The Deloitte Money League for 2023 has been published, and the results tell a story of continuing Premier League dominance in European club football.
1) If there is one overarching takeaway from the release of the Deloitte Football Money League 2023it’s that the Premier League’s domination over the rest of European club football is continuing to grow.
Revenues grew to compensate for the idiosyncrasies of the immediate post-pandemic financial world – more on that later – and for the first time since these reports started being published, more than 50% of the top 20 come from one country, with 11 from England . There has been talk in Europe for some considerable time that the European Super League arrived some years ago in the form of the Premier League; this talk remains slightly exaggerated, but it is clear that huge television revenues are giving a significant advantage to English clubs.
2) The Premier League was the only one of Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues (England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France) to grow its media income in the most recent set of rights auctions, with the league’s international broadcast rights now worth more than its domestic deals. Five of the Big Six reported revenue increases by 15% or more, and even the club that didn’t quite reach this level had reason to feel extremely pleased with their performance. New commercial partnerships formed and non-matchday events such as concerts and stadium tours returned, which combined with high ticket prices led to substantial increases in commercial revenue.
3) Eyebrows will likely shoot through the roof at Manchester City topping this league again after doing that for the first time last year. They were the only one of the ‘Big Six’ Premier League clubs not to see their revenues increase by 15%, but they still increased by 13% from €645m to €731m, with commercial revenues jumping from €308m to €370m, an increase of 20% (draw your own conclusions about how City’s commercial department just keeps on somehow pulling these financial rabbits out of the hat), while the return of significant matchday income after the crowd-free 2020/21 season added a further €64m.
4) The positioning of all this as a league table means that comparisons with rivals are inevitable, and there’s good news for Liverpool supporters in this respect. Liverpool achieved their highest position in the Deloitte Money League, rising to third place after reporting a 27% increase on the previous year. Even though their rivals also rose significantly, by 23%, Liverpool’s numbers also lifted them above Manchester United for the first time, although the gap was tight, with Liverpool generating €701m and United generating €688m.
5) The total revenue for the top 20 clubs in 2021/22 stood at €9.2 billion, an increase of 13% compared to the €8.2 billion reported by the Money League clubs of 2020/21. This was only marginally lower than pre-pandemic levels, but this recovery has not been evenly spread between countries.
6). The two Spanish giants, Real Madrid and Barcelona, couldn’t match the performance of the biggest English clubs. Real Madrid retained second place behind Manchester City, with an 11% rise in revenue, but they remain €43m off where they were at the end of the 2018/19 season, which was the last season not to be affected by the pandemic. Barcelona’s decline is reflected in the figures; they did increase their revenue by 10% on the previous season, but their decline over the last few seasons is really striking.
In the 2018/19 season they were top of the league with revenues of €841m, which remains a record for any club to post, but since then their decline has been marked. By last year, their revenues had fallen to €582m and they were down to fourth place in the league. In the latest report, they’ve dropped to seventh place in the table despite their modest increase in revenue, with a substantial fall in broadcasting revenue from €290m to €251m being largely to blame. As they only started to pull them last summer, the effects of Barcelona’s ‘financial levers’ is yet to register in the Money League.
7) The effects of the sudden and unexpected departure of Roman Abramovich didn’t affect Chelsea’s position in the Money League, with their revenues growing from €493m to €568m. Spurs supporters unhappy at their club’s ongoing reticence in the transfer market are likely to have noted that Chelsea only raised €45m more than their club.
Of course, it should be remembered that transfer fees are not included in any of these figures and Spurs have the ongoing job of funding the debt for their new stadium, but seeing their team listed as the ninth richest in the world while sliding from view in the Premier League may well raise some hackles in north London.
8) This was the first year in which revenues raised by women’s teams have been included in the figures. Those figures remain relatively low at the moment, and there are obvious reasons. In September, the sale of Keira Walsh from Manchester City to Barcelona set a new world record women’s transfer feeat £400,000.
Of course, with women’s football currently being generally more accessible and affordable than the men’s game, perhaps the question that needs to be asked about women’s football in 2023 is whether high value transfer fees is an avenue that it wants to go down.
9) The pandemic had a distorting effect on the finances of all European football clubs, so they also had an obviously distorting effect on some of the figures reported for the Deloitte Money League. For example, deferrals of revenue relating to the postponed 2019/20 season meant that last season’s broadcasting revenues showed a significant increase on the previous season, from an average of €159m to €227m, but this season has seen a return to the mean, with broadcasting revenues falling back to an average of €203m. The Premier League was the only one of Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues to experience an increase in revenue from broadcast sales in its most recent cycle.
