Football: The stocks to watch as Super League threat fades

The financial structure of elite football has come into sharp focus following dramatic reports of a breakaway European Super League. Although that venture has spectacularly crumbled, traders may be interested in looking at which clubs to support when it comes to taking a financial interest? Read our guide to find out more.

Football: A playground for the mega-rich

The elite professional football clubs across Europe have shown a propensity to achieve consistently impressive revenue figures, and as such have become attractive propositions for mega-wealthy owners.

Through the continued expansion of global broadcast deals and ever more imaginative methods to commercialise the game, the top clubs in England, Spain, Italy and Germany have found a way to translate trophies into profits.

All the while, the enthusiasm of fans has provided natural leverage – and even when stadia have been locked down through the Covid-19 pandemic, there remain powerful opportunities for clubs to continue to keep the cash tills ringing.

Can fans buy shares in the clubs they support?

But as good as football clubs are at taking money off their fans – partly, of course, to support the eye-watering salaries that the players (and their agents) demand – is there an avenue for the fans to recoup some of that expenditure by investing in their favourite clubs through buying stock?

In most cases, the short answer is no. The largest football club trading on the stock market is Manchester United. Judged on 2019-20 revenue as collated by Deloitte in its annual Football Money League report, United is the fourth biggest club in the world.

Only three other clubs in the Deloitte top 20 – Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal – have shares that exchange hands on the stock market. But Arsenal’s shares have long been snaffled up in full by Stan Kroenke, so you can quickly strike them off your list

In addition, there are four other football clubs with a much lower market cap who provide shares that can be publicly traded. They are the two Glasgow clubs, Celtic and Rangers, and two from Rome, AS Roma and Lazio. Those clubs’ shares are not of great interest to retail traders, who tend to look for better liquidity and tighter margins when choosing stocks to get involved in.

On April 18, 2021, dramatic proposals threatened to shake up the status quo at the top table in Europe as 12 clubs announced they would be joining a so-called breakaway "Super League". Players, managers and in particular fans reacted with fury and dismay - and the whole plan was embarrassingly shelved a few days later.

football graphic

Shares in Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United all showed impressive rises on April 19, 2021, the first full day of trading since the Super League announcement.

Two of the proposed Super League members, Manchester United and Juventus, have shares actively changing at decent volume. And there is one, Borussia Dortmund, whose allegiance appears to remain more strongly within Germany’s domestic Bundesliga.

As for the Super League, the threat has dissipated for now. But are the "big 12" still a factor going forward as they seek a bigger slice of revenue?

Manchester United: The biggest player in the football stock market

Quoted on NYSE (ticker: MANU)
Member of proposed European Super League? Yes
Deloitte 2019-2020 Ranking: Fourth (Down one)

Founded in 1878 as Newton Heath Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Football Club, the red half of Manchester faced bankruptcy on two occasions in the 20th century before listing on the stock market in the UK in 1991.

The timing was propitious as United excelled in England’s new Premier League under the inspirational manager Sir Alex Ferguson and early investors were rewarded.

Malcolm Glazer launched a successful bid to take control of the club in 2005, despite strenuous objections from fans. He acquired 28.7% of Manchester United shares and pushed the market cap of the company to £800 million. 

Manchester United left the London Stock Exchange in 2005 and listed on the NYSE (New York Stock Exchange) in 2012 for $14 a share. As of April 2021, Manchester United’s share price gave it a market cap around $2.64 billion, making it the biggest plc among football clubs.

The club’s failure to qualify for the Champions League in 2019-20 as well as Covid restrictions preventing fans from coming to Old Trafford have seen the share price perform sluggishly after peaking in August 2018.

As far as the Deloitte’s Football Money League is concerned, Manchester United (€580.4m) are the only team to have secured a top-five spot in all 24 editions of the annual report. 

Another thing not to be sniffed at is the club’s acumen when it comes to commercial expansion. United’s successful investments in digital marketing, such as its global mobile application, alongside ecommerce and MUTV, are building a robust future growth. The Red Devils remain the top commercial revenue generating Premier League club, totalling £282.

