Football in the pandemic: how top clubs are faring so far


As more and more official accounts become available from the 2020/21 football season, our Football Benchmark team aims to examine how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the financial performance of some of the top clubs in Europe. In this regard, we have chosen a sample of 20 clubs, by selecting the eight champions featured in our European Champions Report 2022 and 12 other clubs with the largest reported total operating revenues for the past season at the time of writing1. As such, this analysis encompasses the elite of European football, but also provides an indication of the damage to the entire ecosystem.

In order to assess the magnitude of the negative consequences stemming from the health crisis, 2018/19 financials are compared with the average of the 2019/20 and 2020/21 financial years. The 2018/19 season was indeed the last one fully played before the pandemic, thus it provides the most recent snapshot of an undisturbed football market. The motivation behind comparing these figures with the averages of the subsequent two seasons is the delay of the latter stages of the 2019/20, which pushed many games and revenue items, and in certain cases also reallocation expenses, to the following financial year, causing distortions in any year-on-year comparison.

The first aspect we examine are the clubs' revenues. In the 2018/19 season, prior to the pandemic, the top 20 clubs combined for EUR 7,586m, of which FC Barcelona boasted the highest figures of EUR 839m. However, the aggregate average operating revenues of the following two seasons only totaled EUR 6,692m, a 12% decrease and an annual average EUR 45m decrease per club in the sample. Another Spanish team, Real Madrid CF, performed the best in terms of operating revenues in these two years, averaging EUR 661m, yet recording a significant decline from Barcelona’s maximum in 2018/19. Worryingly, 18 out of 20 clubs achieved worse results on average in this two-year period, with the biggest decrease of 32% seen by Beşiktaş JK, whose figures are also depressed by the devaluation of the Turkish lira. On the flipside, Sevilla FC and LOSC Lille both managed to increase their revenues on average, by 15% and 40% respectively, due to improved sporting results – Sevilla won the UEFA Europa League in 2019/20 and participated in the UEFA Champions League a year later, while Lille pulled off the unthinkable and won Ligue 1 in 2020/21. Regarding the 2020/21 season only, Manchester City’s total income of EUR 644.2m is the highest in Europe: ahead of Real Madrid (EUR 640.5m), Bayern München2 (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.

Here you find an overview of the operating revenue evolution of the 20 selected clubs in the past seasons:

Moving on to the cost side, staff costs have remained relatively constant at EUR 4,613m on average, decreasing only 1% compared to 2018/19. As player contracts at this top level are guaranteed and predominantly multi-year, there is little leeway in suddenly attempting to reduce these expenses, though it should be mentioned that many players have decided to take a pay cut in the 2019/20 season to help out their employers. However, costs did not decline at the same rates revenues did, resulting in the staff cost-to-revenue ratio rising by 7 percentage points on average, from 67% to 74%, in the COVID-impacted seasons. The worst performers in terms of change are FC Internazionale Milano, who continued to invest in the playing squad in search of a domestic title, AFC Ajax, who suffer from a comparison to the year in which they made a historic UCL run reaching the semi-finals, and from crucial missed matchday revenues, and AS Roma, who did not qualify for the UCL despite spending similar amounts on their squad – all three teams' ratios increased by 19 percentage points. On the other end of the spectrum there are LOSC Lille again and AC Milan. Lille's increased revenues are the driver behind a 13 percentage decrease, while Milan's performances have improved but the club also employed a more stringent wage budget, resulting in a 3 percentage point decrease. However, it is interesting to note that these two clubs had a very high staff cost-to-revenue ratio in 2018/19, 112% and 86% respectively.

Finally, bottom line results after taxation show clearest the deterioration of the business of football in the past two years as aggregate net profits decreased from a EUR 227m loss in 2018/19 to an average of EUR 1,529m loss in the following two seasons: a EUR 65m additional annual average loss per club.

 Alternatively, this means that in the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons, the 20 clubs in the sample have combined for a staggering EUR 3,057m loss. Seventeen out of 20 clubs have performed worse in the combined 2019/20 and 2020/21 season than before, with only LOSC Lille, Chelsea FC and AC Milan having improved. FC Barcelona have suffered the most – after making a net profit of EUR 5m in 2018/19, they went on to make losses of EUR 97m and EUR 481m in the following seasons, performing almost twice as bad as the second worst team in the sample, AS Roma. In the 2020/21 season only, FC Bayern München, Manchester City FC and Real Madrid CF have been rare exceptions to report a profit. Meanwhile, FC Internazionale registered a record net loss of EUR 245.6 million for 2020/21, the highest ever recorded by an Italian football club, and FC Barcelona recorded the most negative result in football history with a loss of EUR 481m.

Based on the above analysis, it is clear that, even at the top of the pyramid, the football industry was economically devastated by the pandemic. While improved sporting results enabled a small number of clubs to minimise the damage, worse on-pitch results have further magnified the harmful financial effects in these trying times. The game is still being severely affected by the health crisis in the ongoing season, and it is almost certain that overall financial performance in the 2021/22 season will still be lower compared to pre-pandemic levels.


1 Our analysis covers the following clubs: AFC Ajax, Atlético de Madrid, FC Bayern München, FC Barcelona, Beşiktaş JK, FC Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea FC, FC Internazionale Milano, Juventus FC, LOSC Lille, Manchester City FC, Manchester United FC, AC Milan, SSC Napoli, Real Madrid CF, AS Roma, Sevilla FC, Sporting Clube de Portugal, Tottenham Hotspur FC and West Ham United FC.
Some top clubs (e.g.: Arsenal FC, Liverpool FC and Paris Saint-Germain FC) have yet to release detailed financial information as at the date of publication of this analysis.

2 All data refer to the individual financial statements of FC Bayern München AG. Consolidated data for the 2020/21 season are not available as at the date of publication.