Atalanta’s rise to football’s elite

18.05.2021

Atalanta have produced one the most spectacular success stories in football – the club from Bergamo in Northern Italy rose from being a mid-sized club into becoming one of football’s elite over the past five years, showcasing the blueprint of a well-managed club. Atalanta’s example is especially remarkable in these times, when many football clubs struggle to make ends meet, and the challenge to establish more sustainable business models in the football industry has never been more urgent.

The impressive evolution of the club started with manager Gian Piero Gasperini joining the Bergamaschi in 2016. He led the club to a fourth-place Serie A finish immediately in his first season, also qualifying the team for the Europa League after a 26-year absence from UEFA competitions. Improvement was constant, resulting in a 7th and two 3rd-place league finishes in the following seasons, respectively. The latter two results also qualified Atalanta for the UEFA Champions League group stage: in the 2019–20 season, the team marched to the quarterfinals, where they were eliminated by Paris Saint-Germain, while in the current UCL season they were beaten by Real Madrid in the last 16. Currently, with one match to complete the domestic season, Atalanta are 2nd in the Serie A, and for the 3rd time in a row, have qualified for the UCL next season again.

While the competition results themselves are spectacular, it may be less apparent that Atalanta have also been successful off the pitch as well in the past five years. They have not only recorded improving financial results year on year, but are also one of the few clubs in Europe that managed to register a profit in the 2020 financial year, despite the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is to be noted that Atalanta’s financial statements don’t follow the sporting season but the calendar year, with the closing date being 31st December of the given year.

Hereby, we provide some key details displaying the remarkable financial evolution of Atalanta over the past five years.

Revenues tripled in five years

By the financial year 2020, Atalanta’s total operating revenues almost tripled compared to their overall income in 2016, thus reducing the revenue gap with traditional big clubs. The impressive income growth is mainly due to their constant participation in international club competitions, such as the Europa League and Champions League, which generated EUR 61m in 2020, a 40% share in the club’s overall revenue. Commercial income also grew from EUR 16.5m to EUR 30m, an 80% growth in five years, even if its percentage share of the total operating revenues decreased, as the chart below shows. 

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Commercial is also the revenue stream for which Atalanta still have great potential; by comparison Juventus cash in 10 times more from their main jersey supplier (Jeep) and kit supplier (adidas) sponsorships (EUR 94m combined), than Atalanta from Israeli financial services provider Plus500 and kit manufacturer Joma (EUR 9m combined).  

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With the pandemic crisis normalizing, the club can also see a boost in matchday income, as they are poised to use their fully renovated “Gewiss Stadium”. 

Balanced expenditures

Looking at the costs' side, Atalanta’s staff costs have grown by 81% since 2016 in order to maintain the team’s positive sporting results. In 2020, the club spent EUR 74m in terms of staff costs, which is about only half of the expenditure of AC Milan, AS Roma or SSC Napoli, and far less than that of Inter (EUR 198m) or Juventus (EUR 284m).

However, as revenues grew faster than expenditures, the club managed to decrease their staff costs to revenue ratio from 71% in 2016 to 49% in 2020, an exceptionally low ratio among top clubs in Europe. 

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Player trading at its best

A key factor of Atalanta’s recent rise to glory is their exemplary player trading activity, which is also tied to Gasperini. He has excelled in integrating players from the club's youth sector, and, together with the owners, the Percassi family, built a balanced and prosperous player trading practice – providing the bases for development and growth both on and off the pitch.

Indeed, in each of the past five years, Atalanta registered a positive player trading balance, which was EUR 22m in 2016, and grew to a club-record EUR 68m in 2020, despite the pandemic.

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Notably, Atalanta have one of the best youth development programs in Italy, whose roots date back to the 1950s. Earlier this year, for example, they sold home-grown 18-year-old Amad Diallo to Manchester United for a reported GBP 19m (with a further GBP 18.2m in add-ons) – the Ivory Coast winger joined Atalanta’s academy at the age of 13. In addition, they also master scouting new talents in secondary markets. One of the best example is the signing of Robin Gosens from Dutch side Heracles Almelo in 2017 for around EUR 1m – the 26-year-old defender is now valued at EUR 30m, according to KPMG’s Football Benchmark Player Valuation tool.

Consequently, Atalanta keep realising significant profits on the subsequent later disposal of many talented players, either developed internally through their academy system, or acquired at relatively low fees from less prominent leagues. Last year, they sold Dejan Kulusevski to Juventus for a reported EUR 35m, whereas the Swedish striker cost them only EUR 3.5m in 2016.

The positive player trading results are also palpable if we look at the valorisation of Atalanta’s starting eleven. As the chart shows, the total acquisition cost of these 11 players was around EUR 95m, while their current market value, according to our latest player value estimates as of April 2021, is equal to EUR 218m.

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Success on all fronts is profitable

The stable growth of operating revenues and the profits achieved on players’ disposals have been fundamental for the positive net results realised by the club over the past five years. Comparing their cumulative profits to the net result of other top Italian clubs, we find Atalanta to be the best performing Italian side, accumulating an aggregate profit of EUR 129m since 2016. Indeed, they achieved an average of EUR 25m profit per year – while, on the other end, AC Milan registered an average annual loss of around EUR 125m in the same timeframe.

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Virtuous cycle

Atalanta have been demonstrating a virtuous cycle in sports, one in which sporting success can generate increasing revenues (e.g. UEFA money, growth in commercial revenues via growing popularity and brand appeal), and the bigger overall income can help further improve the squad in order to secure even more sporting results. Atalanta’s growing popularity on social media channels is yet more evidence of this positive trend: the club were able to add over half a million new followers to their fan base in a year.

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