COVID burdening top European clubs by massive losses


The second football season impacted by the coronavirus pandemic is showing further disruption in the financial performances of the champions of Europe’s eight prominent leagues, according to the 6th edition of KPMG Football Benchmark’s “The European Champions Report”. With total revenues of most clubs still below their pre-pandemic levels in an industry characterized by a predominantly rigid cost structure, most champions recorded massive losses for the financial year which ended in May/June 2021. While there were notable exceptions, the most common trend seen was that operating revenues – hit hard by a nearly complete loss of matchday income, but mitigated by stable or increasing broadcasting and commercial revenues, at least when compared with the previous football season – could not make up for generally high staff costs and decreasing player trading income. Importantly, those revenue growth figures were mostly related to broadcasting income impacted by the delayed payments for matches postponed in the previous, 2019/20 season.   

The composition of the eight champions is another sign of the disruption as, in contrast to previous years, we find only one club retaining their domestic title, namely FC Bayern München winning the German Bundesliga again, their 31st league trophy and the 9th in a row. AFC Ajax could have been the other such club, but the Dutch Eredivisie was curtailed without declaring a champion in the spring of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, despite Ajax leading the league table. In contrast, Portugal’s Sporting CP regained their domestic league title after 19 years, Italy’s FC Internazionale after 10 years, France’s LOSC Lille after nine years, while Spain’s Atlético de Madrid secured their first La Liga trophy since the 2013/14 season. Turkey’s Beşiktaş JK became champions again after three years, and Manchester City FC wrestled back the Premier League throne from Liverpool after only one year.

Some key conclusions:

  • Manchester City FC have been the only champions who could register not only annual growth in total operating revenues, but surpass their total income of the last pre-COVID season of 2018/19 as well. Their total income of EUR 644m is not only the highest among the champions, but also in Europe, according to data available for top clubs as of today - the club have been able to leapfrog city rivals Manchester United FC (who saw EUR 557m) for the first time.
  • FC Internazionale also registered year-on-year growth (19%) in total operating revenues, but still almost EUR 20 million less than in the last pre-COVID season. Matchday revenue loss, operating costs growth and low income on player trading activities led to a record net loss of EUR 245.6 million in 2020/21, the highest ever recorded by an Italian football club.
  • While LOSC Lille saw their total operating revenues drop year on year, they are the only champions to record higher overall revenues in both the past two pandemic-hit seasons than pre-COVID, mainly due to better performances in UEFA tournaments. However, diminished revenues, coupled with consistent staff costs, resulted in a staff costs-to-operating revenue ratio of 106%, the highest among these clubs.
  • FC Bayern München1 are the only club to record a profit among the champions who have issued profit/loss data at the time of our publication2, albeit slightly lower than a year before – a remarkable feat in club management by the German champions, despite rising staff costs and decreasing overall revenues over the past two seasons. They also managed to keep their staff costs-to-operating revenue ratio at 58%, the lowest among these eight clubs.
  • Atlético de Madrid went from a net loss of EUR 1.8m to a staggering loss of EUR 111.7m, primarily due to a notable decrease in profit on the disposal of players, compared to a year before, when they cashed in on some big name transfers.
  • Beşiktaş JK3 have been the sole champions to achieve improvement in their bottom line figure: although recording a net loss of EUR 44.4m, they almost halved losses compared to the previous period. That exceptional development derives primarily from a 48% year-on-year decrease in staff costs.
  • Dutch champions AFC Ajax and Portugal’s Sporting CP both suffered a decrease in operating revenues, a moderate rise in staff costs and, consequently, a rising staff cost-to-operating revenue ratio and a declining bottom line result.

Regarding total operating revenues, the eight champions’ figures comprise a diverse picture. Clubs that could rely on delayed broadcasting payments, both in relation to postponed domestic and international matches from the previous season, and who could progress further on the continental scene, were even able to increase their total income. In particular, Manchester City, who benefited from reaching the UEFA Champions League final for the first time in their history, eventually losing to Chelsea FC, collected EUR 96m more in total revenues than a year before, a 17% growth rate year on year; while FC Internazionale’s operating income grew by 19% (EUR 55m) in a year. The clubs with the biggest decrease in total operating revenues were AFC Ajax (-EUR 37m, a 23% drop), and Beşiktaş JK (-EUR15m, -21%). Manchester City’s total income of EUR 644.2m is not only the highest among the champions, but also in Europe: ahead of Real Madrid (EUR 640.5m), Bayern München (EUR 597.5m), Barcelona (EUR 580.7m), Manchester United (EUR 557.4m) or Chelsea (EUR 494.8m), according to financial data available for top clubs as of the date of our publication, not including Liverpool or PSG as yet. In particular, the club have been able to leapfrog city rivals Manchester United for the first time4.

