Size (and what you do with it)

Sir Alex Ferguson has been in fine form of late, first fearing, quite preposterously, for Robin van Persie’s life and then deriding 120-year-old Newcastle United as “a wee club in the north-east.” Quite a put-down for the four-times champions of England that attracts regular crowds in excess of 50,000. But Ferguson’s jibe, provoked by manager Alan Pardew’s sanctimonious criticism, raises an interesting question: what exactly determines the ‘size’ of a football club in the modern game?

Ferguson’s wisecrack comes with the inherent backdrop of Manchester United’s grandiose. Indeed, United is self-styled as the world’s biggest, with management often touting a flawed Kantar survey that estimates the club has more than 690 million “followers” worldwide – a figure far in excess of rival institutions, domestically and abroad.

The Kantar survey, which includes any ‘fan’ who looks out for United’s results and news even if they follow another team, was conducted ahead of United’s New York IPO last summer. Previous surveys had put United’s supporters at more than 330 million, but either way the club can boast a genuinely huge global supporter base.

Still, the Reds’ average home attendance is also among the globe’s largest, with more than 75,000 packing Old Trafford each week despite steep price rises under the Glazer regime between 2005 and 2010. In Europe only Barcelona at 84,119 and Borussia Dortmund, with 80,521 packing Westfalenstadion each week, can better United’s figure. It is not without reason to suspect that United supporters would fill a substantially larger stadium if prices were more in line with continental rivals.

Meanwhile, Newcastle can boast average gates of just under 50,000 in the Premier League, up from a historic low of 16,000 in 1991. It makes the Magpies England’s fifth best supported club, and the 15th biggest in European football.

Then there is the silverware factor, with United boasting 19 domestic league titles, 15 further English cups and seven major continental or international trophies. Real Madrid, by contrast, has claimed La Liga 32 times, Rangers 54 Scottish titles and Juventus 28 Serie A trophies. Borussia Dortmund, with those huge attendances, has won the Bundesliga just eight times, including those in the past two seasons.

The contrast between the biggest and that “wee club” Newcastle is stark, with the Geordies having claimed England’s top division on just four occasions – the last in 1927 – a further six FA Cups and the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1969. The haul still places Newcastle in top 10 most successful clubs in English history. English champions Manchester City can claim to be England’s finest on just three occasions, including last season’s last-gasp victory.

Yet, the modern game is built above all on finances and the attendant ability to compete in the transfer market. City’s rise has come since Abu Dhabi’s Royal Family pumped in more than £1 billion of sovereign wealth into the club. Meanwhile Roman Abramovich has financed Chelsea to 11 major trophies in the past decade.

Neither City nor Chelsea can match the world’s top three revenue generating clubs: Real Madrid (annual revenues £420 million), Barcelona (£407 million) and United (£320 million). City’s annual revenue was last reported at £254 million, Chelsea’s at £255 million and Newcastle’s at £88 million.

Yet, for all that revenue generated United’s debt pile means that the club has consistently posted losses since the Glazer family acquired the club in 2005. Chelsea has only recently recorded a profit under Abramovich and City has posted cumulative losses of  £510.9 million in the past four years. Meanwhile, owner Mike Ashley has steered a listing Newcastle United to safer financial ground in recent years.

Indeed, only an elite set of clubs – United included – can claim the triumvirate of large revenues, a huge fanbase and a history of consistent silverware. Real Madrid and Barcelona are similarly well-endowed, while there are merits to including Bayern Munich, AC Milan, Juventus, Ajax, Arsenal, Liverpool in any list of the world’s biggest.

Yet, there is something else that determines a club’s size; a certain je ne sais quoi that surely includes ‘history’ in the mix even if a club has fallen on hard times. There are plenty of clubs for whom success has been ephemeral, but might rank more highly than Newcastle in a subjective list of England’s biggest – twice European champions Nottingham Forest, Football League founding member Aston Villa, and three-times England’s best Leeds United, for example.

In fact some of Europe’s biggest match few of the aforementioned criteria. Liverpool, well behind United, Real Madrid and Barcelona in terms of revenues generated, and attendances achieved, can still boast a global supporter base built on years of success in the 1970s and 80s. Meanwhile, Juventus – Serie A champions in 2011 and 2012 – fills its compact new stadium, built to a 40,000 capacity based on the Old Lady’s historic attendances.

Few doubt either club’s right to ‘big club’ status. It’s that ineffable thing again.

European Attendance Top 20 (2011/12 average)
1 – FC Barcelona – 84,119 – Camp Nou
2 – Borussia Dortmund – 80,521 – Westfalenstadion
3 – Manchester United – 75,387 – 2011–12 Old Trafford
4 – Real Madrid – 74,678 – Santiago Bernabéu
5 – Bayern Munich – 69,000 – Allianz Arena
6 – Schalke 04 – 61,139 – Veltins-Arena, Gelsenkirchen
7 – Arsenal – 60,000 – Emirates Stadium
8 – VfB Stuttgart – 55,089 – Mercedes-Benz Arena
9 – Hertha Berlin – 54,259 – Olympiastadion
10 – Hamburger SV – 53,635 – Imtech Arena
11 – Borussia Mönchengladbach – 51,846 – Borussia-Park
12 – Milan – 51,442 – San Siro
13 – Celtic – 50,904 – Celtic Park
14 – Ajax – 50,044 – Amsterdam ArenA
15 – Newcastle United – 49,935 – St James’ Park
16 – Internazionale – 47,913 – San Siro
17 – FC Köln – 47,647 – RheinEnergieStadion
18 – Manchester City – 47,044 – Etihad Stadium
19 – Rangers – 46,324 – Ibrox Stadium
20 – Napoli – 45,789 – Stadio San Paolo

