Champions League final commercial preview: How Liverpool and Real Madrid stack up off the pitch
Two of the most decorated clubs in European soccer meet at the Stade de France in Paris this weekend in what is a repeat of the 2018 Uefa Champions League final.
Both Premier League giants Liverpool and LaLiga champions Real Madrid overcame adversity in their semi-final ties to set up a star-studded affair between two sides who have been crowned kings of Europe a combined 19 times – a number heavily weighted in favour of the Spaniards, the most successful team in the history of the competition with 13 triumphs.
Yet the dominance of the two teams on the pitch is mirrored by their financial might off it, where the pair generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue every year from lucrative commercial deals and television income – not to mention the many shirts and other merchandise items that are sold annually around the world.
As the two teams prepare to cap the European soccer season on Saturday, SportsPro presents an alternative preview to this year’s Champions League final.
Tale of the tape
These are two teams that need no introduction. Fan-owned Real Madrid edge Liverpool in terms of overall revenue, with the Spaniards generating €648.4 million (US$695.7 million) during the 2020/21 season compared to the UK£487 million (US$608.5 million) made at Anfield.
Valued by Forbes at US$5.1 billion, Madrid are looking to diversify their revenues further through a revamp of their Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, a project which has seen the club take out hundreds of millions of dollars in loans. More recently, president Florentino Perez was pictured smiling alongside Alan Waxman, the chief executive and co-founder of San Francisco-headquartered Sixth Street, which has invested €360 million (US$380 million) for a stake in the team’s stadium operations.
Liverpool are not short of wealthy backers themselves. The Merseysiders are worth US$4.45 billion, according to Forbes, and their Fenway Sports Group (FSG) ownership last year saw its own valuation soar to more than US$7 billion on the back of an investment from RedBird Capital Partners, the private equity group led by Gerry Cardinale.
Interestingly, Liverpool are well out in front of Madrid in terms of broadcast income thanks to the Premier League’s massive domestic TV rights deals with Sky Sports, BT and Amazon, as well as the competition’s increasingly lucrative overseas partnerships with the likes of NBC, BeIN Sports and Nent Group.
But it is on the commercial side where Madrid make up significant ground on Liverpool due to their top-tier sponsorship deals. The club’s main shirt partnership with Emirates is the most lucrative in all of soccer, bringing in a whopping €70 million (US$74.6 million) per year, while the team’s kit supply contract with Adidas is worth even more at a reported €110 million (US$117.3 million) annually.
Liverpool, meanwhile, reportedly receive a guaranteed UK£30 million (US$37.7 million) from their technical partnership with Nike, although a 20 per cent royalty on all merchandise sales purportedly takes the total value of the deal closer to UK£70 million (US$88 million) annually. Their current shirt deal with financial services firm Standard Chartered is said to be worth UK£40 million (US$50.4 million) per season, but the latest reports suggest the Reds are looking to bring in double that from their next agreement.
More venue headaches
Uefa has become accustomed in recent years to moving its showpiece occasion, having had to relocate both the 2020 and 2021 Champions League finals because of Covid-19. Both of those games were played in Portugal – the first in Lisbon before Porto hosted the event a year later – but there was confidence that this year’s fixture would be able to take place under more normal circumstances.
However, the governing body’s decision in September 2019 to award the 2022 edition to St Petersburg’s Gazprom Arena – a venue adorning the name of what is now a former Uefa sponsor – proved to be an ill-fated one.
The Nyon-based organisation moved quickly in late February to remove Russia as host after president Vladmir Putin ordered troops into neighbouring Ukraine, announcing just days after the invasion that the game would instead be taking place in France.
The Kremlin branded the decision at the time “a shame”, with spokesperson Dmitry Peskov quoted by several outlets as saying that St Petersburg “could have provided the best possible conditions” for holding the event.
The switch means the Stade de France will host the Champions League final for a third time, having previously staged the game in 2006 and 2000.
The 2021/22 UEFA Men’s Champions League final will move from Saint Petersburg to Stade de France in Saint-Denis.
The game will be played as initially scheduled on Saturday 28 May at 21:00 CET.
Full statement: ⬇️
— UEFA (@UEFA) February 25, 2022
Uefa defends ticket policy
One thing that Uefa will be relieved to see is a Champions League final being played in front of a sold-out stadium, something which hasn’t happened since the 2019 edition in Madrid, where Liverpool triumphed over Premier League rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Both Liverpool and Real Madrid have been afforded around 20,000 tickets at the Stade de France, equivalent to approximately half of the 81,000-seater venue’s capacity. Uefa sells a further 12,000 tickets to the general public through a ballot, with the remaining seats – more than 20,000 in total – allocated to local organisers, national associations, commercial partners, broadcasters, and the governing body’s hospitality programme.
In what has been described as a reward for fans for supporting the sport through the Covid-19 pandemic, Uefa has made some 10,000 tickets – 5,000 per club – available for free. Beyond that, though, they do not come cheap. Liverpool’s tickets were priced between UK£50.32 (US$63.32) and UK£578.63 (US$728.15), while the governing body’s hospitality packages – the majority of which have sold out – range from €4,900 (US$5,255) to €8,900 (US$9,546) per person.
