Winners and losers from the COVID-19 pandemic in the football industry
Despite all predictions, the pandemic turned out to be beneficial for specific clubs despite all the negative effects on the industry’s finances.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an economic and social disruption on the football industry. In Europe, overall revenues decreased by 3.7 billion of euros (13%) in 2019/2020 , a first since the impact of the global financial crises in 2008/2009. However, the pandemic turned out to be beneficial for specific clubs despite all the negative effects on the industry’s finances.
From a financial point of view, several experts have forecasted significant and negative impacts on the football industry. The main reason for this is the missing of matchday revenues. Despite these predictions, the following season’s numbers show that several clubs had little impact on their revenues. Moreover, the pandemic played a significant role in improving several clubs’ financial situation.
We begin our analysis by taking a closer look at the revenues stream of “Money league” clubs. These terms, used by Deloitte, refer to the highest revenue-generating clubs in the world. Table 1 shows the revenues of the money league clubs for the 2019/2020 season (COVID-19 season) as well as the following season. The decrease in total revenues (-3%) confirms that the pandemic had a negative financial impact on the industry. Some clubs have had a significant decrease in their revenues (e.g., Barcelona -18%), others have been dropped out and replaced by new joiners (e.g., Olympique Lyonnais replaced by Leicester City FC). We will be referring to these clubs as the post-COVID-19 “losers”. However, several clubs have significantly increased their revenues. More specifically, clubs such as Manchester City and Internazionale Milano have seen their revenues increase by respectively 17% and 13%. We will be referring to these clubs as the post-COVID-19 “winners”.
Regarding the money league composition, English clubs have dominated once again the money league (53%) leading far away ahead of Spanish clubs (16%) in second position (Table 2). Table 3 confirms this English domination by showing that English revenues represent 34% of the total revenues of the top 5 leagues combined during the COVID-19 season. This English supremacy increased in the following season, as English revenues represented 37% of the total revenues.
Revenues are divided into three main categories: matchday tickets, broadcasting and commercial revenues. Table 4 shows the distribution of revenues throughout the years for “money league” clubs. Before the famous COVID-19 season, matchday tickets represented between 16% and 17% of the total revenues. Following the decision of most football leagues to play with no supporters, matchday revenues have significantly decreased to reach 1% in the following season. Therefore, the vast majority of the revenues came from TV broadcasting (56%) and commercial deals.
The revenues generated by these clubs played an important role in strengthening the team during the transfer markets. Chelsea and Manchester city were the biggest spenders with 249 and 219 million of euros, respectively (table 5). These two clubs have also benefited from the exceptional financial fair-play (FFP) rules to help the clubs during the pandemic. Clubs were given more time than usual to show that they have met payments regarding transfers and wages. On the other hand, the post-COVID “losers” were more discrete during the transfer season. Apart from Tottenham hotspur who spent around 118 million euros, other clubs’ expenditures were much less important compared to the previous seasons.
Next, we examine the football performance of the top 5 winners of the money league. Table 5 shows that the top 5 post COVID-19 winners have always finished in the top 4 of their respective leagues, implying champions league football for the following season. Furthermore, three clubs (Manchester city, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain) have reached the final 2 stages of the champions league (Semi-final and Final). This was not the case for the “losers” of the pandemic, as only Real Madrid reached the final stages of the competition.
As Dan Jones (Deloitte) said, we will have to wait several years before measuring the full financial impact of the pandemic on European football. However, the 2020/2021 statistics show that the gap between “money league” clubs and the rest is increasing and will probably widen in the following seasons.
Deloitte Sports Business Group, “Bullseye Football”, January 2019.
Deloitte Sports Business Group, “Eye on the prize”, January 2020.
Deloitte Sports Business Group, “Testing times”, January 2021.
Deloitte Sports Business Group, “World in motion”, May 2019.
Deloitte Sports Business Group, “Home truths”, June 2020.
Deloitte Sports Business Group, “Riding the challenge”, July 2021.
France 24, “UEFA relaxes financial fair play rules amid coronavirus crisis”, June 2020.
Sportstar, “UEFA eases club finance rules for one year due to COVID-19 pandemic”, June 2020.
Sky sports, “Counting the cost: Covid’s impact on football’s finances”, 2020.
ESPN, “COVID has changed Financial Fair Play, but won't lead to parity or increase fans' trust in the system”, September 2021.