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What does private equity see in football?

By Matthew Brooker

10 Mar 2023 · 5 min read

Editor's Note

Bloomberg columnist Matthew Brooker can't understand why so many hard-nosed dealmakers are drawn to the soccer industry. To him, it just looks like a giant money-sucking vanity project.

It's easy to understand why superwealthy individuals or oil-rich nations might want to buy football clubs. There's the glamour of associating with a sport followed by billions of fans and, for governments with a challenging public profile, the chance to project a softer, more cuddly image. The appeal for hard-nosed dealmakers focused on financial returns is harder to explain.

Consider the English Premier League. The world's most popular domestic soccer competition is a morass of profligate spending with an out-of-control cost structure. The 20 elite-tier clubs posted aggregate pretax losses of £1.66 billion ($2 billion) in the pandemic-disrupted seasons ending in 2020 and 2021. The league as a whole pays unsustainable wages, based on the European football regulator's estimate that these costs shouldn't go above 70% of revenue if clubs are to break even. The president of Spain's La Liga has denounced record transfer-fee spending bankrolled by rich owners of money-losing Premier League teams as financial "doping."

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