Soccer Football - Spanish Super Cup - Semi Final - FC Barcelona v Atletico Madrid - King Abdullah Sports City, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - January 9, 2020 Barcelona's Lionel Messi celebrates scoring their first goal with Jordi Alba and Luis Suarez REUTERS/Sergio Perez
Lionel Messi celebrates after scoring in the semi-final of the Spanish Super Cup held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, this month © Sergio Perez/Reuters

FC Barcelona has become the world’s richest football club for the first time, thanks to recent changes to the Catalan team’s merchandising business that has provided a financial edge over its peers. 

The club, whose star players include Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez, has overtaken domestic Spanish rival Real Madrid in terms of revenues, according to Deloitte’s annual “money league” rankings of the sport’s highest-earning clubs. 

The wealthiest teams are concentrated in Europe’s “big five” leagues of England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France, where top-tier domestic competitions reap billions of euros in broadcasting rights. 

The best sides within those divisions also regularly feature in the Champions League, the continent’s most prestigious and lucrative tournament, where €2bn in media contracts and prize money is shared between participating clubs.

Chart showing revenue of top 5 football clubs. Barcelona are now ranked number one globally

As one of Spain and Europe’s best-performing teams, Barcelona has long been one of the biggest beneficiaries from these broadcast deals and has regularly been among the world’s highest-earning clubs. 

However, over the 2018/19 season, new commercial activities allowed it to earn €840.8m, roughly €150m more than the same period a year earlier and €83.5m more than Real Madrid, the largest gap between the top two clubs since Deloitte started compiling its league.

In 2018, Barcelona formed Barça Licensing and Merchandising, in effect taking control over areas such as its retail stores and shirt sales worldwide. Most other clubs rely on outside parties to conduct these operations. 

“It shows a confidence and maturity, that [Barcelona] clearly sees their brand as very important, will take control of that in all aspects and push it forward themselves,” said Dan Jones, head of the Sports Business Group at Deloitte.

Eight of the top 20 richest clubs are in England, thanks to the Premier League being the sport’s most valuable domestic competition. Top-tier English clubs benefit from their share of £9.2bn in multiyear broadcasting contracts. 

However, on pitch performances are changing the make-up of the sport’s financial elite in England. Manchester United remains the country’s highest-earning club but has forecast a fall in revenues as a result of its relatively poor on-pitch performance.

Charts showing how Barcelona gained more points in the 2018 - 2019 La Liga season than expected

That has put its pre-eminence at risk from bitter rivals Liverpool — current Champions League holders — and Manchester City — Premiership winners last season.

“Clubs like United have phenomenal commercial operations but, if they continue to struggle on the pitch relative to other clubs and their own history, it makes it harder to keep growing,” said Mr Jones.

Meanwhile, Tottenham Hotspur, which last season opened a 62,000-seater stadium and reached the Champions League final, has overtaken its north London rival Arsenal, which has not qualified for Europe’s top competition for the past three seasons. 

Letter in response to this article:

The transfer system works quite differently at the BBC / From Stephen Hargrave, London WC1, UK

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