Evidence of football’s shifting sands

Is football’s future in stadiums like this rather than the Nou Camp? Photo: Jack Tanner, via Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

THE media may have focused on the fact that Manchester City are ranked as the world’s most financially potent force, but the recent Soccerex report, Football Finance 100, also provided a pointer to the future of world football.

The report, which lists Game of the People among its contributors, raised a few eyebrows, not least because some of the traditional heavyweights of the global game were not as highly ranked as in similar reports produced by the football industry.

Soccerex’s report is different than the rest, at that’s because it also takes into consideration the wealth of club owners and the potential additional investment that could be made. Importantly, it also factors-in the level of debt a club has.

Soccerex said: “Our report demonstratres that heritage counts for little in the new corporatisation of global football. Hence, football institutions with rich tradition such as AC Milan, Benfica and Ajax, all of whom have won countless trophies on both the domestic and international stages, can now be considered to have less financial strength than clubs like Leicester City, Zenit St. Petersburg and RB Leipzig, as well as a number of US and Chinese clubs.”

Needless to say, the English Premier League has a big say in the composition of the top 100 – 19 clubs including five of the top 10. This is a reflection of the huge broadcasting revenues enjoyed by English clubs, along with the very significant overseas investment coming into the game.

While Manchester City’s position at the top of the Soccerex table is a reflection of the vast wealth now at its disposal as a European force, Arsenal’s place at number two reflects, to a large degree, a sound – if sometimes conservative – business model.

England is not alone in being the beneficiary of billionaire investors. Paris St. Germain, of course, have been turned into a global superpower that, like Manchester City, is just waiting to be anointed. PSG are third in the table and, one might argue, rising!

What the Soccerex report highlights is the emergence of China and the United States and the decline of long-time giants of the game like Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands. China has nine clubs in the 100, the US 13, while Italy has six, Portugal three and the Dutch only two. Germany has just five, which is more a reflection of the model that prevails in the Bundesliga.

China’s Guangzhou Evergrande is ranked fourth, a startling rise to prominence that eclipses even PSG’s ascendancy. This is attributable to the wealth of the club’s owners, some EUR 32bn. Chinese clubs have benefitted from vigorous backing from both the government and large corporates. This has resulted in increased cross-border activity in transfer windows involving clubs from the Chinese Super League. And China has started eyeing opportunities among second tier clubs in England, so the trend looks set to continue.

The US is also strongly represented in the list with its 13 clubs bettered only by the Premier League. The US Major League Soccer has been on a positive trajectory and, generally, has a good business model, strong investors and a high level of assets. Nevertheless, the fact that LA Galaxy is the highest-placed US club, at 14, will surprise some people.

Across the top 100, 43% of clubs come from the so-called “big five”, while 22% are from emerging football nations like the US and China. Latin American clubs comprise 23%, although the best-placed clubs are from Mexico (9) rather than Brazil (11 clubs) and Argentina (3).

Clubs with the richest backers (from top 30)

Club Country Principal Owner Net Worth Owner potential Investment
Zenit St. Petersburg Russia Gazprom EUR 145bn EUR 508m
Guangzhou Evergrande China Evergrande/Alibaba EUR 32bn EUR 1.1bn
Manchester City England Abu Dhabi International Group EUR 30bn EUR 788m
New York City USA Abu Dhabi International Group EUR 30bn EUR 105m
Paris St. Germain France Qatar Sports Investments EUR 30bn EUR 1.1bn
RB Leipzig Germany Red Bull EUR 16.9bn EUR 384m
New York Red Bull USA Red Bull EUR 16.9bn EUR 207m
Juventus Italy Agnelli Family EUR 11.5bn EUR 403m
LA Galaxy USA AEG EUR 10.6bn EUR 371m
Chelsea England Roman Abramovich EUR 9bn EUR 315m

Game of the People is delighted to have been involved in the production of this report, which is certain to divide opinion. Football is a game of surprises and as we have seen in recent years, still has the potential to deliver a tale of the unexpected. As Soccerex says in its paper, there’s more than one way to determine who actually has the greatest financial potential in world football. By looking at a club’s assets, cash reserves and net debt and examining the potential for future investment, a new global hierarchy can be created.

Indeed, the report shows that football’s pecking order can be redrawn by investments that can transform a club from a perpetual underachiever – vis-à-vis Manchester City and Chelsea –  to a global powerhouse in just a few years. Football is now an asset to be placed in an investment portfolio, something that absolutely riles the purists, but remains a fact in a globalised world where technology, social media and the movement of people takes place at unprecedented speed. Who is to say that the current top 100 won’t look very different in a year or two?


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