Finally there is the manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. While perhaps not the natural successor to Sir Alex, he has brought the squad to a level where they could reasonably be expected to launch a genuine title challenge in the next few years.

Juventus: Future far from healthy for ‘Old Lady’ of Italy

Quoted on BIT (ticket: JUVE)
Member of proposed European Super League? Yes
Deloitte 2019-20 Ranking: 10th (no change)

The biggest of the three Italian clubs publicly traded on Milan’s Borsa Italiana, Juventus won its ninth consecutive domestic championship, and 36th overall, in 2020. Neatly, the club sometimes known as the “Old Lady” how has as many scudettos as its two fiercest rivals, Internazionale and AC Milan, put together.

The Agnelli family, owners of the Fiat automotive company, gained control of the club in 1923. Since December 2001, the team based in the city of Turn has been listed on the Borsa Italiana with the Agnellis continuing to hold a majority of the shares.

Juventus is the best supported football club in Italy. On its own shores it can count in excess of 12 million fans. This is partially attributable to Italian football fans having no clear regional affinity, with plenty of tifosi stretched out all the way down the south and even in Sicily.

In order to reinforce its global appeal, it went the extra mile in 2018, signing Cristiano Ronaldo for £100 million, and putting him on a deal that paid him a staggering £500,000 a week.

Numbers sourced by the club internally suggest a global fanbase in the region of 350 million fans globally. However, its 36% decline in matchday revenue in 2019-20 was the largest percentage decline on that particular metric of all the Deloitte Money League clubs.

Juve is exploring a range of commercial innovations. These include fashion brand collaborations, the J-Hotel situated adjacent to the stadium and a new arrangement with Amazon to broadcast Juventus TV on its Amazon Prime streaming platform.

Of immediate concern, however, is the team’s on-the-pitch performance. An experiment to hire Andrea Pirlo as coach has proved disastrous with Juve set to relinquish their Serie A crown, and Champions League performances have generally been underwhelming for some time.

With a lack of cut-and-thrust within the squad, it’s clear why the “closed shop” Super League had been seen as a beneficial avenue for Juventus, who have issues managing a large debt.

A situation in which revenue is controlled by the clubs themselves rather than a third-party administrator makes economic sense for clubs with big fan bases. As things stand, with no Super League to fall back, these could be precarious times for Juve.

Borussia Dortmund: Could youth policy bear fruit?

Quoted on Xetra (ticker: BVB)
Member of proposed European Super League? No
Deloitte 2019-20 Ranking: 12th (no change)

After suffering financial problems and poor form in the 1980s, Borussia Dortmund enjoyed a fine renaissance in the 1990s, winning two Bundesliga titles, and the highly coveted UEFA Champions League title, pitting all of Europe’s top football teams together.

In 2000 it listed its shares on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, and it remains the only German football club to have done so.

Its new shareholders must have wondered what they had got themselves into, however, as Dortmund proceeded to decline once again. They were battling relegation for a period in the 2006-07 season before eventually rallying under their third manager of the season, Thomas Doll.

Dortmund’s next manager was Jurgen Klopp, who brought two Bundesliga titles before his high-profile move to England - but since then Dortmund has played second fiddle to Bayern Munich, Germany’s pre-eminent footballing force.

There is still some scope for Dortmund to grow its fan base. The big positive is a huge stadium with a capacity in excess of 80,000. (It is thought around 1,000 fans from the UK watch each home match because of the competitive price structure).

Interestingly, despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, BVB’s revenue fell by just €6m (2%) to €365.7m in 2019-20, the smallest revenue decrease across the Deloitte Money League.

That has probably accounted for a reasonably stable share price despite a desperately disappointing 2020-21 season in the Bundesliga. Dortmund also has some fine assets in terms of young players with massive potential, such as Erling Haaland, Jude Bellingham and Jadon Sancho.

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