Posted: 18 / 02 / 2020

The 23rd edition of the Deloitte Football Money League was published in January showing the largest 20 clubs in terms of revenue in World football, and the numbers keep getting bigger and bigger.

Barcelona topped the tree for the first time, edging out bitter rivals Real Madrid, with revenue of £711m, which equalled the entire economic output of the nation of Samoa for 2019. The top 20 clubs totalled £7.9bn, which if a combined country would put them 142nd on the list of the world’s largest economies nestled between Niger and Haiti. Football truly is now a massive business.

The top 20 clubs were split across five European leagues and 8 of the top 20 were English, further enhancing the Premier Leagues reputation as the richest league in the World. The 2017/18 season saw the 20 Premier League Clubs earn a combined £4.8bn, with this figure set to increase further for 2018/19 once all the clubs publish their accounts. Wolves after one season back in the Premier League shot up to 25th in the World, just £1.5m behind European giants Ajax, highlighting the sheer size of TV and broadcast deals the Premier League can command.

The American version of football though is on another level. Moving away from turnover and looking at overall value, last summer Forbes assessed the top 50 most valuable sports clubs in the world and it was dominated by the US and American Football in particular.

There are 32 American Football teams, 26 of which appeared in the list marking out the NFL as by far the richest league in the World. Average broadcast revenues per club are £125m in the Premier League dwarfed by the £200m NFL franchises earnt on average.

There is still work to do for the Premier League to truly compete on a global scale and the US dominance can be seen by some of the crown jewels of English football being acquired by American sports team owners in recent years.

In 2012, only Manchester United was valued at over £1.5bn, the top 50 now all exceed this value, and this has been driven in the main by broadcasting deals. Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona were 3rd and 4th respectively in this years list with United dropping to 6th despite a value of around £3bn. The Dallas Cowboys bagged the number one spot with a value of $5bn (£3.8bn).

The dominance of the US is not just down to broadcasting revenues however but also due to the cost of acquiring and paying players. The NFL has a salary cap something European football has never considered. Player wages in Europe are on an ever-increasing rise and that’s before you throw in transfer fees that have exploded exponentially in recent times.

10 years ago one of the greatest players to ever play the game, Cristiano Ronaldo, moved from United to Real Madrid for £80m. 8 years later Neymar moved to Paris for £200m. Last summer Atletico Madrid paid £113m for a 20-year-old who had played 26 times for Benfica’s first team in a league not ranked as in the top 5 in Europe, which is not going to do your value any favours.

The power of the player is at an all-time high. 75% of the top 20 football clubs had an individual with more social media followers than the club itself, seriously questioning the “no one player is bigger than the team” phrase.

The NFL has no transfer fees, they use a draft and trade system to try and promote equality across the teams, and although this is a whole different debate, it is seen as impractical in football given the history of promotion and relegation between leagues and the depth of professional clubs. The NFL franchise owners certainly aren’t complaining.

So the Premier League continues to dominate world football in terms of revenue whereas Spain is home to the two largest clubs. Meanwhile, the 2nd tier of English football is haemorrhaging cash as teams try to win promotion to the Premier League and earn a slice of this pie but the players to get them there come at a cost and with no guarantees, there isn’t space for everyone.

As Leeds approach the business end of the season sitting pretty in the promotion places the contrast is at its greatest. Come May they could be one result, one goal, one referee decision away from facing another year in the Championship and financial uncertainty or be propelled to one of the largest revenue-generating clubs in World football.

It’s a funny old game.