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April 16, 2021

Move over, Madrid. Spain has a new No. 1.

Barcelona tops the Forbes list of the world’s 20 most valuable soccer teams for the first time, knocking Real Madrid to No. 2. Barcelona is valued at $4.76 billion, just nudging out Real Madrid at $4.75 billion. The top spot had been monopolized by two teams for the previous 16 years, with Real Madrid taking it five times and England’s Manchester United 11 times.

Barcelona’s rise comes as the club has been caught in a public fight with superstar Lionel Messi, the world’s highest-paid player, who threatened to leave last year before the final season under his contract. The months-long cliffhanger ended with Messi staying put and the team’s president resigning.

The world’s 20 most valuable soccer teams are worth an average of $2.28 billion apiece, an increase of 30% from two years ago, the last time we published the ranking. The jump comes despite a decline in revenue caused by limited attendance during the pandemic, with buyers focused on what they see as still untapped revenue potential in the sport’s massive global following.

Average revenue for the 20 teams was $441 million for the 2019-20 season, down 9.6% from 2017-18, while average operating income fell by 70% over the period to $23 million. The pain is far from over, with a worsening decline in match-day revenue during the current season as most of the teams in Europe’s top leagues still permit few fans to attend games.

Still, investors continue to pay the kind of rich multiples for top-tier soccer teams that they offer for NFL, NBA and big-market MLB franchises. For RedBird Capital’s recent acquisition of a minority stake in Fenway Sports Group, which owns Liverpool, an appraiser valued the Premier League club at more than $4 billion, roughly 6.4 times revenue—about the same multiple Steve Cohen paid for the New York Mets last year when he bought the MLB franchise for $2.42 billion. The NBA’s Utah Jazz changed hands for $1.66 billion in December, or six times pre-pandemic revenue. Liverpool’s value is up 88% since our last valuation.

The club, which lands at No. 5 on this year’s list at $4.1 billion, has 84 million combined followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and is the world’s 12th-most-valuable sports team. Barcelona (fourth in the world overall) and Madrid (fifth) have more than 260 million social media followers each. The NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, the world’s most valuable sports franchise at $5.7 billion, has less than 16 million social media followers.

Those massive followings pay off. Manchester United, with almost 140 million followers, recently replaced shirt sponsor Chevrolet with TeamViewer, a German software company. The deal begins in the coming 2021-22 season and will pay Man U an average of $64.9 million over five years. While that’s less than the amount paid by the carmaker under the club’s previous deal, the new agreement includes fewer commercial rights, which means Manchester United can seek another automotive sponsor and match—or even exceed—the original deal with Chevrolet in combination. Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and Juventus, home to soccer’s No. 2 earner Ronaldo, all have shirt deals expiring within the next few years.  


Merchandise is another juicy draw for investors. Last summer, Paris Saint-Germain and sports merchandising powerhouse Fanatics announced an e-commerce, manufacturing and licensing deal that a person familiar with the agreement said could triple the French club’s e-commerce business to almost $40 million by 2023. The club could collect about $60 million annually by the midpoint of the ten-year deal.

Real Madrid remains the king in global soccer when it comes to commercial revenue, pulling in $424 million during 2019-20 from advertising, sponsorships, and shirt and kit deals, a rise of 55% from five years ago, including soccer’s most valuable shirt deal ($82.5 million per year) and richest kit deal ($152 million a year) through ties with Adidas that run through 2030. Barcelona, which had commercial revenue of $377 million, nudged ahead of Madrid thanks to its $275 million of broadcast revenue, the most of any soccer team.

Source: Forbes
Image Source: Getty Images