the cost of buying players and building or improving stadiums.

KPMG calculates that England's Tottenham Hotspur, which has just built a new stadium, had the highest overall debt at 685 million euros (594.70 million pounds) as of 2019/20, once things like transfer fees still owed to other clubs are stripped out.

Manchester United and Juventus were next with 524 and 390 million euros of debt respectively. Barcelona and Real Madrid had 318 million euros and 170 million euros. German champions and Champions League winners Bayern Munich had no debt and clubs like Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea, on the surface at least, have more cash on their books than interest-bearing loans.

Others argue that those figures do not show the full picture, however, as some super-wealthy club owners provide interest-free 'soft loans' that are not always counted.

Deloitte estimates that Chelsea's debt for example would be 1.3 billion pounds and the largest in the Premier League if 'soft loans' from its owner, Roman Abramovich, were included.

The firms also estimates cumulative net debt held by Premier League clubs reached a record 3.5 billion pounds (4 billion euros) in 2018/19, up from 2.9 billion pounds in 2017/18.

That debt represented just over two thirds of the Premier League's combined revenues, whereas the then record 3.3 billion pound amount in 2008/09 represented 167% of that season’s revenues.

Graphic: Net financial debt of Europe's top soccer clubs - https://graphics.reuters.com/SOCCER-FINANCES/qzjpqzdklvx/chart.png

WAGES

A decade ago, wages in the Big 5 leagues added up to around 5.6 billion euros. Wage-to-revenue ratios, the share of their money clubs spend paying players and other staff, amounted to 51% in Germany. 70% in the Premier League and 75% for both Italy's Serie A and France's Ligue 1.

By the start of last season, that combined wage bill had ballooned to roughly 17 billion euros. Wage-to-revenue ratios were 54% in Germany, down to 61% in the Premier League, at 62% in Spain and 70% and 73% for Italy and Spain respectively.

With COVID-19 cutting revenues though, "It would be reasonable to assume that we will see wage-to-revenue ratios worsen across European football," said Sam Boor, a senior manager in Deloitte's sports business group.

"UEFA has historically said that a 70% wage-to-revenue ratio should be the upper limit for clubs to target, but we may see a number of large clubs go past that figure and possibly even breach 100% in the short term."

Even before COVID-19, the wage-to-revenue ratio in England's second tier Championship was already 107%, he also pointed out.

Graphic:The big 5 leagues' wage-to-revenue ratios - https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/xklpyyjadpg/Pasted%20image%201619100317413.png

(Additional reporting by Yoruk Bacheli in London, editing by Pritha Sarkar)