10) Of course, revenue only paints a partial picture of the financial position of a football club. The Deloitte Money League doesn’t – and doesn’t claim to – say anything about the financial health of the clubs contained therein. Most obviously, Barcelona may be in seventh place in the Money League, but this doesn’t take much account at all of their eye-watering levels of debt. Similarly, Everton may have been a basket case in the transfer market for several seasons but even though it fell by 2% on the previous year, their revenue was still €214m, which was enough to secure them 19th place in the table.
Those wondering why people at Goodison Park are running around as though their hair is on fire over the possibility of relegation from the Premier League and laughing at the ‘panic’ of it all may be wish to note that 63% of Everton’s revenues for 2021/ 22 came from broadcasting, a figure that parachute payments could never hope to cover, and all this with their new stadium still not completed. This is why Everton, in both literal and figurative senses, cannot afford relegation this season.
11) Everton aren’t the only Premier League relegation strugglers in the top 20. Leeds United, West Ham United and Leicester City also occupy places in the top division. Leeds United are back in the top 20 for the first time in 20 years, but they won’t be there for much longer should they get relegated at the end of this season. Broadcasting revenues made up 61% of their total for the 2021/22 season, not far short of Everton. The worst of these figures in the top 20, by the way, belonged to Leicester City. 70% of their revenues came from broadcasting alone.
12) The most strikingly good figures posted by a non-Big-Six Premier League in the top 20 came from West Ham United. Having been a new entry last year they only jumped one place in the top 20, from 16th to 15th place, but they performed strongly in all areas, increasing from €222m to €301m, with growth in every area.
13) English dominance of this list doesn’t just stop at the end of the top 20. Sixteen Premier League clubs are now in the top 30 (only Brentford and the three newly promoted clubs are absent), with all of those below the ‘ Big Six’ clubs fueled by broadcasting revenues. Brighton & Hove Albion, who 20 years ago this weekend were drawing 1-1 with Portsmouth at the ramshackle Withdean Stadium, which was the only ground available in the area after the club’s owners sold The Goldstone Ground and evicted them, sentencing them to two seasons ground-sharing 70 miles from Brighton at Gillingham, on their way to relegation from the second tier. For the 2021/22 season, they posted revenues greater than Benfica, Ajax and Sevilla, and the 23rd highest of all. How times have changed.
14) Giving his final speech as the president of Juventus earlier this week after the entire board quit amid reports of massive corruption, Andrea Agnelli had things to say about Premier League dominance in the commercial market place: “European football needs a new system, otherwise it risks a decrease in favor of a single dominant league, which within a few years will attract all the talent of European football within its league, completely marginalizing the other leagues.”
Now call me cynical, but “a single dominant league, which within a few years will attract all the talent of European football within its league, completely marginalizing the other leagues” sounds very much like what a European Super League would inevitably become. It’s almost as though Agnelli was more concerned about sitting atop European football’s inequality pile than reducing it. He certainly didn’t seem to ever talk much about reducing inequality within Italian football while Juventus were winning nine Serie A titles in a row.
15) Talking of which, inequality within European football doesn’t stop at the English Channel, no matter how convenient it might be for the European Super League’s remaining proposers to continue to bash perfidious Albion. Only two clubs in Deloitte’s top 30 – Benfica and Ajax – came from outside the Big Five European leagues, both off the back of pushing into the group stages of the Champions League. There are many fault-lines in the financial inequality of European club football, and the revenues of Premier League clubs is just one.
16) Tim Bridge, the head of Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, considers it highly likely that all 20 Premier League clubs will be in the Deloitte top thirty in the next few years. This seems unlikely – how are newly promoted clubs going to break into the top thirty when they don’t see that vast increase in television money immediately upon winning promotion? – but that this can even be considered does tell a story of how inequality within the game has grown exponentially.
With the EFL calling for a 25% cut of pooled broadcast revenue with the Premier League, there’s a possibility that the gap in England could shrink in the next couple of years (although it should be added that a cut this is highly unlikely), but the question that European football faces is, with the Premier League having stolen a march on every other league in Europe, how can that gap be closed?
The European Super League was never about redistribution of money across all of European club football, but can another model be found that everyone would agree to that would actually redistribute money and improve competitive balance? Everything we’ve seen over the last 30 years of European club football suggests not.