Discussion: FC Bayern’s Financials – status quo and future perspectives
Marc: Alex, having gone through the results published by Swiss Ramble, what jumps out at you the most? Personally, I find the dichotomy between their dominance domestically and the steady decline compared to their European counterparts to be the most interesting.
Alex: There are several things in the report that I find quite remarkable, the ludicrous economic advantage of Bayern over their domestic rivals being one of them (more on that later). But let’s focus on the European context first, because, unlike you, I cannot really see that Bayern are increasingly left behind economically by the other European top clubs. They rather seem to be holding their own quite well among that company. As the Swiss Ramble analysis shows, they have been a permanent member of Europe’s top four in terms of revenue for more than a decade and have been one of the most profitable European clubs for a long time too.
Marc: Currently Bayern are still very competitive in Europe. However, the gap between them and the teams at the top is growing. More concerning still, many teams are catching up with Bayern in terms of commercial revenue, which is the area Bayern had dominated for a long time. With the domestic TV deal situation unlikely to change any time soon, the board will have to find a way to make up that difference in another area in order to keep up with the biggest clubs in Europe. So while it is not currently an issue, it seems likely to become one in the not to distant future.
Alex: I don’t quite agree. Bayern’s revenue has hovered around the 75-85% mark of Europe’s highest grossing club for more than a decade now. And because from my point of view, sporting success at this high level, when it comes to the biggest four or five clubs, doesn’t vary proportionally with the amount of funds available to spend on players, I am not so concerned about this as you are.
I was actually surprised to learn that Bayern’s commercial revenue has consistently been one of the highest in Europe. That was news to me. Bayern must have excellent sponsoring and marketing deals, because in terms of their shirt and kit deals they are (unsurprisingly) way behind such iconic brands as Real Madrid and FC Barcelona and many English clubs, especially ManUnited, due to the EPL’s popularity advantage. However, on balance, the shirt and kit disadvantage probably sounds worse than it is because I believe that it should be comparatively easy for Bayern to get a better deal here when the contracts are due to be renewed because the shirt and kit figures are quite transparent and Bayern can point to other clubs with better deals as a reference in negotiations.
Nevertheless, I agree with you that Bayern needs to explore novel revenue streams if they are to generate the money they need to keep abreast of their European rivals, because the ability to grow their existing organic revenue channels is structurally fairly limited for a variety of reasons. Let’s run through them quickly:
Matchday revenue: This is limited by stadium size, ticket prices (which you can only increase up to a point before the supporters get up in arms), and number of matches played. Bayern has pretty much maxed out all three parameters already, yet their revenues in this area have been stagnating for years. I can’t see a major surge anywhere on the horizon. Where would it come from?
Commercial revenue: We have talked about this already. Commercial revenue is largely a function of a club’s brand strength and popularity. For now, anyway, Real, Barca, and the English clubs are way ahead of Bayern in this regard and, as a consequence, are far better placed to get more lucrative sponsorship and marketing deals.
Broadcasting revenue: This is limited by the TV deal of the DFL (€1.16bn/year domestic + €250m/year international), which is better than that of Ligue 1 (€1.15bn/year domestic + €80m/year international) and Serie A (€970m/year domestic + €370m/year international), but considerably behind La Liga (€1.14bn/year + €900m/year international) and way behind the EPL (€1.8bn/year domestic + €1.6bn/year international). We can also see initial signs that domestic TV revenues have hit an upper limit with EPL and Serie A having declined in the last round, while the value of international rights is still growing. So whatever the DFL is able to negotiate here in the future, in all likelihood it will not grant Bayern a significant financial advantage over their biggest European rivals, not least also because Bayern’s control of this revenue stream is fairly limited as the Bundesliga’s broadcasting contracts are collectively bargained for and disbursed by the DFL.
So, Marc, where’s the money going to come from for Bayern if they’re not to fall behind the giants from Spain and England in the long run?
Marc: I think this is something that the board has been working on for some time. For instance, Bayern’s strong push into the North American and Asian markets, going so far as to open offices in New York and Shanghai, is clearly an attempt to generate more interest and therefore more income from outside of Europe. Bayern were among the first clubs to make such a move and, having a unique perspective as a resident of the US, I think that this has largely paid off. Supporters here feel valued by the club because of the engagement offered to them by the NYC office and the summer tours. While this may not show an immediate and directly discernible impact on their financial statements, the more reach they achieve, the bigger the brand becomes and ultimately the more leverage they have to sell that brand to sponsors and broadcasters.
