Analysing Europe’s most valuable football clubs

Analysing Europe’s most valuable football clubs

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Real Madrid have taken the crown as the world’s most valuable football brand, according to the latest report by Brand Finance, the world’s leading independent brand valuation consultancy.


With a brand value of €1.646 billion, the club is ahead of a peer group of €1 billion-plus brands that includes Manchester United (€1.472bn), Barcelona (€1.393bn), Bayern Munich (€1.314bn), Manchester City (€1.255bn), and Liverpool (€1.191bn). The six clubs account for over 40% of the overall brand value in the Brand Finance Football 50 ranking of the sport’s most valuable brands, underlining the concentration of wealth and the creation of a set of “super clubs”.

Real Madrid returned to the top of ranking after almost a decade since it last held the title in 2010. The club’s brand value has grown 27% since last year, an increase partly attributable to the club winning a fourth UEFA Champions League in five years in 2018. The club became the first in the world to break the €750 million barrier in revenues in 2017-18. Their commercial monies totalled €356 million, close to 50% of overall revenues, making them the highest generator of cash from this income stream. Real Madrid also possesses the strongest football club brand, with a Brand Strength Index (BSI) score of 95.5 out of 100, marginally ahead of their fierce rivals Barcelona (BSI 95.4).

By recent standards, the club did not have a successful season in 2018-19, losing the UEFA Champions League title and failing to replace their talismanic forward, Cristiano Ronaldo, who moved to Italy’s Juventus. On a positive note, they announced an ambitious redevelopment programme for their stadium. In addition, Santiago Bernabéu is already ranked number #1 among the stadia of the world’s top 50 football club brands as per BuroHappold’s Venue Performance Rating which forms part of Brand Finance’s Brand Strength Index (BSI) scorecard.

Bryn Anderson, Director at Brand Finance, commented: “Real Madrid have shown this year who truly reigns supreme in the world of football. They triumph not only as the most valuable and strongest brand but their enterprise value and stadium are also ranked second to none. The most successful club in the history of European football is finally reaping the benefits of decades of spectacular on- and off-pitch performance.”

Real Madrid’s return to the top pushes Manchester United into second place, as the Red Devils’ brand value declined for the first time since 2016, from €1.562 billion last year to €1.472 billion (a 6% drop) in 2019. Manchester United have disappointed in recent years on the playing field both in the Premier League and in the UEFA Champions League. Public perceptions of the brand have deteriorated as Manchester United ranks only 18th among the sample of the world’s top clubs with regards to “playing exciting football”, as revealed by Brand Finance’s original fan research.

In the 2018-19 season, the club reached the quarter-final stage of the Champions League but were easily beaten by Barcelona. Moreover, they failed to qualify for the 2019-20 competition for the third time in seven years. Such underperformance for a club accustomed to perpetual success in the Sir Alex Ferguson years is reflected in its revenue generation. Although total revenues remain among the highest, income from commercial and matchday activities has slowed up and TV income declined in 2017-18.

To a certain degree, neighbours Manchester City, who won the Premier League in 2018 and 2019, have cast Manchester United into the shadows in their domestic market. Despite on-pitch success, however, Manchester City could be facing its own problems as they are being investigated for potential breach of UEFA’s FFP regulations.

According to the Venue Performance Rating aggregated by BuroHappold, Real Madrid’s stadium – with a score of 74.3 out of 100 – ranks number 1 overall among all 50 stadia of the clubs listed in the Brand Finance Football 50 ranking. Santiago Bernabéu also comes first for the Match Impact category; it is a high-capacity yet compact amphitheater, which helps the fans to encourage and intimidate in equal measure.

Borussia Dortmund ranked number one for Matchday Experience. Key factors were strong view metrics, such as those relating to sightlines and the average distance to the pitch, and the way the form enhances the sound generated within the stands.

Bayern Munich ranked #1 for Broadcaster and Partner Appeal. Strong scores across the board, such as those relating to utilisation and UEFA rating, were enhanced by the iconic design of the Allianz Arena.

The growth of global football is also reflected in the enterprise value of the leading clubs. With clubs changing hands far more frequently than in the past; the industry has become dominated by billionaire owners who are willing to invest significant sums of money to acquire success.

The enterprise value of a club is more relevant than ever. Just three clubs have an enterprise value of more than €4 billion, with Real Madrid the highest at €4.2 billion. Unsurprisingly, the other €4 billion clubs are Barcelona (€4.1 billion), and Manchester United (€4.0 billion).

Brand Finance research suggests that in mature football markets like Germany, France, Spain, and the UK, TV and mainstream media provide the main source of engagement. But TV is no longer the sole channel of access, particularly in emerging football markets and in younger age groups. For example, in China and India, more than 50% of viewers aged 18-24 watched their favourite teams via online streaming.

Asian football fans, in general, have a strong affinity with Europe’s major leagues such as the Premier League, Bundesliga, LaLiga, Serie A, and Ligue 1. Brand Finance’s fan research indicated that around 50% use social media to connect and interact with their clubs, with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube the most popular channels. Clubs therefore have to produce a rich mixture of content to keep fans stimulated. The audiences are growing with Real Madrid (200 million), Barcelona (200 million), Manchester United (120 million), and Bayern Munich (80 million), among others, commanding huge following across social media platforms.

The Bundesliga is still the best-supported league in terms of attendances, thanks to sensitive pricing, high levels of fan engagement, and strong community links. The German league has 13 clubs in the Brand Finance Football 50, with Bayern Munich in the top four with a brand value of €1.314 billion. The gap between Bayern Munich and its Bundesliga rivals explains why the Bavarians have been able to dominate domestic football since 2012 – their brand value is more than double Borussia Dortmund’s, their nearest competitor. It is a similar story in Spain with Real Madrid and Barcelona compared to the other LaLiga clubs, and in France with Paris Saint-Germain.

Anthony Nlebem

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