Pandemic illustrates importance of match-day revenue for soccer clubs

Without fans in stadium, top clubs missed out on an estimated €2bn in revenue

Jorginho of Italy celebrates with trophy following his team’s victory against England at Wembley Stadium on Sunday. Photograph: Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Jorginho of Italy celebrates with trophy following his team’s victory against England at Wembley Stadium on Sunday. Photograph: Claudio Villa/Getty Images

 

The cheapest ticket a soccer fan could buy to watch Manchester United in 1990 was £3.50; 25 years later it was £31, a 785 per cent increase. The increasing “gentrification” of European football since the 1990s, particularly in the United Kingdom, has transformed the match-going experience for fans – and, therefore, what they are willing to pay – with the game attracting a more corporate and middle-class audience.

“Matchday revenue once relied on match-going, blue-collar support and what those fans were prepared to pay to attend, but the explosion in the sport’s global popularity (particularly in England) has allowed clubs to charge far higher ticket prices than in the past,” a report by debt rating agency DBRS Morningstar said.

Valid criticism

While there is criticism – valid criticism – about the rising cost of tickets, the report suggests the broader demographic and more family-friendly atmosphere at soccer matches have resulted in higher attendances and a more stable revenue for clubs. It’s talking about elite clubs, not those in lower divisions.

“When English football, in particular, moved away from hooliganism and standingroom-only stadia in the 1980s, it became more family friendly in the 1990s and broadened the pool of match-going fans,” it said.

Matchday revenues are of course dwarfed by other commercial revenue and make up an increasingly smaller part of European football clubs’ overall revenues. Nonetheless, the pandemic illustrates they are still vital to clubs’ profitability.

Without fans in the stadium, Deloitte estimates that Europe’s 30 richest football clubs missed out on €2 billion of revenue in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. As a result, many of these clubs reported an operating loss for the period. DBRS Morningstar notes that the Premier League’s “recent deal to maintain its £5.1 billion (€5.97 billion) domestic broadcast contract and the collapse of the French domestic TV deal demonstrate that clubs may not be able to rely on ballooning broadcasting contracts to support future growth.”

“As such, it is prudent for these clubs to invest in increasing stadium capacity and improving the experience for match-going fans to continue to support revenue expansion,” it said.

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