Alex: I agree. Strengthening their brand and increasing their recognizability is probably the most sensible long-term and most easily executable short-term for Bayern to increase their commercial revenue. Unlike matchday income and broadcasting revenues, there are no natural limits for commercial revenue like stadium size or ticket prices and there are no contractual obstacles like the collective TV deal bargaining situation that impede Bayern’s growth. There are >7bn people in numerous markets spread over five continents only waiting to develop an interest in football and be sold shirts to.
I also agree with you that this realization hasn’t been lost on Bayern. They actually seem to be very busily trying to grow their international profile. You mentioned Bayern’s offices in NY and Shanghai – but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. If you take just a quick look at the headlines of Bayern’s press releases over the last one or two years, you’ll immediately see that Bayern has been very active at building relationships to football associations, companies, youth academies etc. in a lot of foreign markets all around the world. And even though the Reals, Barcas and ManUniteds of this world undeniably have a head start and a far greater reach as yet, I’m convinced that Bayern have long realised that their commercial endeavors are crucial for their sustained economic success and that they are doing the right things in this area.
Marc: Agreed. This is also why the oft discussed “Super League” makes sense to me, at least from a financial standpoint. It’s easy to understand why clubs like Bayern, Juventus and PSG…etc. would want to find a way to get TV deals similar to that of the English clubs. They are currently limited by the perceived desirability of their domestic leagues which they have very little ability to impact. It could also potentially allow them more direct access to that money as opposed to the Champions League where it is run through and distributed via UEFA. This proposition however, has many issues and is unlikely to occur, at least in the near future.
Alex: I share your thoughts. Given a Super League project could be properly marketed and successfully sold to broadcasters around the world – and ultimately to the fans – it would give Bayern much more influence on, and more direct access to, the amounts of money generated as part of it. There would be no UEFA, no DFL, and no other intermediary to interfere. Strangely, a Super League could even manage to attract new audiences as the level of competition would arguably be much more balanced than in the participating clubs’ domestic leagues. This might prove attractive to people who are bored by the monotony of PSG / Juventus / Bayern / … always winning. As a welcome side effect, a successful Super League would also serve to further reinforce its members’ worldwide brand strength.
However, I’d like to raise one caveat: The participation in a Super League per se wouldn’t give Bayern any sustainable economic advantage over the other participating clubs, because all members would certainly agree on a fair scheme to divide the spoils that neither leaves anyone behind nor gives anyone a sizeable advantage.
Marc: I agree but while it wouldn’t give them an advantage, it would help them to keep pace. As a reader rightly pointed out in the main article’s comments section, the youth academy is another area that could potentially generate revenues and reduce expenditures. The investment in the new youth center and in building that talent base could prove vital in the future. Having access to top talents at an early age obviously saves the club money long term. But even the players that aren’t quite at Bayern’s level can be sold to reinvest in other players. Of course Bayern is unlikely to become a developmental club, but it is certainly an area where they both can and need to improve.
Alex: I’m not quite on your side on this one. Yes, Bayern can do a lot more here probably – and Hasan Salihamidžić actually seems to be quite busy on this front – but Bayern is not a developmental club and never will be. Bringing up youth players from your own ranks and from your own region is, let’s be honest, not much more than a nice piece of fan service. The supporters are all over this because it gives them something to identify with at the club and they see it as proof that the club is aware and proud of its roots and heritage. But in sporting terms, frankly, a club who wants to be domestic champions every season, win the Champions League and be a member of a potential future Super League cannot put its fate on the pitch in the hands of young, inexperienced players fresh from an academy. There is too much at stake, there is too much to lose. That’s the sporting perspective.
As a business proposition, I haven’t yet finally made up my mind as to youth development as a venture Bayern should pursue with greater vigour. Bayern’s youth academy cost around €70m to build and somewhere between €3m/year and €5m/year to operate a machine of 185 players playing across 11 teams trained by 26 coaches. On the one hand, you could argue that this is money well spent because in today’s transfer climate, if out of the scores of prospects every year there’s only one prodigy coming through every few years, that should be more than enough to fully recoup all of Bayern’s youth football expenses and generate a decent profit to boot. (And this doesn’t even include the emotional bond to their home club the young players develop who don’t make it at Bayern at first and become stars elsewhere that might make them more likely to return to Bayern in the future.)
