Manchester United have boldly projected that by June 2027, the club will be generating over £1bn in revenue.
The Athletic claim that during a sales pitch to potential investors Sheikh Jassim and, the eventual winner, Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the club bullishly predicted that “they will generate £1billion ($1.2bn) in annual revenue by the end of the 2027 financial year.”
The figure would be hypothetically reached through the increasing of broadcast, commercial and matchday income over the coming years. An upgrade or expansion to Old Trafford has not been factored into the estimated numbers.
The writer of the piece, Dan Sheldon, asserts that this amount of revenue is “bordering on unachievable”. To be fair to United, their revenue has been growing over the last few years. 2021 saw a total of £491.1m posted, the following year £583.2m and this year was given at £648.8m. The Red Devils project that 2024 will see somewhere between £650-680m. The Athletic then query where the club will find this extra £350m to reach the billion mark in the next three seasons.
The infamous Ed Woodward, the club’s former executive vice chairman, once claimed that the Manchester United commercial juggernaut was so unstoppable that what happened on the pitch had little to do with the team’s ability to generate money off it. There is some logic to this, as revenue has increased since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson but results have tailed off massively.
However, The Athletic questions this logic. They state that a source close to the club compared United’s situation to that of a snake. In this particular metaphor, the head of the snake is the team’s on-field performance and the body is the financial side of the operation. Sure, you can cut off the head and the body will continue to wriggle but not forever. Basically, there will come a point where poor results will begin to substantially damage revenue sources.
Dr Rob Wilson, a football finance expert, paints a similar picture to the snake metaphor. The club has seen a record £900m Adidas deal agreed over 10 years and Qualcomm have signed a deal to become the front of shirt sponsors from the 2024-25 season for around £60m per year. Wilson also believes it is very feasible the club would reach an impressive £650-750m but getting from £750m-1bn, is a “different story”. The financial expert from Sheffield Hallam University states that “mediocre sport performances” would make hitting such a target impossible.
Wilson does believe there are some ways to reach this mythical one billion figure, but only coupled with trophy success and regular finishes in the top 2 of the league. The expert states that if the Red Devils continue to finish outside the top 2, never mind the top 4, and also fail to regularly reach the latter stages of the Champions League, they cannot sustain the revenue they are making, never mind get to 10 figures.
So, how do Manchester United go about realising this dream?
The first method he believes is non-matchday revenue. He makes the bold assessment that Manchester United’s “digital footprint in the Middle East is bigger than the sum total of every Premier League team combined” and this is in the backdrop of poor performances and their rivals, Manchester City, being owned by the Abu Dhabi group. In fact, the club claims to have a staggering 1.1 billion fans and followers across the globe. It estimates that 74m come from the Americas, 296.1m from Europe, Middle East and Africa and a whopping 731.7m in Asia and the Pacific.
Effectively, if you could engage every supposed fan and follower across the world to spend just £1, you could reach the billion. Wilson believes that fan engagement is the “golden ticket” and such a crazy numbers of eyeballs watching every game would be “highly attractive” to potential sponsors.
Another key objective would be engaging with younger fans in places like the Americas. The average age of a football fan in the U.K. is over 40 years old but, in the U.S., it is a significantly younger 16-34 years old. The finance expert believes finding ways to engage them to spend their cash on the club is key to their target.
Other ways to generate the billion would be to start improving the amount the club receives from player sales. Dan James and Dean Henderson are cited as two of the few examples where United actually made any sort of decent profit from a player sale instead of taking a big financial hit. Wilson also highlights that revenue could be raised through selling naming rights and obtaining sleeve sponsors.
Another path would be the increase in price of matchday tickets. The club have put up the price for an adult ticket by 5% this year after a freeze in price for 11 consecutive years. The Athletic assert that this alone could generate an extra £40-50m.
The final route to £1bn mentioned is TV deals. UEFA have recently agreed a deal with Paramount Global, the owner of the CBS network for an eye-watering $1.5bn, so $250m a season spread over 6 seasons. A big increase on the current $100m.
The new Champions League format could also benefit the club, if they qualify of course. As part of the proposed expansion to 36 teams, England could likely earn a fifth spot for the tournament. The Champions League expects to bring in £3.1bn in revenue in the period 2021-2024. They predict that figure to balloon to between £4.6-4.8bn from 2024 onwards.
The article finishes by saying if a team from the Premier League will reach a billion, United would most likely be the first to do it. However, the snake cannot go on wriggling without its head. The team must start winning trophies and crucially qualifying for the Champions League largely every season. All eyes will be on the Mancunian club’s account figures on 30th of June 2027.