Professional soccer in the United States, a country with no tradition in the sport, for the first time surpassed that of Brazil in terms of business. In 2022, the revenue of the 28 teams that competed in the MLS —the US league— totaled US$ 1.6 billion (R$ 8.1 billion) against US$ 1.1 billion (R$ 5.6 billion) of the 20 clubs in Série A of the Brasileirão.
The scenario was outlined by the specialized consultancy Sports Value, which carried out a survey on the financial performance of the sport in both countries.
The turnaround reflects a policy of massive investment in US soccer, which, in less than two decades, has attracted the preference of young people, previously fond mainly of basketball and baseball.
Data from the Gallup research institute reveal that, currently, 25 million Americans are dedicated to soccer.
The modality exploded among young people, especially girls. Their strength is reflected in the team, which has already won four world titles for the USA.
Despite this, there are still no women’s teams disputing relevant professional championships, as is the case in the rest of the world. The revenue, according to the consultancy, is negligible.
The interest of Americans in football attracts 11% of people under 16 years of age, the same audience that seeks basketball and almost twice as many of those who opt for baseball (6%).
This result is expressed in business. Recently, MLS signed a deal to broadcast league games with Apple TV. It will be US$ 250 million (R$ 1.3 billion) per season.
The MLS audience is young and connected with streaming broadcasts. Before, the conventional income with the transmission of football games —by all vehicles—did not exceed US$ 100 million (R$ 507 million) per year.
The US has already emerged as the third most relevant country for FIFA, the international football federation, in terms of audience generation. It loses to China and Brazil.
The country will host the next World Cup, in 2026, shared with Mexico and Canada.
“The data reveal that, despite being five times world champion and boasting some of the greatest stars, Brazil is skating when it comes to transforming sport into money”, says Amir Somoggi, partner at Sports Value.
“The MLS professional league helped a lot to popularize soccer [futebol] in the country [EUA] and today, just to enter the league, the investor needs to pay US$ 325 million [R$ 1,6 bilhão]”, says Somoggi. “That amount was no more than US$ 50 million [R$ 254 milhões] ten years ago.”
For him, Brazilian clubs are slowly advancing in the professionalization of their management to make the sport a source of foreign exchange.
Indebtedness, lack of proper structures (stadiums and training centers) and resources to pay for high-level players end up compromising sports results and scaring away fans.
But Brazilian teams are currently teaming up to form a professional league similar to the MLS — which in the US helped boost the sport among younger people.
By Sports Value’s calculations, alone, this movement could add R$ 7 billion in new revenues in up to five years. If they can only define a new game schedule, it will be R$ 4 billion.
According to club leaders, negotiations are progressing. Palmeiras, for example, is one of the defenders of the model.
“We need to structure [a liga] to reach a revenue level consistent with our expectations regarding foreign markets”, said the club in a statement.
“It is essential for us to modernize management, stadiums and training centres, in addition to reducing clubs’ indebtedness in order to make cash flow viable.”
Today, according to the consultancy, the 30 largest professional clubs in the country —including the 20 that compete in Série A— are worth BRL 33.2 billion, a growth of 31% post-pandemic. The value does not consider the debts of R$ 7.4 billion of this group.
“If these Brazilian clubs were negotiated together, that would be the amount to be charged. It is very little compared to the potential of Brazilian football”, says Somoggi.
“Some clubs have more assets, such as a stadium or CT [centro de treinamento]. Others have greater investment in players. There is also the value of the brands of the teams. The evaluation considers the individual reality of each club. Financial numbers were updated by the IPCA [inflação].”
In the survey, the sum of assets (equity) was R$ 10.8 billion, without the value of intangibles (player squad). Club brands added another R$8.9 billion and professional and youth players added another R$9.6 billion. Sports rights related to competitions in which clubs participate yielded BRL 4 billion.
“Clubs that own modern assets are worth more. Controlling their own assets also makes a difference. Even with smaller fans and lower brand value, a stadium is very representative in valuation [avaliação econômica]. Own a training center or a mall, maintain a squad with good players [com passe mais valioso] has a lot of weight in the final evaluation.”
A factor with a negative impact on the club’s value is indebtedness. Part of the clubs’ debts are tax-related to the federal government – something around R$2.8 billion, an amount that is being negotiated under Profut, a program to clean up the teams’ tax liabilities, created in 2015.
The most valuable in the country
Flamengo is now the leader in the ranking, valued at R$ 3.8 billion. The club recovered from a 6% drop in its economic valuation during the pandemic —it was quoted at BRL 2.8 billion, in 2020— and grew mainly based on the strength of its brand, which, alone, is worth BRL 1, 4 billion.
Sought, the club did not respond until the publication of this report.
Palmeiras, in second place, with BRL 3.4 billion, grew 45% compared to 2021, due to its performance on the field, which generated high TV revenues and prizes in dollars. It has the most expensive players in the country, according to the survey.
“We need to satisfy our universe of fans with victories and titles. Football is the driving force. That is what strengthens the virtuous cycle of our business. That is why we try to keep competitive squads balancing the budget of expenses and investments. When a club achieves sports conquests, these revenues are leveraged”, said the club.
According to Sports Value, last year, Atlético-MG passed Corinthians and is now the third most valuable in Brazil (R$ 3.1 billion).
This growth was the result of a series of factors: increased revenues and the high value of players, as well as investments in real estate — it is a partner in one of the main malls in Belo Horizonte and is building its own stadium. In total assets, including the team, it is the largest in Brazil, with R$ 1.6 billion.
The second largest crowd in the country, Corinthians is valued at R$2.9 billion. The club is third in total assets, but its squad is worth half of rival Palmeiras.
Highlights in the survey, teams such as Juventude, Chapecoense, Botafogo, Atlético-GO and Fortaleza recorded the highest growth in their economic assessment.
For the president of Fortaleza, Marcelo Paz, the formula is the professionalization of the command. The club, valued at BRL 545 million, rose two positions in the Sports Value ranking. [de uma empresa]”, said Paz to the Sheet.
The director claims that he imposed a system of goals and performance for the club’s board.
“When I took office, in 2017, there were 7,500 members. Today, there are 42,000. Our retail sales (with items bearing the club’s brand) brought in R$800,000 and now they are worth R$30 million [por ano].”
A good part of this result is due to the good management of the “basic product” —the players. “We prioritize the sporting result and much of our result comes from there. We left Serie B for Serie A, we received direct revenue for that. In 2021, we reached the semifinal [da Copa do Brasil]. Last year, on Wednesdays. It all makes money.”
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