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European football leagues see revenues rise despite pandemic challenges

The latest Annual Review of Football Finance from professional services company Deloitte has found that the European football market saw revenues grow by 10% to €27.6bn (£23.3bn/$27.9bn) during the 2020-21 season, despite the vast majority of matches being played behind closed doors due to COVID-19.

The figure is up from the €25.2bn posted in 2019-20, which was partly affected by the pandemic. Deloitte noted that the uplift was largely driven by deferred broadcast revenues from the previous year and the success of the postponed UEFA Euro 2020 national team tournament, which took place last summer.

The big five leagues of the Premier League, Bundesliga, LaLiga, Serie A and Ligue 1 accounted for €15.6bn of the €27.6bn revenue figure – a 3% increase from 2019-20. Premier League clubs’ revenues increased by 8% to £4.9bn, compared to £4.5bn in 2019-20, with Deloitte expecting the figure to reach £5.5bn in the 2021-22 season.

Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic during the 2019-20 campaign, the Premier League was the only big five league to see clubs improve total operating profits in the year, with the cumulative figure increasing from £49m to £479m. Premier League clubs’ net debt at the end of 2020-21 increased by 4% to £4.1bn.

Second-tier English Championship clubs’ net debt increased by 32% to £1.8bn, while wage costs exceeded revenues for the fourth consecutive year with a record high wages/revenue ratio of 125%.

The Bundesliga reported a 6% fall in revenue to €3bn, while LaLiga also experienced a 6% drop to €2.9bn. LaLiga clubs also collectively recorded a loss in operating profits for the first time since Deloitte’s Sports Business Group began tracking the data on a club-by-club level in the 2013-14 season.

Clubs in Serie A experienced the greatest percentage growth in aggregate revenues of any big five league in 2020-21, with the figure increasing by 23% to a record high of €2.5bn. This was driven by a 48% increase in broadcast revenue due to significant deferrals.

Ligue 1 fell further behind Serie A in terms of revenue, with the divide between the leagues doubling to over €900m. Ligue 1 clubs’ revenues grew by just 1% during the 2020-21 season to €1.6bn as the curtailment of the 2019-20 season led to a very limited deferred revenue being recognised.

Tim Bridge, lead partner in the Sports Business Group at Deloitte, said: “Clubs across Europe played a significant proportion of matches behind closed doors or with reduced capacity during the 2020-21 season which caused an almost complete loss of matchday revenue.

“It’s testament to the resilience of the industry, the value driven by broadcast deals and the success of the Euros that the European football market has achieved tenacious growth, in revenue terms, over the past year.

“However, it is important not to overlook the loss-making position of many clubs. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic fundamentally changed the financial management of European football, with leagues and clubs having to seek external investment and responding to a shift in trends around transfer spending and club operations.

“Leaps made to boost financial sustainability through new UEFA regulations and to professionalise the women’s game will challenge clubs to break from tradition, potentially boosting profitability in a notoriously loss-making industry and creating a more inclusive environment for all. It is an exciting period, but one to be well prepared for.”

Image: Alex Motoc on Unsplash