UEFA study reveals growing wealth gap between European elite and everybody else

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European football clubs are earning and spending more money than ever before but UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin is concerned about the growing “polarization” between the super-rich and everyone else.

These are key findings in UEFA’s European Club Footballing Landscape report, the ninth edition of the governing body’s look at the financial health of clubs in its 55 member associations.

Based on the 2016 accounts of more than 700 top-tier clubs, the report reveals annual revenue growth is 10 per cent and the clubs combined to post a record operating profit of more than £700million, despite never spending more on transfers and wages.

Pointing to the success of its financial fair play (FFP) rules, UEFA notes that debts have fallen and 26 leagues posted a cumulative profit, as opposed to nine before FFP’s introduction in 2011.

UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin hands the Champions League trophy to Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos
UEFA boss Aleksander Ceferin, left, is increasingly anxious about the concentration of wealth, talent and success within a European elite (Nick Potts/PA)

Such is the league’s dominance, that its 20 clubs earned more in 2016 than all 597 clubs from UEFA’s 48 smallest markets, in other words, all except France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain and Turkey.

Manchester United are Europe’s biggest earners, with Manchester City (sixth), Arsenal (seventh), Chelsea (eighth) and Liverpool (ninth) all in the top 10. United’s year-on-year revenue growth of £150million would have been good enough to come 23rd on the list.

Much of this is to do with the Premier League’s bumper broadcast revenues – and United become the first English club to knock Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid off the top of this list – but English clubs are earning more than their rivals in every other category, too.

They are also spending more, though, with an average wage bill of £137million, more than double the next highest-paying league, the Bundesliga.

City had the highest net transfer spend of £177million and they also overtook Real Madrid as having the highest value for players on their balance sheet at more than £320million.

A television camera at a Premier League game
The backbone of English football’s financial success is its appeal to broadcasters, who pay handsomely to televise it(Mike Egerton/Empics)

In his foreword to the report, Ceferin writes: “Once more, we cannot help but note that the polarisation of commercial and sponsorship revenues between the top tier of clubs and the rest is accelerating.

“As the guardians of the game, UEFA must ensure that football remains competitive even as financial gaps are augmented by globalisation and technological change.”

The report refers to “two-speed growth” between half a dozen big clubs and the rest but also a “wide disparity” in broadcast revenues between the six biggest television markets – England, Italy, Spain, Germany, France and Turkey – and the other 48 nations. The ‘big six’ beat the ‘little 48’ by a factor of 11.

UEFA also believes the ability of Europe’s super clubs to “leverage their brands” is the single biggest reason for their dominance.

The 12 largest and most global clubs – England’s ‘big six’ plus Barcelona and Real Madrid from Spain, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund from Germany, Italy’s Juventus and Paris St Germain of France – have increased their commercial revenues by more than £1.4billion between 2010 and 2016, more than double the increase for every other top-tier club in Europe combined.

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