Football’s experts and influencers – some of the people we listen to

ONE OF the big changes in the football business world has been the recognition that the most popular sport on the planet now carries far greater weight than ever before. Admittedly, the game is dismissed as being the most important of the unimportant things in life, but in terms of contribution to the economy, social relevance, employment and community, football can no longer be regarded as trivial.

The rise of football as a business sector has, quite naturally, given birth to agencies, consultancies, intermediaries and commentators who earn a living on the back of global football. Equally, these companies and individuals also provide intelligent insights and interpret the economics, politics and data that gets produced.

While many fans care little for anything other than the game of football itself, understanding the background, financial structures and key elements of reporting allows people to understand why a club is successful or unsuccessful.

Game of the People  has worked with many of the key players in this industry and has provided editorial content for a wide range of reports and papers. The following is a list of some of the people we consider to be important and influential in this field. The list is not in any order and represents a selection of our most used sources. Needless to say, the list is being added to by the week. We welcome suggestions and recommendations.

UK Media: We see the Guardian as having the best stable of journalists when it comes to football – away from match reporting, writers such as David Conn and Jonathan Wilson are not only excellent scribes, but they lay a level of intelligence and sophistication to their work that is unmatched. David Conn has a strong business element to his writing but also understands the culture of the game, witness his coverage of the Hillsborough disaster trials. Jonathan Wilson, as well as being an incisive historian, has the ability to explain how football is played and how it has evolved down the decades. And there are others from the Guardian deserving of praise and respect, including women’s football expert Suzy Wrack and Italian football authority Nicky Bandini. The Athletic has lured a number of writers away from newspapers, such as Amy Lawrence and Raphael Honigstein while the Times has the likes of Henry Winter and Alyson Rudd (who was named GOTP’s top journalist in 2019). 

Swiss Ramble: This gentleman, a Brit living in Switzerland, provides possibly the most accessible and lucid explanation of football club accounts. His analyst-level content is football finance 101 for journalists, clubs, agencies and anyone with an interest in the game’s economics. And it is quite possible that he gets nothing for his considerable work. There are countless reports that reference Swiss Ramble and plenty who take his content and give no credit to the Zurich-based Arsenal fan. He is, without a doubt, social media’s foremost analyst.

KPMG Football Benchmark: KPMG’s Football Benchmark team is based primarily in Budapest, but it’s an international group led by Andre Sartori, a Juventus-supporting Italian. They came to the game after their corporate rivals Deloitte, but their European Elite report has become one of the “go-to” papers on football club evaluation. KPMG also produces a rolling player valuation tool and are regularly interviewed on TV.

Inside World Football: Experienced journalists form the backbone of this news portal which covers a broad range of topics and geographies. The site has a number of well respected writers including Mihir Bose and Andrew Warshaw. As a reference tool, Inside World Football is invaluable.

Soccerex: An events-driven company founded by Don Revie’s son, the late Duncan Revie, which stages conferences in various parts of the world. Soccerex published its third Football Finance 100 earlier this year, a report on the financial health of the top clubs.. Soccerex’s events are great networking opportunities and invariably have some top notch speakers.

Brand Finance: Brand Finance are based in the City of London and evaluate brands across many sectors and geographies. Included in their very considerable portfolio is the Football 50, which has been expanded to take the form of an annual that includes expert opinion, data and research findings. Their publications are backed by sound methodology and industry viewpoints.

Deloitte: Deloitte’s Football Money League is really the product that started the ball rolling in football finance. Although Deloitte’s research is primarily based around revenues and the elite end of the game, rather than other contributory factors, the presentation, editorial and format provides a clear snapshot of a club’s strength. Deloitte also produces an annual review of football finance, which is equally interesting and informative. These are the people that other companies aspire to emulate.

CIES Football Observatory: The Swiss-based CIES are the data gurus of the football world, producing reports that range from basic information about performance, player values and demographics to some quite obscure topics. So strong is their offering that other companies aim to partner with CIES to make use of their skills. We live in the data age and CIES are at the heart of football’s transition to a more scientific game.

Soccernomics: If Deloitte were the groundbreakers in producing club analysis, then Soccernomics , the book written by Stefan Szymanski and Simon Kuper, provided the ultimate text book. Soccernomics is more than a tome, though, it is arguably the most intelligent volume written about the game. Soccernomics is also an agency, comprising Kuper, Szymanski and Ben Lyttleton. They advise clubs, federations and businesses across the football landscape. The book, though, is what sells Soccernomics, it is an essential companion for anyone interested in how football works.

