How does the popularity of major football clubs compare with global fashion brands?


Unquestionably, football is capable of producing prodigious emotions for the fans of a club or a national team. Fashion brands, especially those primarily targeting women, also stimulate abundant passion, excitement and a sense of belonging. Determining, in an objective manner, whether the popularity, brand awareness and emotion that a football club can generate can compare to a well-established fashion brand is simply impossible, although perhaps a review of social media statistics can provide a partial answer to the question.

According to research conducted by KPMG Sports Practice and based on Facebook follower numbers, the Spanish clubs FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF are the European football clubs with the highest number of global fans, having 86.7 million and 84.3 million likes respectively.

The analysis also suggests that, broadly, the top ten European football clubs most followed on Facebook are also the top ten football clubs ranked by revenue.

The variation between the highest and lowest performers within the top ten football clubs in terms of Facebook followers is large, the one being almost 4.5 times greater than the other. With this in mind, some of the biggest clubs appear to have significant potential to increase the number of their followers. For example FC Bayern München and Paris Saint-Germain FC, who respectively ranked third and fifth for revenue in the financial statements of the 2013/14 season, are sixth and ninth each in terms of Facebook likes (31.9 million and 20.2 million respectively as at September 2015).

As the charts above illustrate, at the time of writing, the ten most followed European football clubs register more than 436 million followers in aggregate on Facebook and, based on available data, together generated approximately EUR 4.2 billion in revenue in the 2013/14 season.

Fashion houses invest significant budgets annually in a broad range of marketing activities, all of which support the visibility of their brands globally. A comparison of European football clubs and global fashion houses in terms of their social media following provides some interesting observations.

For example, LVMH – the French fashion house that owns global brands like Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Donna Karan, and Givenchy among others – appears to be the most followed fashion house with approximately 39 million Facebook followers, although in 2014, they had total generated revenues in excess of EUR 11 billion – 2.6 times more than the aggregate of the top ten football clubs in Europe. By comparison, Chelsea FC currently has a similar number of Facebook followers (43.2 million) but had turnover below EUR 400 million in 2013/14, 27 times less than LVMH. The lowest revenue earning fashion house in our sample, Michael Kors, earned EUR 2.5 billion in 2014, almost five times more than Real Madrid CF – the top revenue generating club in 2013/14. However, whilst Michael Kors currently has 16.4 million Facebook followers, Real Madrid CF has almost 85 million likes.

It is interesting to note that, in aggregate terms, the ten most followed fashion houses on Facebook register around 160 million followers, less than the combined number for Cristiano Ronaldo (106.4 million) and for Lionel Messi (80.4 million). This shows a clear dominance of football over fashion houses when it comes to social media following.

In the context of this analysis it is important to state that whilst football fans are more than likely to just follow a single club, fashion consumers may prefer a range of different brands and, therefore, follow multiple fashion houses on Facebook. Furthermore, we recognise that the socio-economic and demographic profiles of Facebook users, football fans and high-end fashion brand consumers are different and, to a certain extent, hard to compare.

Given these findings and having stated the limitations of our research, some interesting questions arise as to whether and how football clubs can better leverage their global followings to generate additional commercial revenue, for instance through exploiting opportunities around:

  • Higher yields from online purchasing;

  • Retail activities outside of their respective home countries;

  • Partnerships and sponsorships; and

  • Image rights.

The club that can unlock this opportunity may be able to create competitive advantages for themselves.

Further investigation of these questions, as well as other analysis of industry data, can be sought from KPMG’s Sports Practice or through the Data & Analytics section of  Subject matter experts at KPMG can also assist industry stakeholders to assess and interpret the potential impact on their organisations of specific research findings, identify reasons why a certain trend is being observed, perform different benchmark analysis, ascertain potential solutions or consider future scenarios.