While Real Madrid won the UEFA Champions League final 1-0 against Liverpool on Saturday in Paris, a dominant performance by Liverpool on the business side of the ledger shows that the business of soccer extends well beyond winning games.
“Liverpool probably earned about £160 million ($202.1 million) in the Premier League this year,” Omar Chaudhuri, chief intelligence officer of Twenty-First Group, said in a Zoom interview. “The marginal benefit of finishing first, second or third isn’t that different in Premier League, whereas it’s a lot more staggered as you progress in the Champions League.” It’s true: Liverpool made it to the final having already earned $204.4 million (£161.9 million) via a second-place finish behind Manchester City in the EPL final standings.
The battle in the Premier League is less for the top prize than to stay in the top four and qualify for the Champions League. “There is a huge fight to be in the top four of the Premier League,” Kieran Maguire, the host of Price of Football, said in a video interview. “And the reason for that is, for every $1 you earn in the Europa League, you earn $5 in the Champions League. The difference between fifth and fourth place is the biggest gap in the Premier League itself.”
After a 30-year drought, Liverpool won the EPL in 2019 and became the first English club to win the international treble of FIFA Club World Cup, Champions League and UEFA Super Cup. The Reds finished the 2021 season in second place and were placed in Group B for this year’s Champions League tournament. Manchester City earned $206.6 million en route to the EPL title and got as far as the semifinals in the Champions League, cashing in another $118.4 million in prize money in the process.
“If you win the Champions League and you’re a club with a high 10-year coefficient, you can probably make somewhere in the region of 110 million euros ($117 million) from winning the Champions League itself,” said Maguire. UEFA introduced the coefficient in the 2018-2019 tournament based on the team's performances in UEFA tournaments over the past 10 years; it also includes bonus points for winning these tournaments, benefiting the traditional clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona & Bayern Munich.
“From a longer-term perspective and perhaps from a sporting perspective, those teams keep winning by even bigger margins because it's a flywheel effect of getting more money to build a better team,” Chaudhuri said. “You destroy the competitiveness in the long term.”
Liverpool has won more European titles than the Citizens, but the latter has been more successful domestically. Man City has won six league titles since 2011 and had a higher UEFA coefficient, thus their Champions League prize money was almost as high as Liverpool’s. But the real winner is Los Blancos, who have now won the Champions league 14 times and their domestic league, LaLiga, twice in the last five years.
Like most modern analytic measures of success, efficiency is key. Sheik Mansour bought Man City in 2008 for $212 million. Fenway paid $476 million (£300 million) to buy Liverpool from George Gillett and Tom Hicks in 2010. “Since 2013, Manchester City, Manchester United and Chelsea have spent an identical amount of money, around about £1.3 billion ($1.6 billion). Liverpool only spent £800 million ($1 billion),” Maguire said. “What Liverpool have done is that they’ve spent smarter rather than spent bigger.”
According to Chaudhuri, Liverpool’s biggest competitive advantage since FSG took over has been investing in “smart people” in all areas of the organization. “It is the club that uses data in decision making. People often talk about investment on the pitch, but they invested a lot off the pitch. And I think that's been the differentiator for them because I think it also means it will hopefully be more sustainable for the club going forward.”
Liverpool has also won the FA Cup and the Carabao Cup—competitions open to multiple levels of professional English soccer—banking an additional $4.725 million in prize money and bringing their total earnings to $337.6 million (£267.4 million). The total was enough to best Man City by the relatively small margin of $12 million; there’s more than one way to win at the top levels of pro soccer.
(The first paragraph of this story was updated to include the game result.)