Deloittle Money League 2012 (€millions)
1 – Real Madrid – 479.5
2 – Barcelona – 450.7
3 – Manchester United – 367.0
4 – Bayern Munich – 321.4
5 – Arsenal – 251.1
6 – Chelsea – 249.8
7 – Milan 235.1
8 – Internazionale – 211.4
9 – Liverpool – 203.3
10 – Schalke 04 – 202.4
11 – Tottenham Hotspur – 181.0
12 – Manchester City – 169.6
13 – Juventus – 153.9
14 – Marseille – 150.4
15 – Roma – 143.5
16 – Borussia Dortmund – 138.5
17 – Lyon – 132.8
18 – Hamburg – 128.8
19 – Valencia – 116.8
20 – Napoli – 114.9

* 2012 money league, some clubs have more recently reported financial information

England’s most successful clubs (number of major trophies won)
1 – Liverpool – 41
2 – Manchester United – 40
3 – Arsenal – 26
4 – Aston Villa – 20
5 – Chelsea – 18
6 – Tottenham Hotspur – 17
7 – Everton – 1995
8 – Newcastle United – 11
8 – Manchester City – 11
10 – Blackburn Rovers – 10
11 – Wolverhampton Wanderers – 9
11 – Nottingham Forest – 9
13 – Sunderland – 8
13 – Sheffield Wednesday – 8
15 – Leeds United – 7
15 – West Bromwich Albion – 7
17 – Sheffield United – 5
17 – Wanderers – 5*
19 – Bolton Wanderers – 4
19 – Huddersfield Town – 4
19 – Portsmouth – 4
19 – Preston North End – 4
19 – West Ham United – 4

* now defunct
Does not include Charity/Community Shield

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Comments

  1. John W says

    We are not a patch on your club Manchester United. EVERYBODY knows that. SAF is a top manager probably the best anyone has ever seen but the man lacks any class at all. Good luck for the EPL.

  2. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Ed… do you know how that, “Deloittle Money League 2012″ looks, if you take away the exclusive tv money from Real and Barca?… do they still make more than United?

    • says

      Manchester United’s last reported broadcast income was about £104 million. £34 million is from Champions League and £61 from Premier League. The rest from other cups.

      Real Madrid’s last reported broadcast income was about £160 million. £114 million is from La Liga. So just under twice United’s domestic broadcast revenue.

  3. Denton Davey says

    I don’t believe all this blather about “the debt” – a good accountant can make debts turn into profits and then magically transform both into losses.

    With all the golden eggs streaming into their coffers from the new magic goose of commercial revenues, the Glazers’ family trust is reaping huge profits on their investment. Whether those profits show up on annual balance-statements is effectively beside the point. When they finally sell the club then they will effectively realize the profits in their own accounts. Until then, there’s lies, damned lies, and annual statements.

    In any event, Newcastle is a wee club – and a pretty disappointing football team, too. Pardew looked like a genius last season but now he sounds like a numpty.

  4. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Commenter said:
    We are not a patch on your club Manchester United. EVERYBODY knows that. SAF is a top manager probably the best anyone has ever seen but the man lacks any class at all. Good luck for the EPL.

    You will find, at least on this United forum, most will agree with you there… Ferguson is a complete cunt.

  5. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Ed said:
    Manchester United’s last reported broadcast income was about £104 million. £34 million is from Champions League and £61 from Premier League. The rest from other cups.
    Real Madrid’s last reported broadcast income was about £160 million. £114 million is from La Liga. So just under twice United’s domestic broadcast revenue.

    So actually, even without the special telly deals, Real and Barca still make more money than United… however… if United had the same rights to sort their own tv deal, they’d be far and away ahead of everyone else… yes???

    “Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabrón and ching’ tu madre! Come out from that shit-hole of yours. I have to speak to you.”

    • says

      Alf – That’s probably a fair assessment. Real/Barcelona do make a lot of commercial income too – the revenue split is similar to United’s – third commercial, third tickets, third tv. England’s TV market is a little more fragmented than Spain – I don’t think United could hope to clean up 40% of the revenues generated (which would be hundreds of millions) – but trebling the domestic broadcast revenue would be seriously realistic.

  6. Alfonso BedoyaAlfonso Bedoya says

    Looking at that attendance list… if only we could redo the south stand and quads, to mirror the north… that would put us close to, if not over 90,000… and only the Glazers greed would prevent us filling them every week.

    I thought about it once, and I think it could be done… it would be an engineering challenge, no doubt, and I think we’d have to buy up all the houses on the north side of the street, below the rail lins… but we could build the stands over the rail lines, incorporating a station into it.

  7. SpudiatorSpudiator says

    Trouble is, Alf, it’s been explored before, and I seem to recall the suggestion was that the south stand would cost more to redevelop than the expansion of the other three stands combined because of the logistics of working around the train line.

  8. vlad says

    Alfonso Bedoya said:
    You will find, at least on this United forum, most will agree with you there… Ferguson is a complete cunt.

    cunt – that’s a cliche.
    Tbh ‘the wee club’ is a qoute like ‘knocking them off their perch’, meant to be taken with a pinch of salt. Obviously the Mags are a decent club, and the dirty scousers have more trophies than everyone else.

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