European soccer made a strong financial recovery in the 2020-21 season despite games being played without fans for the majority of the year as revenues grew by 10%, according to the latest report by international professional services firm Deloitte.

The company’s 31st Annual Review of Football Finance revealed that the European soccer market as a whole saw revenue increase by €2.5 billion ($2.6 billion) to €27.6 billion in 2020-21 (from €25.2 billion in 2019-20) despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the campaign.

This was mainly attributed to deferred broadcast revenues and the successful staging of Euro 2020, delayed to the summer of 2021.

In 2019-20, the pandemic saw European leagues' revenue decrease for the first time since 2008-09.

Revenue in the ‘big five’ European leagues (England, Spain, Germany, Italy, and France) – representing a 57% share of the European soccer market – grew by 3% to €15.6 billion.

Mainly attributable to deferred broadcast revenue, English Premier League club revenues grew by 8% to €5.5 billion in 2020-21. By contrast, the German Bundesliga, which experienced the lowest uplift in aggregate broadcast revenue of the big five in 2020-21, reported a 6% fall in revenue to €3 billion.

Revenues in Spain’s La Liga also fell by 6% to €2.9 billion. Spanish clubs collectively recorded a loss in operating profits for the first since the Deloitte Sports Business Group began tracking this data on a club-by-club level, in the 2013-14 season.

Deloitte’s report found that clubs in Italy’s Serie A experienced the “greatest percentage growth in aggregate revenues” of any big five league in 2020-21, increasing by 23% to a record high of €2.5 billion.

Driven by a 48% increase in broadcast revenue due to significant deferrals, it is the only league to have reported higher combined revenues than before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Revenues for clubs in France’s Ligue 1 grew by just 1% during the 2020-21 season to €1.6 billion, as the curtailment rather than postponement of the competition led to “very limited deferred revenue being recognized.”

Overall, Deloitte projects revenues for the top five leagues will surpass pre-pandemic levels in 2021-22.

Among the big five, the Premier League was the only one to report improved total operating profits in the year, cumulatively increasing from £60 million ($72 million) to £479 million.

When excluding the Premier League, the big five reported increased total operating losses during the year, from €461 million to €901 million.

Tim Bridge, lead partner in the sports business group at Deloitte, said: “Clubs across Europe played a significant proportion of matches behind closed doors or with reduced capacity during the 2020-21 season which caused an almost complete loss of matchday revenue.

“It’s testament to the resilience of the industry, the value driven by broadcast deals, and the success of the Euros that the European football market has achieved tenacious growth, in revenue terms, over the past year.

“However, it is important not to overlook the loss-making position of many clubs. The impact of the pandemic fundamentally changed the financial management of European football, with leagues and clubs having to seek external investment and responding to a shift in trends around transfer spending and club operations.

“Leaps made to boost financial sustainability through new UEFA regulations and to professionalize the women’s game will challenge clubs to break from tradition, potentially boosting profitability in a notoriously loss-making industry and creating a more inclusive environment for all. It is an exciting period, but one to be well prepared for.”

Despite matchday revenue falling to just £31 million, Premier League club revenues increased by 8% to £4.9 billion in 2020-21, following the league’s first-ever drop in income in the previous season.

This increase has been put down to the reported broadcast rebate of £330 million which suppressed 2019-20 revenue, and the deferral of some broadcast income from the 2019-20 season into the 2020-21 financial period.

While operating profits in Premier League clubs increased, pre-tax losses remained significantly high despite decreasing from £991 million to £669 million.

This is the third consecutive year that top-flight English clubs have reported pre-tax losses, with only four clubs reporting a pre-tax profit in 2020-21.

Overall, Premier League clubs’ net debt at the end of the season increased 4% to £4.1 billion (£3.9 billion in 2020).

Deloitte predicts that a return of fans to full stadia, new broadcast deals, and improved commercial deals will boost Premier League revenues to exceed £6 billion in the 2022-23 season.

Bridge continued: “As the Premier League enters its fourth decade, it’s further ahead of the competition than ever before, having emerged from the pandemic without as significant an increase in net debt as many might have expected.

“The stark reality, however, is that the league last broke even at a pre-tax level in the 2017-18 season, highlighting the crucial need for strong governance and financial planning in the years ahead.”

Clubs in England’s second-tier EFL Championship generated combined revenues of £600 million in 2020-21, a decrease of £78 million (12%) compared to 2019-20.

This was largely due to clubs’ matchday revenues falling by £101 million (from £166 million in 2018-19 to £16 million in 2020-21), as the majority of matches in the 2020-21 season were played behind closed doors or with restricted attendances.

Deloitte’s analysis also highlights a surge in investment across Europe’s big five leagues. In 2021, 15 investments in clubs across the leagues took place, more than in 2019 and 2020 combined (12).

The vast majority (87%) of investments were made by high-net-worth individuals and private equity firms, with more than two-thirds of investments being made from the US.

Multi-club ownership (MCO) has also grown in popularity, with over 70 MCOs now thought to be in existence, more than double the amount only five years ago (28).

In total, nine of the 20 Premier League clubs operate within a MCO model.

Sam Boor, sports M&A advisory lead in Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, said: “Football is proving an attractive opportunity for a growing pool of international investors, whose confidence has been buoyed by clubs’ recovery post-Covid.

“To ensure that new investment brings value to all – those on the pitch, in the stands, and in the boardrooms – the importance of responsible investment, which protects the financial and operational sustainability of clubs, cannot be overemphasized.”

Despite being unable to perform the same audit on women’s soccer, Deloitte noted how it is entering a “rapid growth era.”

The recent UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 sold the most tickets in the tournament’s history (500,000), and a record 17.4 million viewers tuned into England’s victory in the final against Germany on public-service broadcaster the BBC.

The 87,192 attendance at Wembley Stadium in London was a record figure for a Euros final across both the men’s and women’s editions.

Commercial was the largest revenue stream for women's clubs, bringing in over 50% of total income, with teams reporting an increase of 30% overall in 2020-21.

Broadcast revenue grew by over 20% with the English Women's Super League securing an £8 million rights deal with the BBC and pay-TV giant Sky, increasing viewership by 285% in its first year.

European soccer’s governing body UEFA believes the commercial value of the women’s game across Europe could reach €686 million by 2033 with the fanbase for the game potentially rising from 144 million to 328 million across that period.

Deloitte’s report stated: “We are witnessing women’s football clubs and leagues breaking the mould, forging a system of unique identities, fanbases, and business models, unconstrained by the legacy structures of the men’s game.

“The game’s stakeholders are poised to benefit from a windfall that will facilitate further investment in professionalization and commercialization that has the potential to improve profitability.

“The women’s game now stands on its own as a proudly differentiated product, and we will increasingly see the global football industry looking to learn from its achievements.”