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The Untouchables: Why 4 Soccer Teams Rake In So Much Sponsor Cash

As Manchester United and Manchester City prepare for the "most expensive" soccer match ever on Saturday -- the players on the field cost the teams $850 million to acquire -- a two-tiered sponsorship system is developing in international football. Four teams -- Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Manchester United and Bayern Munich -- are able to command €100 million or more in annual sponsorship revenue from advertisers, according to Deloitte's annual football finance analysis. The others -- including massive international brands like Arsenal, Chelsea F.C. and Liverpool F.C. -- get the crumbs.

Here are the top 20 clubs by total revenue, which includes ticket sales and broadcasting fees:

"Crumbs" is a relative term in football, of course -- It means €76 million or less. The point is that there's a yawning gap between the top four clubs' commercial revenues and everyone else's. While Liverpool took in €76 million last year from its Standard Chartered (STAN.L) sponsorship, among others, other clubs struggle to raise more than €50 million. When you isolate the commercial/sponsorship revenue streams alone, it becomes obvious how difficult it is for even the top 20 clubs to compete with Real, Barca, Man. Utd. and Bayern:

Commercial Revenues Alone:

  1. Real Madrid: €150.8m (£123.5m)
  2. FC Barcelona: €122.2m (£100.0m)
  3. Manchester United: €99.4m (£81.4m)
  4. Bayern Munich: €172.9m (£141.6m)
  5. Arsenal: €53.7m (£44.0m)
  6. Chelsea: €68.8m (£56.3m)
  7. AC Milan: €63.4m (£51.9m)
  8. Liverpool: €75.8m (£62.1m)
  9. Inter Milan: €48.3m (£39.6m)
  10. Juventus: €55.6m (£45.5m)
Deloitte called its report "The Untouchables" because it suggests that Real and Barca will push further ahead. Barcelona just signed a controversial -- and biggest ever, at €165 million -- shirt sponsorship deal with the Qatar Foundation. Among the other highlights:
  • Manchester United appears to be undervaluing its sponsorship deals. It has far more fans internationally than Real Madrid but gets one third less for its advertisers.
  • Real's broadcasting revenue is higher than the total revenue of half of the Money League clubs
  • Barcelona increased its 2nd place lead over Manchester United from €38.9m in 2008/09 to €48.3m (£39.5m).
  • Bayern Munich's €172.9m in commercial revenue is the highest of any club.
Clearly, the ludicrous sums of money being spent on players are driving clubs to seek higher prices from their sponsors. And with more revenue coming in, clubs know they can demand higher transfer fees when they sell players. It's a vicious circle that encourages the kind of semi-permanent indebtedness that already exists at Liverpool, Barca and Man. Utd.

The madness is only set to get worse after Saturday's Manchester derby, the Wall Street Journal reported:

Next month's match between Manchester City and Chelsea will shoot past it to set a new combined record of about $900 million. By the time Manchester United and Chelsea (combined player investment: over $800 million) square off in two upcoming matches this season, the Derby will have fallen to fourth-place on the all-time list.