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Middle East continues to dominate football’s rich list

Manchester City's Erling Haaland celebrates his second goal against Wolves at the Etihad stadium on January 22 Reuters/Phil Noble
Manchester City's Erling Haaland celebrates his second goal against Wolves at the Etihad stadium on January 22
  • Abu Dhabi’s Manchester City has retained No 1 spot
  • Nine of the top 20 clubs have investors or sponsors from the Gulf
  • Deloitte Football Money League said top clubs’ total revenue hit $10bn

Nine of the top 20 clubs in football’s rich list have investment links to the Middle East – and analysts are predicting that Gulf ties will increase in the next few years.

Abu Dhabi’s Manchester City retained the No 1 spot in the latest edition of the Deloitte Football Money League, with revenue of €731 million ($797.8 million) in the 2021-22 season.

The 20 clubs that generated the highest revenues in 2021-22 made a total of €9.2 billion ($10.02 billion), Deloitte said. This is a 13 percent increase on 2020-21.

Manchester City is joined in the top 20 by Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, AC Milan, Everton and Newcastle, which all have links to the Middle East through ownership or sponsorship agreements.

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Logo, Text
Text, Logo

Simon Chadwick, professor of sport and geopolitical economy at SKEMA Business School in Paris, said: “European football is a source of often lucrative revenues, but also is a significant soft power tool that enables influence to be built around the world.

“Clubs need and have benefited from Gulf investment, whilst at the same time Gulf nations have been able to build their presence, profile and influence through football.”

Two of English football’s most famous and successful clubs – Liverpool and Manchester United, which are ranked 3rd and 4th in the Deloitte list – are also reportedly being eyed by Middle Eastern investors.

Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s American owner, has expressed a desire to seek new shareholders and has not ruled out a sale of the club. The Glazer family, who bought Manchester United in 2005, have been criticised for their highly leveraged purchase and their track record as owners. The Glazers revealed last November that they were looking for new investment or to sell the club in its entirety.

Neil Joyce, founder and CEO of data consultancy CLV Group, said: “I would expect there to be a general trend of more rather than less Middle East involvement in football.”

This involvement has two strands, Joyce said. First, “football clubs starting to invest in relationships with their followers in the regions and the commercial benefits that come with that.” Second, “the continued commitment from Middle Eastern brands who sponsor football teams and growth objectives from the likes of PIF and state-owned funds.”

The Deloitte report said the increase in revenue was driven by the return of fans after two Covid-hit seasons, with matchday revenue increasing from €111 million in 2020-21 to €1.4 billion in 2021-22. Cumulative commercial revenue rose by 8 percent (from €3.5 billion to €3.8 billion), “which was primarily facilitated by English clubs”.

Average revenue generated by Deloitte’s top 20 clubs (€ million)

Source: Deloitte Football Money League

As Ben Gordon, a sports diplomacy expert at London-based Dentons Global Advisors, pointed out, football clubs are not merely trophy assets or tools of soft power, but can be lucrative investments. Strong interest is coming from the US as well as the Middle East.

“We have seen valuations for clubs rise to record levels, with Chelsea selling for a record £4.25 billion last year despite the fact that the former owner was essentially forced to sell,” Gordon said.

“Reported valuations for PSG, Manchester United, and Liverpool – all reportedly exploring sale or investment options – are in similar or higher ranges. Investors likely believe that these valuations will continue to rise and that they will be able to exit for a much higher fee if they choose to in the future.”

Dr Robert Butler, co-director of the Centre for Sports Economics and Law at University College Cork in Ireland, pointed to Fenway’s success at Liverpool as an example.

He said: “If the club is managed effectively – team not relegated – the value grows through time meaning that a substantial return can then be realised if the owners decided to sell at some point in the future. Fenway paid £300 million in 2010 for Liverpool. That’s around £350 million today. The club is valued at somewhere between £2 billion and £5 billion. 

“If they sold for the lower amount of £2 billion, the owners could have run annual losses of over £125 million per year and still see a return on their investment.”

Qatar, Al Nassr and the growing Gulf fanbase

Football took centre stage in the Gulf in 2022 with the World Cup in Qatar, while Saudi Arabia has played host to the Spanish and Italian supercups in recent years. The kingdom’s status in the sport was boosted by the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo by Al Nassr earlier this month – not to mention the recruitment of Ronaldo’s great rival, Argentina’s Lionel Messi, as a global ambassador for Saudi Tourism.

Joyce said: “The opportunity for the top 20 clubs to create new propositions to the 400 million-plus people in the Middle East represents a relatively untapped and emerging market from which to provide new content propositions, virtual match-day experiences and fan token propositions that can help these clubs shift from only monetising 5 percent of their fans (predominantly) in the local market, to identifying, reaching and engaging with the 95 percent of those global followers who currently do not spend money.”

Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar attempts something special against Rennes in a French league game on January 15. The club's Qatari owners have spent more than $1bn on transfers. Picture: Federico Pestellini/Panoramic
Paris Saint-Germain star Neymar attempts something special against Rennes in a French league game on January 15. The club’s Qatari owners have spent more than $1bn on transfers. Picture: Federico Pestellini/Panoramic

Middle East rich list

Bought by Abu Dhabi United Group in 2008, Manchester City retained its position at the top of the Money League in 2021-22. Its €731 million revenue comprised €373 million from commercial activities, €294 million from broadcast deals and €64 million from matchday earnings.

Two more clubs in the top 20 are owned outright by Middle Eastern investors. Qatar Sports Investment first invested in Paris Saint-Germain in 2011 and took control of the club the following year. PSG was listed 5th after posting revenues of €654.2 million. Newcastle United is owned by a Saudi-backed consortium spearheaded by the kingdom’s Public Investment Fund. It took 20th spot.

Real Madrid (2nd), Arsenal (10th) and AC Milan (16th) all have shirt sponsorship deals with Emirates. Bayern Munich (6th) has ties to another of the region’s flag carriers, Qatar Airways. Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer owns a 30 percent stake in Atletico Madrid (12th). Everton (19th) is owned by Anglo-Iranian businessman Farhad Moshiri.

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