STOCK: Should we invest in football clubs?

Juventus Turin, AS Roma, Borussia Dortmund, Olympique Lyonnais… Football fans will recognize these prestigious clubs that have won the greatest national and European competitions.

But what about their value on financial markets ?

Football clubs have an economy that functions like any other business: revenues (counters, advertising, radio and television rights, derived products, etc.) and expenses (salaries, player transfers, facilities, etc.) in order to obtain a result. To finance their expenses, some clubs in the world’s leading popular sport have decided to use public savings. Like any good investor, we analyzed whether it is reasonable to grow your savings by investing in these publicly traded clubs.

A not very honourable market

Since February 1992, the STOXX Europe Football stock market index has been used to track the evolution of the main stocks of listed European football clubs. The index is currently composed of 22 stocks including Italian clubs (Juventus Turin, AS Roma), Turks (Fenerbahce, Galatasaray, Besiktas) and the only French club (Olympique Lyonnais).

bourse-football
Evolution of STOXX Europe Football since February 1992 (Source: stoxx.com)

Since its inception in 1992, the football index has performed only 11% while the CAC 40 has performed +171% and the Euro STOXX 50 +203%. The growth of the football market is therefore not evolving to the same extent as the main European companies.

After experiencing strong growth, reaching its highest point in January 1997 at 507 points, the STOXX Europe Football Index fell 79% and has remained stable around 100 points since 2002. We are therefore dealing here with values that are not able to take off and whose trend is difficult to determine.

A heavy dependence on the economic model

The value of a football club share varies mainly according to the sports results and TV rights, which represent more than 50% of a club’s income. Other elements can also have an influence on the price of a football club share such as player transfers, infrastructure financing or even a simple injury to one of the club’s players.

The case of the action of Olympique Lyonnais is very demonstrative of this economic dependence. In February 2007, Olympique Lyonnais Groupe (OL Group) was listed on the stock exchange at a price of 24 euros per share. The objective is to provide funding for the construction of its new stadium of lights, which was scheduled for delivery in 2010. At that time, the OL was the seventh consecutive French champion and was on the first European stage taking part every year in the most prestigious of European competitions: the Champions League. Everything seems to be smiling for this club, which is building trust with investors. However, from 2008 onwards the club lost its French championship title, did not even qualify for the Champions League in 2012, which limited revenue, without forgetting the value of its players bought at a lower gold price, and to top it all off, the delivery of the Stade des Lumières was postponed until 2014. As a result, between 2010 and 2015 the club recorded a cumulative net loss of 140 million euros. Its price will then reach a historic low of €1.68 on April 8, 2013, representing a 93% drop in its value since its introduction. Today, its price is estimated at around 3 euros following better results and a better financial situation. But it will be difficult for the share price to reach its initial value as the football market is so uncertain.

A difficult future

There is a danger to the values of listed football clubs. Indeed, there has been a trend in recent years towards the takeover of the main football clubs by billionaires (Roman Abramovitch bought Chelsea FC in 2003, Frank McCourt bought Olympique de Marseille in 2016…), funds (Paris Saint-Germain has been under the control of a Qatari sovereign fund since 2011, Manchester city was bought by an Abu Dhabi investment fund in 2008…) or even consortia (Milan AC was acquired by a Chinese consortium in 2016).This phenomenon is leading to a new era in the world of football that will put listed clubs in difficulty. These “new billionaire clubs” will spend billions on transfer markets and infrastructure construction, which will put these clubs at the forefront of the world. It will then be difficult for listed clubs with a much lower budget than these billionaire clubs to win titles and act on the transfer market. Indeed, to win the greatest titles, these famous billionaire clubs offer themselves the best players in the world at golden prices (Neymar at PSG for 222M€ is a perfect example). With player prices rising sharply, as are player salaries, it is difficult for listed clubs to operate in this market because of the risk of very high costs, which will not make their financial situation any easier. The gap between these billionaire clubs and listed clubs is widening and the chances of winning the biggest titles for the latter are narrowing. The only way to restore market confidence is to make strong capital gains on the sale of talented players by taking advantage of rising prices on the transfer market.

Restoring the coat of arms by diversifying its activity

Clubs may also have used financial diversification to restore market confidence by acquiring, for example, leisure-oriented companies or fitness centres, as did the Danish club FC Copenhagen, which subsequently saw its turnover increase 47-fold between 1997 and 2008. Its share price then exploded with a 700% increase. Revenue directly from the club’s sports results has become a very small minority. A way to eliminate uncertainty of results. This is what the major Turkish clubs in Istanbul do perfectly. For example, Fenerbahçe, which owns Fenerium, a clothing chain with 64 stores worldwide, generates a profit of around €30 million. Its rival Galatasaray holds a gigantic real estate portfolio. Thanks to this diversification, these clubs have seen their shares increase and have been able to distribute dividends to shareholders.

Conclusion

Looking back, it is very objectively clear that the sporting aspect alone is not a predominant criterion in the choice of investment in a football club share. Indeed, the only criterion for future sporting results is the uncertainty so detested by the markets. However, times are changing and club leaders are realizing that if they want to finance themselves through markets, they will have to diversify their activities. This step therefore consists in transforming the club into a “pseudo-enterprise” in which the result can be more easily evaluated. A large part of the uncertainty will therefore be eliminated, which will certainly attract more investors in the future.

 

References

L’express Stoxx Lesechos

Dario PETROVSKI

Dario PETROVSKI


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