On the other hand, other clubs will come to the same conclusion. And to operate a youth academy at the level that’s necessary to stand out from the pack with all the people involved, maintenance efforts, and management oversight needed will be a challenging enterprise. Many people will have to put in a good deal of attention, thought, planning, organizing, and decision making and executive oversight to make this work effectively. Naturally, this draws and monopolizes resources that the club cannot use in other areas, for example in strengthening their commercial operations, building partnerships etc. So you could make the case that above a certain threshold, every additional Euro Bayern spend on their youth development could be better invested elsewhere.
Marc: While I agree that Bayern will not be a true developmental club, I do think they can develop some players through their youth system. The 2013 team for instance had a multitude of players that had come through the youth academy including Lahm, Schweinsteiger, Müller, Alaba and Kroos. While this may be a bit of an outlier, there is still potential to develop players even at a club the size of Bayern.
Ultimately, no matter which of the ventures we’ve discussed Bayern choose to pursue or not, they are unlikely to be enough to make up the difference to the top clubs long term. I have to believe that this was a major factor for bringing in someone like Hainer to replace Uli. There is no obvious or easy solution to this problem and requires a level of creativity and foresight that I do not possess. I believe that there are solutions to nearly every problem, but you have to have people clever enough to see the solutions. Hopefully Hainer is that person. Do you have any other ideas where additional money for Bayern could come from?
Alex: I do, but let me say first that I, just like you, also think that the input of Hainer will be priceless for Bayern’s business endeavors. Unlike Hoeneß, he is a modern day manager with a degree in business administration and a 16 year stint as Adidas CEO from 2001 to 2016. Adidas is a commercial behemoth and a marketing-focused enterprise through and through. If anybody at Bayern knows how to promote a brand and explore new markets, it will be Hainer. With him, Bayern have a real asset on their side in their pursuit of building a worldwide following and strengthening their international profile.
One source of income you haven’t mentioned yet that I consider crucial is digital. With the Allianz Arena permanently sold out and domestic markets largely penetrated, there is almost endless growth potential in the digital sphere worldwide. There are billions of people out there with internet access who are just one click away from being sold a fcbayern.tv subscription or a Netflix or Amazon Prime TV series to like Dortmund and ManCity have done. A simple show of support by Thomas Müller for India’s cricket team ahead of last summer’s world cup was enough for Bayern to gain millions of new social media followers in India. One Coutinho or one James are enough to substantially raise Bayern’s social media profile in the respective players’ countries of origin. This is what Bayern should do much more of in the future: offset stagnating and saturated domestic markets and overcome traditional broadcasting channel limits through building and strengthening their digital business.
The big American sports, the MLB most of all, have provided ample evidence of what you can do if you take digital, streaming etc. seriously. Probably the DFL, but at least Bayern, should take a leaf from that book. If Bayern were to develop and implement a comprehensive, strategic digital program including a sound OTT streaming concept, this would have the potential to greatly enhance their presence all across the world, increase their brand recognition, make the club accessible to billions of people, and ultimately turn likes into fcbayern.tv subscriptions and followers into shirt buying fans. I have praised Bayern that they have recognized the crucial significance of their commercial endeavors in today’s football economy. Let’s hope they don’t fall short in recognizing the importance of the digital realm of all areas. UPDATE: The recent launch of their first football E-Sports team gives reason to hope that they actually do recognize the future potential of digital.
Marc: Ok, let’s move on to the next issue, because another area I always find interesting is the transfer spending in the Bundesliga. I think most people would assume that Bayern have spent the most but it is not true either net or gross, though they finished 2nd in both. There are obviously many reasons for this, Leipzig came up not too long ago and had to spend to get as competitive as they are, BVB sold a lot of big players and therefore needed to replace them and Bayern have managed to complete several free transfers. Still, despite their huge economic advantage, they actually tend to spend at a reasonable rate.
Alex: They do. And there are two different views on that both of which I find equally valid. It all hinges on the fundamental question: Does FC Bayern want to be a profitable business first and a successful football club second, or is it the other way round? Bayern have always prided themselves on their fiscal conservatism. We have all heard about the famous fixed deposit account of theirs often enough. If Bayern intends to continue to make it their priority to deliver a decent profit to their shareholders, they are on exactly the right track in my opinion. Above a certain threshold, there is a diminishing return of each additional Euro spent on players (transfers and wages) on the resulting improvement in sporting success on the pitch. So far, Bayern has spent enough on their squad every year to be a permanent contender for the CL knockout stages and a shoo-in for the BL title. Economically speaking, this is a very sound approach as it strikes an almost ideal balance between risk, revenues and expenses. The fact that they approximately have a 50% wages to revenue ratio, which is lower than that of most other big European clubs, is testament to that too.
