In this article, we look at how much the football clubs make by participating in the UEFA Champions League and we take a specific look at how much clubs from the Big 5 leagues have made in the period from 2011 until 2019.
The headline states ”Prize Money in Champions League 2011-19” but we will include earnings from the so-called Market Pool as well as the Coefficient based money pool introduced in the 2018/19-season to get the full picture.
UEFA Champions League format
Before we head into the dry figures, let’s take a step back and talk a bit about what Champions League is. The Champions League tournament is generally considered the best club tournament in the world, with the best teams from Europe competing against each other. The format has changed a number of times but as of 2020 it is like this:
The preliminary qualifiers consist of 4 teams from the lowest ranked leagues, more specifically the leagues ranked 52-55 in Europe (top-tier league by country only). The teams meet in a knock-out match first and the two winners then meet in the ”final” from which the winner qualifies to the next round.
First Qualifying Round
33 new teams enter this stage on top of the qualifier from the preliminary round. These teams are the champions from the leagues ranked 18-51. The matches are played as knock-out matches home & away with all the winners qualifying for the next round.
Second Qualifying Round
9 new teams enter this stage on top of the 17 qualifiers from the previous round. The 9 teams consist of the champions from the leagues ranked 15-17 and the 6 runners-up in the leagues ranked 10-15. So, there are 26 teams in total in this round, 20 of which are league champions and 6 are runners-up. The round is split into a Champions Path and a League Path, where the knock-out matches are played within the champions group and runners-up group respectively, and the winners from each match (10 from the Champions Path and 3 from the League Path) qualify for the next round.
Third Qualifying Round
7 new teams enter this stage on top of the 13 qualifiers from the previous round. Two of the new teams are the champions of the leagues ranked 13-14 (and these will be placed in the Champions Path and will be matched with a team from that group of teams in a knock-out match), while the runners-up of the leagues ranked 7-9 and the third-placed teams in the leagues ranked 5-6 all enter the League Path. This stage, hence, consist of 20 teams in total, 12 of which are within the Champions Path and 8 of which are in the League Path. 6 teams from the Champions Path and 4 teams from the League path will qualify for the next round, which is the final qualifying round before the group stage.
Two new teams enter this stage, both in the Champions Path as they are the champions of the leagues ranked 11 + 12. So, at this stage there are 12 teams in total, 8 in the Champions Path and 4 in the League Path, who will play a final knock-out match against an opponent from their respective paths, so 4 teams from the Champions Path and 2 teams from the League Path will qualify for the next round, which is the Group Stage – by many considered as the real start of the Champions League.
The Group Stage
26 new teams enter this stage on top of the 6 qualifiers from the previous round, which means there are 32 teams in total. This is the last stage at which new teams enter the tournament. The 26 teams consist of
• The reigning Champions League winner
• The reigning Europa League winner
• The champions from the leagues ranked 1-10
• The runners-up from the leagues ranked 1-6
• The 3’rd placed from the leagues ranked 1-4
• The 4’th placed from the leagues ranked 1-4
The 32 teams are now divided into 8 groups of 4 teams, from which the top two will qualify for the next round, i.e. 16 teams will qualify for the next round.
The Round of 16
After the group stage, the rest of the tournament will be played as knock-out matches over two legs (home & away), and so 8 teams will qualify for the next round.
The 8 teams will play each other in individual knock-out matches over two legs and the 4 winners qualify for the next round.
The 4 teams will play each other in individual knock-out matches over two legs and the 2 winners qualify for the next round, the final.
A single match played at a neutral ground between the winners of the semi-finals.
It is no secret that the amount of money involved in the Champions League is enormous. While there are many contributors to this, mostly they stem from the agreements UEFA negotiate with the TV companies, typically in 3-year cycles. As people replace flow TV with streaming services, the TV companies search for content that the streaming services can’t compete with and live TV is the best tool for that – and the most popular sport is obviously a VERY good tool. Unless the interest in football suddenly drops, there is no reason to expect that the TV companies will be less inclined to bit high for the rights to show the ultimate club tournament in football. If the streaming services start competing there too, it’s obviously only even better for the football world (or at least the clubs and the players involved).
