Why Football Is Not As Big As You Think

Football is commonly referred to as the biggest

sport in the world.

But is it really as big as we think?

This is the revenue of the major football

leagues combined.

This is the revenue of Disney.

And this is Apple.

Welcome to Athletic Interest.

In this video we will put the size of football

into perspective.

The NFL, one of the most popular sports on

the planet, has around 400 million fans.

Tennis has an impressive 1 billion fans.

Football, or “soccer”, as some of you

like to call it in the comments…

Football has a mind boggling three and a half

billion fans.

17 of the top 20 most popular athletes on

social media are footballers, with Ronaldo

being the single most?

followed person on instagram.

Even retired footballers like David Beckham,

Ronaldinho and Gareth Bale (a joke) can boast

a greater number of followers than the likes

of Lewis Hamilton, Steph Curry and Connor


277 million, nope that is not the amount of

debt Barcelona have accumulated in the last

week, but rather their current follower count.

They are the most followed team of any sport

on social media, and lead a total of 17 football

clubs that make up the 20 most followed sports


With billions of fans, football can clearly

consider itself the largest sport on the planet…

this has been Athletic Interest, thank you

for watching…

Wait a second!

We are nowhere near discovering the true size

of football.

Football is not only a sport, it is also a

worldwide entertainment product.

To get a more complete understanding of the

‘size’ of football, we have to see how

it compares to rivals in the entertainment


The industry for live music is stronger than


In 2019 the top 100 tours sold almost 60 million


In that same period, the top 80 teams in football

sold around 50 million match tickets.

While football may be comfortable rubbing

shoulders with the music industry, how does

it compare to the true king of entertainment…

Mickey Mouse.

Luke Skywalker, Homer Simpson and both captains.

That’s just a taste of the numerous household

names that find themselves under the watchful

eye of Disney.

Mickey seems intent to get his white gloved

hands on everything in entertainment.

Disney attractions have welcomed over double

(150m) the amount of visitors than their nearest


Almost half a billion tickets were sold for

Disney owned movies in the US, that is nearly

40% of the entire box office in 2019.

While the top football league’s cannot compete

in terms of live attendance Mickey might be

a little jealous of the global reach of football.

The Premier League claims to have streamed

live football into 1 billion homes in 2019,

with over 3 billion people watching league


You may have noticed that we have barely compared

football with its rivals based on another

quite important metric…revenue!

While the media often paint football as a

corrupt oasis of money, they have failed to

notice that football doesn’t make anywhere

near as much as you might expect.

If all major leagues and federations were

to merge into one company their revenue would

place them on rank 212 in the world leaderboard,

just between these two companies.

Just to remind you that is from over 3.5 billion

potential customers.

If you still think that 33 billion euros is

an impressive return let’s look at a few

other examples:

From 2.89 billion users Facebook generates

over 7080 billion euros a year.

Apple is said to have around 580 million active

customers worldwide and recorded 236 billion

in sales in 2020.

HSBC has just under 40 million customers and

still managed 44 billion in 2020.

While it is unfair to compare football leagues

to the money making machines that are banking

and tech, football is clearly struggling to

maximise revenues from its massive fanbase.

When Steve Jobs unveiled the Ipod in 2001

he revolutionized the digital music space

and dramatically boosted the revenues of Apple.

This is the magic of the Tech industry, there

are no boundaries to what you can invent and

companies constantly innovate to boost revenues.

Football is a little more conservative.

The sport has rules that have been followed

for over one hundred years and clubs are unable

to alter the product to make it more attractive.

In fact, football clubs are limited to three

major revenue streams: Broadcasting, Commercial

and Matchday.

Matchday revenue is limited by stadium capacity

and location.

Football clubs may have huge global audiences,

but only a fraction of the fans in India or

America will be able to make the pilgrimage

to Manchester or Milan.

Broadcasting revenue in the Premier League

increased from 45 million in 92 to almost

3 billion in 2020..

Impressive, but that still only equates to

around 1 euro per fan per season.

More money is made by the middleman: TV stations

who capitalize on footballs’ reach by selling

subscriptions and advertisements.

Commercial contracts also suffer from the

middleman problem.

Take shirt sales for example.

Clubs may charge upwards of 100 euros for

a match shirt, but the big chunk goes to Nike,

Adidas and Puma.

Clubs are lucky to take home 10% of the sale


With player salaries and transfer costs on

the rise, it might feel odd to think about

how football can maximize revenues.

But while huge amounts of money are flowing

from fans to football, the clubs themselves

are only getting a tiny cut, with TV companies

and sponsors taking the rest.

And compared to the CEOs of the biggest companies,

even the salaries of Ronaldo and Messi don’t

seem so crazy anymore.

So what can football clubs do to close the


Mickey might have the answer.

Not long ago, if you wanted to watch a Disney

movie, you would have to sign up for multiple

services such as Netflix or Sky Movies, costing

you hundreds of euros a year.

Disney realised that they could make a lot

more money if they bundled all of their content

into one package and offered it to fans through

their own streaming service.

In November 2019, Disney Plus was born.

They can now boast over 116 million users

across the globe.

What Disney has done here is vertical integration.

This is when a company takes control over

a new stage of the production or distribution

of a product.

In Disney’s case, they were already producing

the product, but were allowing other companies

like Netflix to profit from distribution.

With Disney Plus, the company has cut out

the middleman and will take a larger share

of the profits.

In football, clubs are attempting to get around

the middleman, and closer to the fans, by

becoming media companies.

MUTV, Barca TV + and the Fifth Stand app are

just some examples of media services that

clubs have launched.

For a small fee, or even free of charge, clubs

give fans around the world access to exclusive

content, breaking news and live streams.

Not only does this give clubs a direct link

to their fanbase, it allows them to accumulate

incredible amounts of data.

With a deeper understanding of what makes

their fans tick, clubs are able to offer lucrative

targeted advertising to their sponsors and

some clubs have even started to use this data

to boost sales of merchandise.

Which is another area where clubs are keen

to cut out the middleman.

In 2021, Wolverhampton Wanderers rejected

a new kit deal with Adidas in favour of the

relatively unknown British brand Castore.

While Castore are technically a middleman

between Wolves and the fans, their relationship

with the club is drastically different than

found in traditional kit deals.

Wolverhampton Wanderers will take responsibility?

for most of the supply chain,?

including distribution,

allowing them to cut costs and take a bigger

slice of the sale price.

So how big is football?

From an economic standpoint, football’s

revenue is surprisingly negligible.

But in terms of popularity and reach, it is

the biggest sport in the world.

And that reach creates trickle down effects

that are very hard to measure.

Hundreds of jobs in the media, shoe or event

industry are created because of football,

but are not always counted in official statistics

as part of the “football industry”.

While the clubs and leagues might not be able

to compete with the biggest companies in the

world, they are superior when it comes to

entertaining and inspiring whole generations.

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