With apologies to U.S. sports fans solely focused on the NBA and NHL playoffs, the week’s biggest global matchups are in Europe where the first legs of the Champions League semifinals are taking place Tuesday and Wednesday. They feature a trio of soccer bluebloods and a Premier League club chasing its own history.
In addition to the on-field success, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Manchester City are all financial giants in the sport and rank among Sportico’s 15 most valuable soccer clubs.
“My competitive juices are going, and I want to win more than anything,” Gerry Cardinale, founder of RedBird Capital Partners, which bought Milan last year, said in a phone interview. “But from the business standpoint, I’m not going to lose sight of the fact that we also need to qualify for next year’s Champions League.”
Champions League success can be extremely lucrative for clubs, as UEFA doles out more than $2 billion to participants. Last year’s winner, Real Madrid, earned €133.7 million ($146 million) in prize money, but the competition unfolds while clubs are competing in their domestic leagues, whose final standings will determine Champions League participation the following year. Milan currently sits fifth in the Serie A standings, with only the top four clubs qualifying for next year’s competition. The 2022-23 winner also gets an automatic bid for the following year.
Real Madrid and AC Milan have won the most Champions League titles of any clubs, with 14 and seven, respectively, while Inter has three trophies in its case. Man City is on track for its seventh EPL title in 12 years, but it has never lifted the Champions League trophy, peaking with a runner-up finish in 2021. Man City still has a chance to complete a historic “treble” by capturing the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup. Manchester United remains the only EPL club to achieve the feat, doing so in 1999.
Real Madrid is worth an estimated $5.23 billion, behind only Manchester United ($5.95 billion) in Sportico’s global rankings. On Tuesday, they will host Man City, which ranks sixth overall at $4.43 billion. The two clubs had the highest revenue in soccer during the 2021-22 season, at roughly $815 million apiece. Among teams across all sports, only the Dallas Cowboys generated more revenue, at $978 million.
On Wednesday, Milan ($1.2 billion) and Inter ($1.11 billion) face off in their first leg at the iconic stadium they share, San Siro. Redbird bought Milan last year, while Chinese electronics retailer Suning, which bought control of Inter in 2016, has been shopping the team, according to multiple people.
Soccer team revenue falls into three main buckets: matchday, commercial and broadcast, which also includes UEFA prize money. Real Madrid’s Champions League title last season helped the club post the highest broadcast revenue in the sport at $363 million, 10% ahead of Man City. The Italian clubs both generated just under $100 million in broadcast revenue. Cardinale wants Serie A to close the significant gap in media rights with the EPL and LaLiga.
Commercial revenue is derived mainly from sponsorships and merchandising. Emirates pays Real Madrid more than $70 million a year to display its name on the team’s home and away jerseys, but Man City has the highest commercial revenue of the final four clubs at $416 million.
Matchday is the smallest component, representing less than 15% of total revenue for each team. Milan is at the bottom of the Champions League teams at $36 million, but Cardinale is exploring new stadium options for his team. He has been meeting with local officials and identified several potential locations. He says a decision will come in the “next few months.”