AJAX were beaten 6-1 at home by Napoli on UEFA Champions League matchday three, a disastrous result for a club that needs to be part of Europe’s top club competition. The Dutch champions’ latest financials reveal that income from Europe remains a vital component of their business model, but the Napoli game suggested Ajax will be exiting at the group stage this season, and therefore in a year’s time, the effect will be felt.
In 2021-22, Ajax made a pre-tax loss of € 31.7 million, a 171% rise on the previous campaign’s loss of € 11.7 million. Given all main revenue streams increased, the increased deficit can be partly attributed to higher expenses which included an € 8 million settlement with the family of Appie Nouri, the young player who has been left paralysed after a cardiac arrhythmia attack in a pre-season game in Austria in 2017. Ajax, who are hugely dependent on player trading, also saw their profit on sales drop by 56% to € 37.8 million.
In 2021-22, the most notable sale was David Neres to Shakhtar Donetsk, which yielded a fee of € 12 million. The previous campaign had seen Ajax receive over € 100 million from the sale of, among others Hakim Ziyech, Quincy Promes, Donny van der Beek and Sergiño Dest. In 2022-23, Ajax received more than € 200 million in transfer fees, including a total of € 152 million from the sale of Antony and Lisandro Martínez to Manchester United. This should ensure Ajax return to profit for the first time since 2020.
At a glance
Ajax’s total revenues for the season were € 189.2 million, a 51% increase on the covid-affected 2020-21. The two main sources of the rise from € 125.2 million were matchday and broadcasting. Given the heavy impact that near-negligible matchday earnings had on Ajax in 2021, it was no surprise that a return towards normal operating conditions resulted in a 1674% rise in matchday monies from € 1.9 million to € 34.2 million.
Although Ajax’s main rivals, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord have yet to publish 2021-22 figures, they will be some way behind. Ajax’s total of € 34.2 million would have been higher if the league did not have a capacity restriction. They averaged 35,000 at the Cruyff arena when under normal circumstances, they would attract 50,000-plus.
The club’s broadcasting monies were also up, by 34% to € 73.8 million. Almost 86% of this total was received from UEFA after Ajax reached the last 16 of the Champions League in 2021-22 – the Dutch league has been tied to a 12-year deal with Fox, signed in 2013, a move they probably regret today.
The importance of UEFA money is such that it contributes a third of the club’s overall turnover. In the past five years, the club has earned well over € 200 million from UEFA, giving them a huge competitive advantage over their domestic rivals. It is little wonder that Ajax are dominating Dutch football once more, with four consecutive league titles and a revitalised player development programme that has seen them sell top talent to clubs like Barcelona, Juventus, Chelsea and Manchester United.
Ajax are also the leading commercial business among football clubs in the Netherlands, a very identifiable brand with strong partnerships. Most of their Eredivisie stablemates only earn a fraction of the € 81.2 million generated in 2021-22. Indeed, this figure is a record for the club and 19% up on 2020-21. Their current shirt sponsor, Ziggo, and kit provider, Adidas, have deals running to 2025. Despite being the biggest draw in the Eredivisie, Ajax’s commercial stream is dwarfed by the top clubs in Europe.
Equally, Ajax are able to pay the highest wages in the Eredivisie, their 2021-22 bill coming to € 109 million, which equates to 58% of income. In 2020-21, the ratio went up to 76%.
Ajax remain one of the clubs who operate on the fringe of the elite but their track record in Europe (four European Cup/Champions League titles) and their reputation for nurturing talent rightly earns them a place at the table. They will forever be a big fish in a small pond, which will always make them extremely successful at home, but they will forever be running to stand still in Europe.