Academics: Kieran Maguire of the University of Liverpool’s Sports Business unit is one of the pre-eminent figures in football finance. He wrote The Price of Football  (if you can get hold of it) and has featured regularly on TV, in newspapers and websites. David Goldblatt, a larger-than-life character, has written some outstanding books, such as  The Ball is Round,  The Game of our Lives  and  The Age of Football. Also worth mentioning are: Simon Chadwick, Director of the Centre for Eurasian Sport Industry and Professor of Eurasian Sport Industry; Paul Widdop, senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University; Daniel Parnell of University of Liverpool; and Rob Wilson of Hallam University. There is a growing field of experts who have recognised the contribution made by football to society and the global economy. All of the aforementioned, who represent a far wider body of men and women from the field of academia, are worth listening to.








Paris Saint-Germain top the Soccerex FF100

PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN may be waiting for their first UEFA Champions League trophy, but they are arguably the most powerful football club in the world, according to the third edition of the Soccerex Football Finance 100.

Once again, Game of the People was involved in producing editorial for the report, which uses a methodology based on player values, cash, debt, tangible assets and the wealth of club owners.

The 2020 report shows that squad valuations of the top 100 have grown by 24.5%, tangible assets are up by 12.6% and ownership wealth has risen by 21.2% to € 1.1 trillion. At the same time, debt among the top 100 has fallen by 8%.

PSG have overtaken Manchester City, the club that topped the FF100 in 2018 and 2019. This was largely due to improved financial management, higher levels of cash and a reduction of debt.

PSG’s rise to first place comes at a time when big-time football has become more polarised, characterised by clubs increasing their financial strength due to the support of very wealthy investors. Increasingly, clubs seek-out investors that can elevate them to a new level. “Whereas clubs with billionaire backing were the exception a decade ago, the modern football is increasingly drawn to oil magnates, speculators and huge corporations,” said Soccerex.

FF100 by region and country

Europe 73 England 23
Spain 11
Italy 11
Germany 10
France 8
Russia 5
Holland 2
Portugal 2
Ukraine 1
North America 20 USA 15
Mexico 3
Canada 2
Asia 5 China 3
Japan 2
South America 2 Argentina 2

PSG, Manchester City and Chelsea all fall into this bracket, but of this triumvirate, only Chelsea have won the UEFA Champions League. “It is often overlooked that clubs with huge resources are part of a band that is similarly wealthy, either through investor capital or through self-perpetuating heritage,” said Soccerex.

Europe dominates the FF100, with 73% of clubs coming from the region. England contributes 23 clubs, with five in the top 10. Soccerex points out, however, that the top clubs are no longer the sole property of the countries where they are located. The top 30 of the FF100 evidences the global nature of ownership, with just under 50% of clubs in the hands of non-European owners.

The Premier League enjoys relatively high player valuations, but they also have high debt levels. The two clubs with the highest debts are Tottenham (€ 898 million) and Manchester United (€ 800 million), although clubs in Spain and Italy have significant debts. Increased debt contributes to Manchester United’s surprisingly low place of 16th, also due to a big drop in their squad value and lower cash.

    FF100 Score
1 Paris Saint-German 5.318
2 Manchester City 5.197
3 Bayern Munich 3.888
4 Tottenham 3.441
5 Real Madrid 3.336
6 Arsenal 3.150
7 Chelsea 2.893
8 Liverpool 2.616
9 Juventus 2.195
10 Borussia Dortmund 2.154

Across Europe’s top leagues, the football institutions that dominate domestic football are also the richest: Bayern Munich in Germany, Juventus in Italy, Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain and PSG in France.

The Soccerex Football Finance 100 provides few surprises, but it does paint an interesting picture of the business dynamics of global football. It is very obvious that the biggest clubs are putting more clear blue water between themselves and their rivals, which is not necessarily a good thing.

Soccerex cautioned: “Few would disagree on the importance of ensuring football’s eco-system remains healthy and that the game’s spirit and authenticity are both preserved in the face of ever increasing commercialism. Football clubs are invariably linked to the identity of cities, towns and even villages, and therefore, they bring pleasure to many people who see “their club” as an essential part of the community.”

The ongoing corporatisation of football has helped drive its popularity and media saturation, but it also represents a threat to many clubs, casting them into the role of also-rans. The stronger the big names become, the more pressure there will be to create elitist competitions that could result in a very fragmented industry. “Whatever happens has to handled sensitively and pragmatically, and must be in the interests of all clubs, not just the richest,” insisted Soccerex.

While the past decade has seen unprecedented growth in the game, with clubs feasting on spiralling revenues from broadcasting, the future looks very uncertain for football as players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo prepare to leave the stage. “It is an industry in a state of flux,” said Soccerex. “But when has it truly been any different? And isn’t that part of the sport’s attraction – constant evolution?”

To see Soccerex’s Football Finance 100, click here


Photo: PA