The money in professional football these days is just silly. Though never as pure or untainted as some might lead you to believe, the meteoric increase in investment in the game has seen the bank accounts of many a player, club and owner swell tremendously.
But comprehending just how much money is flowing through the veins and arteries of professional football these days is sometimes a difficult task. So why don’t we put some of these numbers in terms that might make them slightly more relatable for the average reader.
Take for instance the average weekly salary at big spending Manchester City, a sizable $138,117… or more than twice what your average two person household earns in the UK in a year. At oligarch-funded Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala, 31-year-old striker Samuel Eto’o will be earning nearly $29 million this season — or the equivalent of 16,201,117 Doritos Locos tacos. And just this last summer, Premier League sides spent a combined $784 million on player transfers — or roughly 1,571,142 iPads. Okay, so maybe those weren’t figures that are easier to understand, but you have to admit the money is pretty staggering.
Unfortunately, most of this investment that’s been drawn into the game is increasingly concentrated in its upper echelons. While the titans of club football have used this increase in funding to evolve into multimillion dollar, international corporations, legions of smaller clubs are rife with financial problems as they try to compete with the increased wages and transfer sums being offered by their wealthier peers. Even those who have previously seen prosperity have been left behind or have mismanaged their fortunes, leaving them ruined: just ask fans of Rangers, Portsmouth and more or less every club in Spain. For every well-to-do club PSG, there are probably twenty clubs struggling to keep their heads above water. The rich have gotten richer, while the poor have gotten poorer… football imitating life once again.
So when two clubs recently announced the ability for the public to buy shares and pump even more money into football, it definitely caught my eye.
The first offering came from around a month or so ago, when Manchester United’s American owner Malcom Glazer floated shares in the club on the New York Stock Exchange (symbol: MANU). After the news broke, I started furiously composing a post outlining the reasons why I thought investing stock in the Red Devils would be a really poor decision. Here was the wealthiest club in the world asking fans to purchase shares in United simply to service the debt saddled on the club by Glazer’s own takeover at Old Trafford in 2005. Not only that, but the shares themselves are nearly worthless B-class shares that feature zero voting rights and the same amount of dividends. Oh, and at the time of writing, they’re currently trading at $12.94 — down nearly 8% since their opening discounted price.
Contrast that with the current offering from Spanish third division side Real Oviedo. If you’re not familiar with the team, odds are you have probably heard of some of their academy graduates such as Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla. And though they were playing in the Primera as recently as the 2001, the Asturian side has plummeted through the Spanish footballing pyramid over the last decade thanks to numerous fiscal set backs. Oviedo’s financial situation became so dire this season that, if unable able to raise €2.5 million in back-owed taxes and player wages, the club would be forced into liquidation by the equally financially obtuse Spanish government. So much like United, the Carbayones decided to appeal to fans to buy stock to raise capital. The major difference being that they were doing so to stave off extinction, not just lower interest payments so the owners can turn a larger profit each year.
Now let’s be honest, buying either Manchester United or Real Oviedo stock is really less of an investment and much more of a donation. The likelihood of seeing a return on either is highly unlikely, meaning you’re pretty much kissing your money goodbye. And though the ability to trade and sell your Manchester United stock will likely be significantly easier, it’s unlikely to see massive gains anytime soon either.
So as a potential football investor — putting aside club allegiance — it really comes down to where you want to put your money. Do you want it put into corporate football or sustaining football?
Without the money raised by selling stock, Real Oviedo will cease to be. That means a community of 224,000 will be left without a local professional football club to support week in and week out, and an academy that’s produced dazzling players will close its doors. Meanwhile without the money raised by offering their shares, Manchester United will continue to challenge for trophies annually. And that means millions of fans around the world will continue to watch the Red Devils play week in and week out. They might not be breaking the bank to sign top-level players like their city neighbors without it, so they’ll have to still bargain buy a “decent” player like Robin van Persie from time to time.
It may not be the most financially sound decision, but I know where I’d put my money. And it’s certainly not in the pockets of the Glazers.