In December 2011, when Atlético de Madrid appointed Diego Simeone as manager, the club was 10th in LaLiga and struggling to regain their position at the top of Spanish football. At the same time, Atlético de Madrid’s finances included exposure to the tax authorities and showed challenges to generate significant amounts of revenue. Almost five years later, the club’s results - both on and off the field of play - could not be more different. In this article, the KPMG Football Benchmark team reviews the successful turnaround of the club in recent seasons.
Triggered by titles and impressive on-pitch performance, between the 2011-12 and the 2014-15 seasons, Atlético de Madrid entered a virtuous cycle, driving growth across different revenue streams. In four years, the club increased their operating revenue from EUR 108 million to EUR 175 million, a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 13%. This positive momentum was essential to provide the financial support for the sporting element of the club’s business plan, focused on: extending the contract of key squad members, such as Diego Godín; the promotion of young academy players of the quality of Koke; and the acquisition of top players – for example, Antoine Griezmann - that could match the Atlético’s ambition for their first team.
In the analysed period, broadcasting revenue, including income from domestic football and prize money from European competition, played a key role in the development of the club. Demonstrating the importance of UEFA Champions League participation, Atlético’s broadcasting revenue peaked above EUR 100 million in the 2013-14 season, thanks to the club’s run to the final of the competition. Despite losing at the quarter-final stage in the following season, revenues from the UEFA Champions League still contributed more than 50% of Atlético’s total operating income in 2014-15.
For the 2015-16 season (financial data not yet available), this revenue source is expected to reach new heights as the club will profit from reaching a second UEFA Champions League final in three years and, importantly, from Spanish football’s move towards collective bargaining of broadcasting rights.
Although broadcasting income is very significant, the highest CAGR increase (16%) was generated in the commercial area, backed by several renewed partnerships with Coca-Cola, La Caixa and Huawei. This growth trajectory is likely to continue thanks to a new deal with kit supplier Nike and a new main sponsor, providing EUR 42.5 million over the next four seasons.
Further commercial growth is expected as a result of the ongoing internationalisation of the Atlético brand, supported by former Manchester United FC and Chelsea FC Chief Executive Officer, Peter Kenyon. As part of this initiative, the club entered a strategic alliance to create their first international franchise, namely Atlético de Kolkata (Indian Super league), achieving a unique position to develop a market with 1.2 billion people. Moreover, the sale of a 20% equity stake to Chinese investor Wang Jianlin, owner of property company Dalian Wanda, for approximately EUR 45 million, resulted not only in the injection of fresh capital but also in the potential to broaden access to the Chinese market.
In terms of matchday revenue, Atlético’s average attendance increased by 15% in the period under review, but revenue growth was contained. Although this is arguably due to the limitations of Atlético’s Vicente Calderón stadium, which has a capacity of just under 55,000, at the end of the current campaign the club will move to a new, state-of-the-art, 68,000 capacity venue. With at least 7,000 hospitality seats and a new museum, among other facilities, Atlético’s new home is poised to drive the growth of stadium-generated income.
As operating revenue have grown, so have costs, with a compound annual growth rate attributable to staff costs of 9%. However, the revenue increase has been able to exceed the rising costs, allowing Atlético to maintain the staff costs-to-revenue ratio below the 70% threshold recommended by UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations. In this case, it is interesting to note that the 2013-14 season saw a 77% surge in players’ remuneration, which explains how playing success in the UEFA Champions League not only led to higher revenue, but also to significantly rising costs.
Moreover, although the club over the years managed to generate profits on the disposal of players (e.g. Agüero, Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa) to balance the books, Atlético also invested heavily to strengthen the playing squad. This is particularly visible between the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, as the net book value of the players’ registrations increased by 45% from EUR 59 million to EUR 86 million as a result of the new arrivals, the most prominent being Antoine Griezmann, Mario Mandžukić and Jan Oblak.
In addition, future benefits may be derived from the club’s recent acquisition of a 34.6% stake in Racing Club de Lens, who possess one of the best youth academies in France. This may provide Atlético with competitive advantages for talent recruitment outside their own market.
Over the period under analysis, Atlético not only remained profitable, reaching a record EUR 13 million profit at the end of the 2014-15 season, largely thanks to extraordinary contributions from new Chinese investors, but have also been able to reduce indebtedness, bringing down by 60% a EUR 206 million tax burden (June 2012) to EUR 84 million at the end of the 2014-15 campaign.
While Atlético de Madrid will continue to face challenges to keep pace with Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona, who generated EUR 577 million and EUR 561 million operating revenue in 2014-15 respectively, the recent growth of the club has not gone unnoticed. The implementation of a sustainability programme, fostered by new and stricter financial controls at league level, provides a positive backdrop for further growth.
It should be recognised that as well as robust financial performance, the role of Diego Pablo Simeone, who brought a blend of tenacity and tactical prowess to the team, and led the club to five titles and two UEFA Champions League finals, has been one of the catalysts for the turnaround. As the 2016-17 season progresses, the future of Atlético de Madrid looks bright. A new contender is ready to play.
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 UEFA Europa League 2011/2012; UEFA Super Cup and Spanish Cup 2012/2013; LaLiga 2013/2014; Spanish Super Cup 2014/2015.