2019’s Most Valuable Football Club Brands are announced

Real Madrid have retaken 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 Brand Finance’s 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.”

Malaise in Manchester

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, Manchester United have been cast into the shadows in their domestic market by neighbours Manchester City, who won the Premier League in 2018 and 2019. 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.

Spurs race ahead

Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur are flying the flag for English football this year having reached the final of the UEFA Champions League. Both clubs improved their brand value by 20% to €1.191 billion and €758 million respectively, the highest growth rates in the top 10 after Real Madrid’s 27% and Paris Saint-Germain’s 21%. Tottenham in particular continue to win plaudits for their commitment to a progressive style of football and youth development.

While their new 62,000-capacity home ground was being built, Tottenham were playing at Wembley, which provided the opportunity to grow matchday revenues. Their new stadium should enable them to maintain momentum in this income stream as well as monetise new state-of-the-art facilities through other non-football events. Their financial position was highlighted by record post-tax profits of €131 million in 2017-18, but their success in Europe in 2018-19 should allow the club to further invest in its playing resources and strengthen their ability to compete at the highest level.

Wolves wander up the ranks

While the ranking of the top clubs shows little change to 2018, one of the rising stars are Wolverhampton Wanderers, who returned to the Premier League in 2018 after an absence of six seasons. Wolves, a club with a rich heritage, ranks 28th in the table with a brand valuation of €187 million, and their impressive performance in 2018-19 and the benefits of Premier League membership should create a positive growth trajectory. This season, the club enjoyed their highest attendances at their Molineux ground for almost 50 years.

Wolves are owned by Fosun International, which has close links with high-profile agent Jorge Mendes. They have leveraged these relationships to build a strong, attack-minded team of talented players as well as broaden the club’s franchise in China and develop an innovative focus on eSports.

Premier appeal

The ascendancy of Wolves and the strong presence of English clubs in the Brand Finance Football 50 – 17 clubs – highlights the enduring financial power of the Premier League. The Premier’s TV broadcasting revenues outstrip all the other major European leagues – €2.9 billion versus LaLiga’s €1.2 billion in 2017, while commercial revenues are more than double the income of Serie A or Ligue 1.

The Premier League is also the most widely followed league across Europe’s main football markets, according to Brand Finance’s original fan research. The Premier League is deemed to have a “superior atmosphere” and a “greater level of competitiveness” than other national competitions. However, the Premier did not score highest on all metrics as LaLiga is thought to have more “star players” and “world class clubs” than the Premier League. 

It is noticeable, that while some English club brands were among the fastest-growing – Southampton was up by 32%, behind only Sevilla (up 49%) and Napoli (up 36%) – others declined. In the top 10, Manchester United (-6%), Chelsea (-2%), and Arsenal (-1%) all fell, while lower down the rankings, Burnley decreased by 15%, and Bournemouth and Crystal Palace each lost 10% of brand value.

European markets

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.

New dimensions

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.

Role of stadia

According to the Venue Performance Rating aggregated by BuroHappold, Real Madrid’s stadium – with a score of 74.3 out of 100 – ranks #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 amphitheatre which helps the fans to encourage and intimidate in equal measure.

Borussia Dortmund ranked #1 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 & Partner Appeal. Strong scores across the board, such as those relating to utilisation and UEFA rating, were enhanced by the iconic design and recognisability of the Allianz Arena.

Still growing?

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).

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