Uefa financial report highlights growing gap between rich and poor
English Premier League created €500m in profit; League of Ireland drops two places in table to 35th
Chelsea and Manchester City both took in €181 million in television revenue in 2017. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Uefa’s latest report on the financial state of the club game across Europe provides further evidence of the widening gap between rich and poor in the continent’s most popular sport.
In its commentary on the 126-page document, the federation hails the fact that the 700 clubs that compete in the top flights of its 55 affiliated leagues made a combined profit for the first time since the report was first compiled a decade ago. The move into the back was largely driven by soaring profits in the biggest countries, most obviously England, where a new TV deal kicked in over the course of the year in question, 2017, driving combined income to over €5.3 billion.
Only three clubs outside of England, the report notes – Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus – received more from broadcasters for 2017 than the one ranked 20th in the Premier League.
The overall profit reported for clubs across Europe was €615 million, which represents a remarkable turnaround on 2011 when the corresponding figure was a loss of €1.7 billion, but the 20 Premier League clubs alone made profits of more than €500 million between them in 2017, while half of the continent’s leagues, including the League of Ireland, still returned aggregate losses.
The two Spanish giants, Real Madrid and Barcelona, topped the table for gate receipts but also had the highest wage bills and overall costs of any European club. The English, meanwhile, dominated by almost every other measure with Chelsea and Manchester City earning the most broadcast revenue (€181 million apiece), Manchester United declaring the largest turnover and operating profit (€676 million and €222 million respectively) but Leicester, at the end of a year in which they won an unlikely league title, emerging as the most profitable club in Europe after tax and other expenses with the club recording a net surplus of €98 million.
The figures, all in Euro, would have been significantly better for the English clubs but for a stark decline in the value of sterling due to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit.
Aside from the continuing growth of broadcast revenues, the biggest clubs benefited from a first significant increase in gate receipts of the post economic crash years. The very biggest ones also continued to increase their already enormous share of commercial and sponsorship revenues, with just 12 clubs taking 39 per cent of the revenue generated by the 700, up from 22 per cent a decade ago.
The figures for Ireland are, on the face of it at least, rather less bright. Attendances are reported as being up by more than 15 per cent but revenues and wages across the then 12 team Premier Division are stagnant at €19 million and roughly €8.7 million respectively. The fact that the clubs made so much less in European prize money than a year earlier, when Dundalk reached the group stages of the Europa League, suggests underlying growth in other areas. The league dropped two places in the overall revenue table to 35th, with Iceland one of the countries to leapfrog Ireland as a result of clubs there having generated €3 million more than in 2016.
Just under a quarter of the League of Ireland’s total revenues (23 per cent) came from Uefa, most of it in prize money, while 29 per cent came from gate receipts and 32 per cent from sponsorships or other commercial revenue. Transfer income, a major contributor to the bottom line in many smaller leagues, was put at just four per cent despite the small but still steady flow of Irish players to England. Broadcast revenues, the key factor in larger leagues, did not even merit a mention.
The €19 million figure is just about double that achieved by corresponding clubs in the Irish League but a greater number of clubs in the top flight north of the border managed to return a small profit.
In the Airtricity League, eight of the 12 clubs are reported to have made operating losses, all of them amounting to less than 20 per cent of turnover. Seven made net losses. The report suggests that despite substantial growth at the country’s biggest clubs during the period covered, the underlying financial position of the clubs across the top division remains extremely weak.