Matchday revenues were wiped out almost completely for all of these clubs, as this revenue stream was impacted the most by the pandemic. Despite some domestic regulations allowing for limited capacity in stadia in the beginning or at the end of the season, matchday income was near nil for most clubs. By comparison, the same eight clubs collected an aggregate EUR 359m in matchday income in 2018/19, the latest season before COVID.
All the six clubs registering an annual increase in their broadcasting revenues benefited significantly from the deferred income related to the 2019/20 sporting season’s postponed matches, which were finally played after June 2020, both in their domestic leagues and in UEFA competitions. The biggest growth was realised by those who progressed to the last phases of a continental tournament – specifically, FC Internazionale competed four games of their Europa League campaign in August 2020, while both Manchester City FC and Atlético de Madrid cashed in on their postponed UCL ties. The two champions who could not increase their broadcasting income, namely LOSC Lille and AFC Ajax, have not received such deferred payments: in both the French Ligue1 and the Dutch Eredivisie the 2019/20 season was cut short and unfinished in the spring of 2020, and neither of the two sides had postponed continental ties either.
With the exception of Beşiktaş JK, all these champions could increase their income from commercial activities. This is partly due to the incremental impact of the delayed payments related to the postponed matches of the previous season, and also to some new deals. Clubs that could regain their domestic league title after several years – Sporting CP, Atlético de Madrid or LOSC Lille – also benefited from the increased attention, improved contract terms and merchandise sales.

Most champions suffered severe losses in their bottom line, as matchday revenues loss and the lower player trading income – only partially mitigated by deferred broadcasting revenues – were not accompanied by a similar decrease in operating costs. The only exception are German champions FC Bayern München, who managed to achieve a consecutive 29th profitable year. (Manchester City FC have not yet released detailed financial information on staff costs and profitability figures as at the date of publication.) The Bavarian club, who boast a balance between on-pitch competitiveness and financial sustainability over three decades, represent one of the best management models in European sports history. In contrast, FC Internazionale and Atlético de Madrid accounted for the highest annual losses in the sample, at EUR 245.6m and EUR 111.7m respectively. However, they are far from the historical record net loss of EUR 481.3m suffered by FC Barcelona in the same season. Beşiktaş JK have been the sole champions to achieve improvement in their bottom line figure: although recording a net loss of EUR 44.4m.

An overview of the net transfer spending of these clubs over the past  four seasons showcases that clubs in smaller leagues act as “net sellers” – they either nurture or buy young players at affordable prices before selling them at a premium fee to the “net buyers”, who sit on the other end of the equation. Indeed, Manchester City FC showed the highest aggregate net transfer spend (EUR 294m) in that period, while Atlético de Madrid and FC Bayern München have both recorded an aggregate four-season net transfer spend of over EUR 100m. FC Internazionale showed the most evident decrease in net transfer spending in the last two football seasons. Meanwhile, the three clubs for whom player trading income is a core aspect of their business model registered the lowest aggregate net transfer spend: indeed, Sporting CP, AFC Ajax and LOSC Lille generated income for outgoing players higher than expenditure for incoming players in every single season considered, except for AFC Ajax in 2018/19.

Players’ market values and clubs’ squad values have also been strongly impacted by COVID-19. Indeed, four champions saw a decrease in their squad value over the past two years: FC Internazionale’s 12% drop was primarily due to the departure of important players during the latest summer window. Conversely, Beşiktaş JK, LOSC Lille, Sporting CP and FC Bayern München have all managed to increase their squad market value since January 2020. Currently, Manchester City FC boast the highest squad market value (EUR 1,237m) globally, and are also one of the only three clubs overcoming the EUR 1 billion threshold, along with Chelsea FC and Manchester United FC.

Looking at the social popularity of these champions5, we can see that AFC Ajax and FC Bayern München have more followers than the other clubs competing in their league combined. In absolute values, the Bavarians are the most followed club in the sample (104m total followers), closely trailed by Manchester City FC (98m), while they are 8th and 9th in the overall ranking, which is dominated by Spanish giants FC Barcelona (282m) and Real Madrid CF (279m). The lowest ratio in our analysis is recorded by LOSC Lille, whose 4m followers make up only 2% of all the other Ligue 1 clubs, dominated by the 143m followers of Paris Saint-Germain FC.

“The disruption the COVID-19 pandemic caused in football is clearly demonstrated by the massive losses – an aggregate net loss of almost half a billion euros – registered by the eight champions of the most prominent European leagues taken into account in our analysis. While the reopening of stadia and some major commercial deals signed recently may provide some optimism for the current and future seasons, the pandemic only magnified the financial sustainability issues and fragility of the football ecosystem on the whole. That distress also led to last year’s European Super League initiative – while the plan was soon aborted, the concerns it exposed are still on the table, including much needed reforms regarding competition calendars, cost control measures, alterations to the economics and governance of domestic and European competitions or in the transfer system, among others,” observed Andrea Sartori, KPMG’s Global Head of Sports.


All data refer to the individual financial statements of FC Bayern München AG. Consolidated data were not available at the date of publication.

2Manchester City FC have yet to release detailed financial information on staff costs and profitability figures as at the date of publication.

As financial figures within this analysis are calculated in euros, it should be acknowledged that the original currency, the Turkish lira, has been weakening against the target currency and thus Beşiktaş' year-on-year comparison is partially distorted.

4 The postponement of a certain number of matches after the closing date of the 2019/20 financial year, due to the COVID-19 health emergency, has in some cases caused discrepancy among clubs and within the same club, when comparing different seasons, in terms of accrual basis of revenues and costs. Producing this report, we relied on information included in the clubs’ published Financial Statements – or in the information obtained after consultation with their management – and we have not performed any verification work or audited any of such financial information.

5 Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok and Weibo followers as at 1st January 2022.