The following diagram shows the development of the total amount of money, the UEFA Champions League distributes amongst the teams qualified for the group stage until and including the final.
The period of the TV contracts is quite obvious from the diagram. The current contract period runs 2018-2021 (covering the seasons 2018/19, 2019/20, and 2020/21). There is additional money on top of the money shown for the qualifying rounds, but if we just look at the main tournament as shown in the diagram, the money pool covering the contract period 2018-21 is 3 x €1,950,000,000 = €5,850,000,000!
UEFA is under constant pressure from the Top 5 leagues to increase the revenues and the top leagues are generally not very willing to let the lesser leagues and teams receive a large share of the pie. And so, as the TV contracts are renegotiated, the structure of the tournament is also changed/adjusted – basically what has happened generally is that the top leagues have got easier access to the group stages (more teams are automatically qualified for the group stages without having to go through any of the preliminary knock-out stages) while it’s increasingly difficult for the smaller league teams to qualify to the group stage.
Before the 2018/19 season, the total money pool was divided into two parts, the Prize Money pool, and the Market Pool. As of the 2018/19 season, the money pool is based on 3 parts: Prize Money, Market Pool, and the Coefficient Pool.
Overall, the 3 money pools can be said to reward the following (group stage and onward only):
The Prize Money Pool: Performance in the current Champions League
The Market Pool: The value of the TV market represented by the participating clubs
The Coefficient Ranking Pool: A rank based on the club’s performance the previous 10 years in the European Cups
The actual distribution of the 3 parts is shown in the diagram below.
Let’s now have a look at how the individual pools are actually distributed.
The Prize Money Pool
Below is a table showing the prize money earned for reaching each stage.
(all figures are shown in ’000 €)
”Unq Champ.”: Any league champion that fails to qualify for the group stage will receive compensation as shown
”Gr W”/”Gr D”: Money earned for each Win/Draw in the group stage
*€2,000 will be paid to the winner (and qualifier for the group stage), while the eliminated team will receive €3,000
** Only for clubs eliminated from the Champions Path, since clubs eliminated from the League Path qualify directly for the Europa League group stage and benefit from its distribution system
*** Only the eliminated team
In the group stage, the teams receive money based on the number of points they collect. However, until the season 2015/16, a win regarding prize money only generated 2 points while a draw generated 1 point (unlike the actual points generated in the sport, where a win generates 3 points and a draw 1 point). This meant that every match by default would generate a total of 2 points, since either 1) one of the teams would win (generating 2 points for the winning team and 0 for the losing team) or 2) it ended in a draw, meaning both teams would get 1 point. This meant that the total prize money pool for the group stage could easily be divided by the total number of points (96 x 2 =192 points). As of the season 2015/16, a win would now generate 3 points regarding the prize money, mirroring the actual points in the sport. This meant, however, that a match would generate either 2 or 3 points depending on the outcome.
The total pool for the prize money is based on dividing the pool by the maximum number of points, which means that it is essentially based on all wins. After the group stage, there will be ”unspent” money (determined by the number of draws ) and this remaining amount is now shared with the teams based on the number of wins they had. So, for example, if a team had won 6 games (i.e., all of their group matches) and there was a total of 35 wins amongst all the 96 group matches, then this team would receive 6/35 ≈ 17.14% of the total unspent amount from the group stage prize pool.
The Market Pool
On top of the Prize money, the clubs will receive money from the ”Market pool”. The Market pool is distributed in accordance with the proportional value of each TV market represented by clubs taking part in the UEFA Champions League (group stage onward). The different market shares will be distributed to the participating clubs from each league. The actual distribution of the amounts are based on the following:
1) the final amount in the market pool
2) the composition of the field of clubs participating in the Champions League
3) the number of clubs from any given league competing in the Champions League
4) the final position of each competing club in their previous season’s domestic championship
5) the performance of each club in the Champions League
As can be seen from the diagram above, the Market Pool had been constantly increasing until the 2018/19 season, when the current contract period began. The change in 2018/19 was undoubtedly dictated by the largest clubs, since it effectively means that the most successful and ”constant” clubs in Champions League get a larger share of the total money pool while less frequent Champions League participants will receive less. Let’s exemplify it: A club from one of the top leagues, for instance, the Premier League, benefit from the Market Pool, since the Premier League represents a very large TV market, and this club receives the same as any other club representing the Premier League, even if it has not been a frequent player in the Champions League. By reducing the Market Pool and increasing the Prize Money and the Coefficient Ranking Pool, more emphasis is now placed on current and previous performance.