If, however, Bayern see themselves as an elite football club first and a successful business second, they should probably invest more in their squad and take more risks with potential signings. This includes taking an occasional gamble on a player who eventually might turn out to be a failure (e.g. a young up-and-coming talent), and it also includes being prepared to pay over the odds sometimes for a player who is objectively overpriced but able to provide a great boost to the squad’s quality and versatility (e.g. Kevin de Bruyne or Leroy Sané).
In the end, they will probably follow a middle road (which they actually have already started doing) and acknowledge that, at times, they’ll have to pay more than seems reasonable for a player if they don’t want to risk falling behind Europe’s elite without indulging on regular spending sprees. Do you agree? Or would you advise Bayern to start spending big time?
Marc: I do agree that the middle is their current road. That middle road is always tough to manage though. One movement in either direction can send the club spiraling. We have seen them sign younger players for reasonably high prices (Renato Sanches, Correntin Tolisso…etc) but that market is becoming increasingly expensive as well. All clubs are trying to get in on players early now with the prices soaring for established players, not to mention the issue of playing time and development.
Another issue is that there is a certain amount of pressure from within both their supporter base and some parts of the general football community to remain fiscally responsible. While they could obviously shirk this pressure, it is probably in their best interest to placate these people to a certain extent. To what degree they submit is a bit of a moving target but also one that they can hit rather easily.
All that said, I hate to make too many judgements at the moment given the coming changes to the board. Their approach may be substantially different to that of Kalle and Uli. While I doubt that Bayern are in the conversation for the most expensive footballers in Europe any time soon, they could loosen the purse strings a little more than the previous board has.
Alex: So we are generally agreed. Bayern should perhaps be prepared to spend a little bit more on new players in the future, especially those they regard as critical additions to the squad, without completely giving way to the most ludicrous transfer fee sticker prices the market commonly gets up to during silly season. Perhaps more importantly though, I think that they need to follow through with their signing efforts more swiftly and conclusively from now on. In other words, they should stop dithering. Once they have singled out a transfer target they deem crucial, they should begin negotiations immediately and come to a conclusion swiftly, whether the result is a signing or not. I know, of course, that it isn’t entirely up to one party alone to dictate how swiftly negotiations proceed, but unless Bayern add a delay to a certain transfer negotiation for strategic reasons, I can see no real benefit from endless and seemingly half-hearted haggling over a player. It unnecessarily drains away too much energy and valuable work time from far too many people.
We have talked about Bayern’s financial competitiveness vis-a-vis Europe’s other big clubs. What has really struck me about this is how steep the decline in revenues is from first place down both in Europe and particularly in the Bundesliga. In Europe, there are a few clubs whose annual revenue regularly exceeds €600m, Bayern among them, and then a good deal more whose turnover is somewhere between €400m and €600m each year. Percentage-wise, the gap has been diminishing over the last decade, but in absolute terms it has remained roughly the same. And although the clubs from places 5-10 are catching up, Bayern is still able to hold their own as we have discussed.
With a view to the Bundesliga, the situation is far more dire – for the other clubs. I was thoroughly stunned to learn quite how big Bayern’s economic advantage over the rest of the league is. Excluding transfers, Bayern (€650m) has grossed more than twice as much as their closest rivals Dortmund (€320m) and 2.5 times as much as Schalke in third (€250m) in the last financial year, not to mention any other of the remaining 14 Bundesliga clubs. If I were the DFL or the DFB and concerned about the competitive balance in the Bundesliga, I’d be very worried about this development, especially because the way money flows are structured in the business of football is geared for this gap to become ever greater. That Bayern has won the Bundesliga title seven consecutive times now is not a fluke but almost a logical necessity with respect to the financial state of affairs in the league. Something has to change and the only way out I can see at the moment is to abolish the 50 + 1 rule to allow smaller clubs access to the kind of funds they would need to sustainably close the gap to Bayern, Dortmund and soon Leipzig.
Marc: That is obviously a massive problem facing the DFB at the moment and to be honest nearly every league and club in Europe. There is no obvious way to level the playing field. Look at Spain, France and Italy, where there is no 50 + 1 rule and there is still a massive imbalance between the top clubs and the rest of the league. Even in England there are 6 clubs that have a significant financial advantage over the rest of the league.
