Those who would bemoan the free-spending, salary-inflating habits of the world's best soccer teams have new grist for the mill. According to a report from Deloitte, the 20 most lucrative teams earned €6.6 billion ($7.2 billion) in the 2014-15 season, up 8 percent from the previous season and a revenue haul bigger than the gross domestic product of Monaco.
Real Madrid earned €577 million ($628 million), almost double the overall revenue of American football's Green Bay Packers and enough to make it No. 1 for the 11th year in a row. Over time, the club has grown largely on the strength of its commercial sponsorships, which now include Adidas, Emirates and, this year, a new tie-up with Abu Dhabi's International Petroleum Investment Co. Revenue from broadcasting and matches has been essentially flat over the past five years.
After the powerhouses of Spain, a disproportionate number of the world's wealthiest teams play in the English Premier League. Of the 20 EPL teams, 17 are among the top 30 moneymakers, compared with three out of 18 in Germany's Bundesliga and five out of 20 in Italy's Serie A. A strong pound helps; so does a tremendous three-year, $8 billion broadcast deal with Sky and BT Sport. Deloitte expects Manchester United to take over the top slot after this season, once it adds its share of TV money, an expected Champions League payout, and revenue from its new sponsorship with General Motors.
Who's paying No. 4 Paris Saint-Germain? France's most popular team earned 61.8 percent of its €481 million revenue from what Deloitte calls "commercial," a category mostly comprised of money from sponsorships. Among the top sponsors for the Qatari-owned club: Emirates, Qatari National Bank, Ooredoo (a Qatari telecom), Aspetar (a Qatari hospital), Aspire Academy (a Qatari soccer development program), and Katara (a Qatari cultural center). The only non-Gulf states sponsor? Nike.
If anything can keep soccer's financial growth in check, it could be stagnating revenues generated by the actual games. Ticket sales are flat, and fans have been hostile to price hikes. Meanwhile, stadiums across Europe are old and, unlike the arenas-cum-shopping malls in the U.S., not designed for maximum retail. A decade ago, the game-day take made up about one-third of average revenue for the top teams; today, it's less than one-fifth, dwarfed by TV money and sponsorship deals.