It’s been a stellar season for Real Madrid after winning La Liga and the Champions League, but the Spanish club suffered a rare defeat Tuesday — off the pitch. Manchester United is now officially the world’s most valuable football club, usurping Real at the top of the Forbes annual rich list for the first time in five years.
Jose Mourinho’s men might have recorded a lowly sixth place finish in the Premier League, but the club is valued at $3.69 billion, up 11% on last year. United generated record revenues of $765 million — over $75 million more than Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid — aided by an unprecedented domestic television deal, global commercial reach and an Adidas kit sponsorship arrangement worth a reported $90 million per year.
The club, owned by the American Glazer family, is also substantially the most profitable, posting operating income of $288 million — more than fellow English clubs Arsenal ($122 million), Chelsea ($52 million, Liverpool ($29 million) and Tottenham Hotspur ($68 million) combined.
“Manchester United‘s return to the top spot is testament to their powerful brand and marketing acumen,” commented Mike Ozanian, assistant managing editor at Forbes Media. The Red Devils gained automatic entry to the 2017/18 Champions League courtesy of their Europa League win.
The La Liga top two generated identical revenues ($688M), but the Catalan club, now coached by Ernesto Valverde, saw its overall value rise by 2% to $3.64 billion. Bundelisga champion Bayern Munich ($2.71 billion) remains the fourth most valuable club in the world for the fourth successive year, with English clubs dominating the rest of the top 10.
Sheik Mansour’s Manchester City rise one place to fifth with a value of $2.08 billion — up 8% on last year — followed by Stan Kroenke’s Arsenal ($1.93 billion), Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea ($1.85 billion) and Liverpool ($1.49 billion), owned by Americans John Henry and Tom Werner.
Juventus, owned by the Agnelli family, is ninth on the list with a value at $1.26 billion. With a new 61,000-seater stadium under construction, Tottenham Hotspur ($1.06 billion) rounds off the top 10.
Financial fair play (FFP) rulings have helped teams reduce debt and record larger operating profits, with European club revenues now over six times what they were just two decades ago. That has allowed player contracts and transfer fees to soar beyond all recognition, but it has also widened the gap between the European elite and the chasing pack.
As UEFA’s Club Licensing Benchmarking Report highlights, a select group have morphed into “global super clubs” in this new digital age. This, the report states, is enabling the top teams to “monetize their huge supporter bases.”