Add all that on top of travel and accommodation costs and it becomes a substantial financial commitment for two sets of fans who have already likely spent a lot of money following their team at home and abroad throughout this season.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has been critical of Uefa’s ticketing policy
Indeed, earlier this month Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp criticised the way Champions League final tickets are allocated and gave his backing to the Spirit of Shankly fan group, which accused Uefa of ‘ripping off’ supporters keen to attend the game.
Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin responded by speaking to Klopp, during which he reportedly pointed out that the two participating teams benefit greatly from the revenue generated by the final.
“From the revenues from the finals, Uefa gets 6.5 per cent and 93.5 per cent goes to the clubs,” said Ceferin. “From the other matches 100 per cent of the revenues goes to the clubs.
“Fans of both teams get 20,000 tickets each. If sponsors that pay 100 or more million euros sponsorship – of which 93.5 per cent goes to the same clubs – get some tickets, it’s part of a contractual obligation that we have.
“Uefa doesn’t get more tickets than the others. Some tickets go to the market, some tickets go to the fans and some go to the partners. It’s not Uefa. I’m not giving tickets for free to my friends or selling to my friends.
“It’s the system that works, and clubs couldn’t function differently.
“For us, not much will change if all the tickets will be €10, but it will change a lot for the clubs. A lot.”
Liverpool and Real Madrid are, of course, two founding members of the European Super League, the ill-fated breakaway competition formed abruptly last April and still lingering in the shadows today. The Spaniards – and their president Florentino Perez, in particular – are one of three clubs that still seem to be clinging to the idea – publicly at least.
It’s also easy to forget that the launch of the Super League happened on more or less the same day that Uefa unveiled format changes to its club competitions from 2024/25, very much drawing attention away from the governing body’s announcement.
The plan was for an expanded 36-team tournament that included a provision where two places would be reserved for clubs who have historically performed well in European competition – essentially a safety net for bigger teams who might have had a poor season domestically. Cynics argued that Uefa was creating a Super League by stealth.
However, the Champions League changes, approved only weeks ago, ditched that original idea in favour of awarding two slots to clubs from the two countries who collectively performed best in Europe’s club competitions during the previous season. It has been pointed out elsewhere that had that system already been in place, an extra team from the financially superior Premier League would have filled an additional place in four of the last five campaigns.
Ceferin, though, has insisted that the changes will create a “truly open” competition.
“Whatever you do in football, somebody says you didn’t do it right,” the Slovenian said at the recent Uefa congress in Vienna. “Even if you score, they say you should score with the other foot.
“99.9 per cent of football fans know this is a completely open competition. It’s for more small and middle-sized countries and France, which is correct, gets one spot more.
“We are all happy and when you see national associations, clubs and leagues and fans being happy you should enjoy the moment, because it will not last.”
However, there is no escaping the fact that it is now nearly two decades since a club outside of the ‘big five’ leagues reached the Champions League final. It’s also true that only 11 teams have featured in the last ten editions of the showpiece fixture (four from England, three from Spain, two from Germany, and one each from France and Italy), illustrating the grip that some of the European powerhouses have established over the tournament.
Those clubs are only set to get richer, with Uefa expecting its new Champions League format to drive commercial revenue of around €5 billion (US$5.4 billion) per season, a figure it hopes to achieve in collaboration with its agency partners Team Marketing and Relevent Sports.
That will no doubt be welcome news for those super clubs that sought to make more money from a Super League. But all of this raises questions over whether Uefa’s own competitions are now weighted too heavily in favour of the biggest teams. If that proves to be true, then expect to see Liverpool, Madrid and their like in the final even more often.
⚽ The #UEFAExCo has approved the final format and access list for UEFA club competitions from the 2024/25 season.
✅ No more access granted based on club coefficients.
✅ Eight matches instead of ten in the new league phase.
— UEFA (@UEFA) May 10, 2022
Final four plans on hold for now
One thing that won’t be changing is the format of the latter part of the Champions League knockout stages.
It was recently reported that Uefa was holding talks about introducing a final four format that would see single-legged semi-finals and the final played in the same location. That would likely give sponsors an opportunity to set up shop in one city for a Super Bowl-style week of activations and create an atmosphere more akin to a major international tournament. However, it would also create uncertainty for fans of the clubs involved, while also putting more pressure on the host destination.
There was an opportunity to trial the concept two years ago – albeit without fans in attendance – when Lisbon hosted a final eight tournament to allow Uefa to crown a winner for the pandemic-affected 2019/20 season.
The idea appears to have been shelved for now, though, with the Associated Press reporting that Uefa could instead create a preseason tournament featuring four Champions League sides. The news agency claims that pursuing a season-opening competition instead would allow the governing body to explore staging the event outside of Europe, with the US a likely option.
A similar proposal was mooted in early 2020, when reports claimed that Uefa could lend its backing to an expanded International Champions Cup, the preseason tournament run by its new partner Relevent Sports.