The Coefficient Ranking Pool
Finally, the ”Coefficient ranking pool” was introduced in the 2018/19 season.
This ranking takes into account a club’s performance in the European Cups (both Champions League and Europa League) the previous 10 years. It is a significant sized pool and aims to reward the teams performing well on a continuous basis in the European cups. It ranks all the 32 teams participating in the group stage of the Champions League and the amounts are fixed so that the lowest-ranked team receives €1,108,000, the 2nd lowest-ranked get 2 times the amount of the lowest-ranked, the 3rd from the bottom receive 3 times the amount of the lowest-ranked, etc., all the way to the top-ranked team which receives 32 times the amount of the lowest-ranked team, i.e. 32 x € 1,108,000 = € 35,456,000.
So, now having covered the general revenue structure of the UEFA Champions League, let’s look at who the top earners are.
Top Earning Leagues
If we look at the period 2011-19, which countries have made the most money from participating in the Champions League?
The Top 5 countries are as follows:
So, the top-earning country is England followed by Spain and then a large gap to Italy and Germany, followed by France further behind.
Top Earning Football Clubs
While England is the top-earning country in the Champions League, interestingly they do not have the highest earning clubs, and perhaps surprisingly, neither does Spain. In fact, the club receiving the highest payment from the Champions League during the period 2011-19 is Juventus from Italy.
Below is shown the Top 10 earning football clubs:
Despite England being the highest-earning country, Manchester City is only placed 6’th on the rank as the best-placed English team.
England and Spain both have 3 teams in the Top 10, while Italy has 2 and Germany and France one each.
If we now look at how the teams have generated the revenue, an interesting picture is painted, as shown below.
The largest contributor to Juventus has been the Market Pool (accounting for 56% of its total revenue). Only 38% of the club’s revenue stems from the Prize Money. Since the Money Pool has been greatly reduced as of 2018/19, it is realistic that Juventus’ place as top earner will not last long. Number 2,3 and 4 on the list all have a larger share of their total revenue from Prize Money, and since this pool is increased as well as the Coefficient Ranking Pool has been introduced, more significance is placed on performance, current and past, than on the TV market size. For Juventus and PSG (who show a similar revenue distribution), it has been a great advantage to be football clubs from large countries, where only a few clubs have been able to compete frequently in the group stages and later, but this advantage will diminish in the future following the payment structure introduced in 2018/19.
If we only look at the individual club performances as defined by Prize Money revenue, the Top 10 list is the following:
Real Madrid is quite clearly the top earner on this parameter, making over 18% more than number two, Bayern München, and their arch-rival, FC Barcelona. Juventus is number 4 on the list.
There is a lot of uncovered ground here – for instance, I haven’t really dug deep into how the clubs are qualified, etc., but that may be something to address in a later article.
What I will say is that the UEFA Champions League is a giant financial money machine. We all knew that from the start but going through the numbers has really shown how much it is. Looking at the development in the Money Pool also reveals how the larger clubs are making sure that they get the lion’s share – which in itself isn’t unfair as they generally speaking have the most fans throughout the world and are the most interesting clubs for people who do not have a specific affection for any of the other clubs involved, and so it can be argued that the large TV deals are very much based on/due to them.
It does, on the other hand, make it gradually harder for other teams to join the club elite as the money becomes increasingly isolated (comparatively speaking) to the best clubs. It is often stated that the major clubs ideally would prefer a closed, professional league like the NFL where the teams are always guaranteed a spot, and while the Champions League is not there yet, arguably every change in the way the distribution of money has been implemented, particularly the introduction of the Coefficient Rank Pool, shows that the elite clubs of Europe are doing every bit they can to make sure they stay as just that – the elite clubs of Europe.