History cannot be rewritten and therefore clubs like Bayern, Real, Barca and Juve…etc will always have a significant financial advantage simply because of the amount of supporters that they have world wide. You could actually argue that the UEFA Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules, which are supposedly aimed at keeping the playing field level, are in actuality keeping the big clubs big and the small clubs small. The fact that the bigger clubs bring in more revenue allows them to spend more and poses a difficult task for owners with deep pockets to grow a smaller club to the size of a club like Bayern.
Alex: True, only too true. I completely agree with your assessment. Not having set a cap on potential investments in the first place demonstrably hasn’t helped maintain a decent competitive balance in any of the other big five leagues. But at the same time, I struggle to see a way out for the Bundesliga without getting rid of 50 + 1 and a concurrent suspension of UEFA FFP, which is the real limiting factor that prevents investors from putting money at will into a football club. In my opinion, abolishing 50 + 1 and putting UEFA FFP on hold wouldn’t be a sufficient condition for re-creating a level sporting playing field in the Bundesliga, but it would be a necessary one. Only in a world where a multi-billionaire may feed money without restraint into a football club that isn’t one of the bigger clubs to begin with can said club ever hope to catch up to the Bayerns and Dortmunds of this world. This may seem a terribly fatalistic thing to say to some readers, but the way a club’s constant Champions League participation and its worldwide attractiveness and brand strength mutually reinforce each other and lead for this select elite to enjoy structurally unassailable higher levels of income as a consequence leave me with no other conclusion – save for the Super League. Full circle.
Marc: Agreed. I also fail to see competitive balance without putting all of the big teams in their own league where they can fight amongst themselves as opposed to beating up on smaller sides at a significant financial disadvantage. But then, who will care if those leagues are balanced when all of the talent has left?
Alex: That’s a good question. I don’t know. In cold, hard theory, the institution of a Super League means only the addition of one more tier on top of the existing league structure. And if there is a growing football audience around the world, adding another layer shouldn’t necessarily lead to diminishing interest in the existing leagues. But football is often more than a simple exercise in arithmetic, especially when it comes to fans and their sentiments. And I agree, if say Bayern and Dortmund were to leave the Bundesliga to join a Super League along with all the other big European clubs, and if this Super League were to henceforth draw in all the footballing talent from across Europe, the appeal of the Bundesliga and all the other domestic leagues would clearly suffer from that.
But a Super League is probably not going to happen anyway for practical reasons alone. To me, a usual league schedule with one or two games per week is irreconcilable with the traveling requirements around Europe the clubs would have to shoulder on almost a daily basis. The players would be in transit more than on the training ground! I’m actually quite flabbergasted how you obviously manage to pull that off in the States.
But while I don’t see a Super League replacing the respective domestic leagues as Europe’s future highest regular division, it is going to come in some form or other as a kind of a regular tournament sooner or later anyway. The Champions League already is something like this, there will be a new Club World Cup with 24 teams taking place every four years beginning in 2021 in China, and just very recently Real’s president Florentino Perez presented plans for a new 20 team ‘Super League’ he had been hatching. So while Bayern and Dortmund etc. will almost certainly not leave the Bundesliga (at least for now), it is only a question of time before they’ll join a Super League of whatever way, shape or form.
And because in its first iteration this Super League is going to have a tournament character and won’t be a permanent league, the Bundesliga won’t be negatively affected. Bayern and Dortmund will not leave, the first port of call for fresh talent will still be the domestic leagues, and from a supporter’s point of view, the integrity of the competition will remain intact.
Marc: Regarding the travel schedule, clearly you can make this work. As you mentioned, US sports teams fly further on a nearly daily basis to play 3-4 times a week or more. Not that I would expect football to follow suit, but it is possible and if the money is high enough, they will find a way.
Ultimately, I agree that a new version of the Champions League will likely happen in the next 5-10 years. The big clubs want more money. The easiest way to do that is to eliminate UEFA from the equation and form a competition amongst the best 10-20 teams in Europe. While that will be hard for the smaller teams, especially from the lesser leagues, the best teams playing each other is ultimately what people want to see. It is also increasingly looking like the easiest way for the big clubs to grow their own revenue streams as broadcasting has become an ever bigger source of income and streaming is the future.
And this is where Marc and Alex decided to leave it. Partnerships, Super League, youth football, digital, domestic superiority, transfer policy – naturally, we could have evaluated and debated some issues in greater detail. Others we have probably neglected to mention at all. But we wanted to give you, the reader, inspiration and food for thought, not drown you in lengthy deliberations (too late?).
We are both more than happy to continue the discussion. You can reach us both individually via Email, Marc and Alex, and you’re of course more than welcome to leave your thoughts in the comments section below. We’ll be in touch.