By Brian Homewood
NYON, Switzerland (Reuters) – European football’s top-division clubs made a profit for the first time on record in 2017 as their collective revenue surpassed 20 billion euros (£17.9 billion), UEFA research showed.
European football’s governing body attributed the success to its Financial Fair Play break-even rule and said that when it was introduced in 2011 clubs had made a collective loss of 1.7 billion euros.
A UEFA report showed revenue for the 2017 financial year was a record 20.1 billion euros, an increase of 1.6 billion over the previous year. The overall profit, after transfers and financial costs, was 0.6 billion euros.
Europe has 711 top-division clubs divided among its 54 national leagues. UEFA said that 27 of those leagues were profitable.
The financial fair play rule was introduced to stop clubs spending beyond their generated revenue, a policy designed to prevent rich owners from trying to buy success and distorting the transfer market.
Teams can be thrown out of European competition for breaching the rules but UEFA has generally negotiated settlements with offending clubs.
“Thanks to financial fair play, European football is healthier than ever before,” said UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin in a statement, adding that the figures showed that the rule “clearly works”.
“Financial fair play has provided the platform for clubs to control their costs and pay their debts,” he said.
UEFA tightened the rules this year and any clubs who spend more than around 100 million euros in a transfer window are automatically assessed.
“The new regulations will further allow UEFA to act more swiftly and anticipate problems before they become too big,” said Ceferin. “UEFA will now immediately react and proactively assess the clubs’ ability to meet the rules in the future.”
AC Milan were thrown out of this season’s Europa League by UEFA for falling foul of the rules but successfully appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
CAS said the situation had improved since U.S. hedge fund Elliott Management took control of the indebted club from Chinese businessman Li Yonghong, and instructed UEFA to impose an alternative sanction on the club.
However, UEFA sources said that could not be done at the moment as officials had not received the full grounds for the CAS decision.
English Premier League clubs had the biggest joint revenue of 5.34 billion euros, an increase of 452 million euros from the year before. They also had the highest operating profits on record of 1.19 billion euros, UEFA’s research showed.
Serie A clubs made a net profit of 3.7 percent, mainly due to a swing from transfer losses to profits, ending a run of seven years of losses.
Serie A clubs’ revenue reached 2.1 billion euros although only 10 percent of that came from gate receipts — a reflection of the poor state of Italian stadiums which are mainly owned by municipal governments.
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Peter Rutherford)