The big number is $ 15 Billion. That is the total salary spent by the 596 first division (tier) clubs of all 54 UEFA member countries in 2015. In 1996 the total was $ 2 Billion, making the increase 650% over 20 years.
At the same time total revenues of all clubs were $ 25 Billion, thus having salaries account for 60% of revenues. That is far higher than manufacturing industries and at the high end of service industries (restaurant, trades, etc.). But it does fit with service industries and one can certainly place professional sports in that category. It is about providing live entertainment, food, travel, retail stores, television/media, etc. Yet at the grass roots level it is still about people getting together to play a sport they enjoy and to get physical exercise to stay healthy.
Total expenses were $ 25.5 Billion leaving the “industry” with a loss of $ 500 Million. Some clubs turned a profit, others lost money, regardless of the size of the organization. I wrote previously about the increased amount clubs are getting from television contracts, but that doesn’t prevent losses; 100 clubs declared bankruptcy in recent years.
Let’s add some perspective. Assuming that UEFA is the highest revenue soccer confederation, I will assume that all other federations together generate another $ 25 Billion. Add second and lower divisions globally and say they total another $ 25 Billion. That makes the total global soccer revenue $ 75 Billion. Round it up to $ 100 Billion. Seems enormous, but remember we are talking about thousands of clubs, i.e. businesses, all around the globe. Compare this to Walmart, the largest corporation in the world with $ 500 Billion in revenues. One company, five times the size of ALL soccer. Soccer would rank in 50th place of global corporations.
The real philosophical, social, and moral question is not unlike the one asked about salaries in industry, health care, and other professions. Is any one person worth say $ 50 Million per year? And like in business the gap between the lowest and highest wage earners is huge. In banking for example the CEO can also earn over $ 100 Million a year while the front line bank clerk earns maybe $ 35,000. The lowest paid top tier professional soccer contracts run well below $ 100,000 a year. Some thoughts:
- As long as the market generates funds driven by consumer demand it is financially doable. But not at the risk of bankrupting teams.
- There is always the dream and opportunity for players to advance through the system. A lot has to do with natural talent, but a lot also has to do with hard work.
- The paying fans are happy to support highly paid athletes as long as they see effort, humanity, and results.
- And the big one: If players use their wealth to give back to the community then it is good to have wealth. Many players have charitable foundations that build schools, hospitals, training grounds, etc. in their home community.
Sports is a big business and globally soccer is the biggest. It still works, the excitement grows, and we’re all having fun. So let’s keep enjoying it.