As news filtered out last week of French international Franck Ribery extending his contact with Bayern Munich until 2015, most commentators agreed that this made perfect sense for the German champions, as it would prevent other major clubs from securing the prolific winger’s services for a cut-down fee next summer. What struck me however was just how much the Bavarians needed to pay Ribery to persuade him to sign on the dotted line.
I first noticed this on Twitter when the widely respected journalist Raphael Honigstein, author of the superb “Englischer Fussball”, announced that Ribery’s net salary would increase to €7 million a year (up from €3.75 million). The German press estimated a gross salary of €10 million, which is the highest salary in the club’s history. That’s equivalent to £8.5 million a year or £164,000 a week. Whatever the exact figure, it’s a hell of a lot of money.
Bayern’s colourful president, Uli Hoeness, defended the huge raise, “Do you think he plays for popcorn?” However to place Ribery’s new salary into context, it’s not far behind Lionel Messi (£9.1 million) and is significantly higher than Arsenal’s best paid player Cesc Fabregas (£5.7 million). Let’s get this straight from the start (as Dexys once sang), Franck Ribery is a fine player, whom Bayern sorely missed in the Champions League final, and I am not criticising his abilities for a moment, though his employers probably wish he were injured rather less often.
"Uli Hoeness - pleased as punch"
No, I am more interested in how on earth Bayern can afford to pay such a high salary? Moreover, how does this lucrative remuneration fit in with the notion that clubs in the Bundesliga have to operate within their means? Especially when Christian Seifert, the Chief Executive of the German league, has proudly boasted, “The Bundesliga pay less than 50% of turnover in players’ wages.”
If we analyse Bayern’s financials we should be able to answer these questions and discover whether they generate enough revenue to pay their stars top dollar. As an Arsenal fan, it might also be instructive to compare their accounts with our financials in order to get a sense of perspective, given that the North London club is the poster boy for financial probity in England.
Looking at Bayern’s latest annual accounts (to 30 June 2009), they reported a small pre-tax profit of £1.0 million, though this is no flash in the pan. In fact, this is the 17th successive year that Bayern Munich have produced a profit, which is a notable achievement. It looks to me as if they have a deliberate strategy of operating at a profit, but budget to use all available funds on strengthening their squad, as opposed to Arsenal who made a substantial profit of £39.9 million (even excluding the £5.6 million gains form property sales).
At this stage, I should explain that I have reformatted the German accounts to be in line with the standard British presentation. For example, Bayern’s press release mentioned revenue of €303.8 million, as this included the €14.3 million profit from player sales. Similarly, it highlighted operating profit of €65.5 million, but here they are referring to what Brits call EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation and Amortisation), which can be very misleading in football circles. Do you really get a fair picture of a club’s performance if you exclude the amortisation on player purchases? Or the interest paid on loans (Manchester United, Liverpool)?
Anyway, even using the narrower definition of revenue, Bayern’s turnover is hugely impressive at £246.6 million. This is £21.5 million higher than Arsenal’s £225.1 million, but, to be fair, Bayern do have the fourth highest revenue in Deloitte’s Money League (one place ahead of Arsenal) and are behind only the two Spanish giants (Real Madrid and Barcelona) and the marketing machine known as Manchester United. Bayern are also in a league of their own in Germany, achieving revenue almost double that of the next highest ranked German club, Hamburg.
Bayern’s revenue is even more remarkable, when you consider that the 2008/09 season was not particularly successful by their own high standards. They only finished second in the league and were eliminated at the quarter-final stage in both the Champions League and the German cup. Not too bad you might think, but they won the German double in both the preceding and following seasons. Although they did not qualify for the Champions League in 2007/08, they reached the final this year.
"Hey, our finances are pretty good too"
What is also striking is Bayern’s balanced revenue stream, which is typical of the Bundesliga. According to Christian Seifert, this is a “stable and sustainable business model that relies on three revenue sources”, which is very different to the Premier League, where most teams are heavily dependent on television income.
Arsenal, of course, are an exception in England, as they earn tremendous money from match day income following their move to the Emirates. So Bayern earn much less than Arsenal from both broadcasting and the stadium, but they generate nearly triple (three times!) Arsenal’s commercial revenue.
Bayern’s revenue has grown by over £100 million (78%) in the last six years, which is pretty good, but Arsenal have managed to grow their revenue at an even faster rate (117%), thus closing the gap between the clubs from £34.8 million to £21.5 million. This is probably an appropriate point to note the importance of the exchange rate in such comparisons. For example, if we were to use the Euro-Sterling exchange rate of three years ago (1.48), then Arsenal’s revenue in Sterling terms would be £30 million higher than Bayern’s. As a further dampener, a Bundesliga vice-president, the wonderfully named Peter Peters, believes that the football business “can no longer reckon on growth.”
The TV rights for German domestic football are relatively low compared to other leagues, especially the Premier League, as the German television market is possibly the most competitive in Europe with a host of free-to-air channels. The Bundesliga’s report on “The Economic State of Professional Football” states that the broadcast deal is only worth an average €412 million (£351 million) per year until the 2012/13 season, compared to the Premier League’s £1.2 billion (including the 30% increase from next season). As another comparison, Bayern only received about £20 million for winning the Bundesliga, while Chelsea trousered over £50 million for being victorious in the Premier League. This all helps explain why Bayern earn £14 million less than Arsenal from broadcasting revenue.
On the other hand, Bayern still received a total of £59.3 million broadcasting revenue, as they have done very nicely out of the Champions League. In 2008/09, they received €34.6 million (£29.5 million), the second highest of all teams, despite being knocked-out at the quarter-final stage, as they secured the biggest slice of the TV pool with €21.5m. This apparent anomaly arises because the revenue for the German association only had to be shared between two clubs. In comparison, the English revenue had to be split between four clubs, so Arsenal only earned €26.8 million (£22.8 million), despite progressing a round further. Following Bayern’s achievement in reaching the final of this season’s tournament and the 30% increase in the TV pool, their revenue from the 2009/10 Champions League should have gone up to at least €50 million (£42.6 million).
No, the main reason is ticket prices. While Arsenal’s tickets are just about the most expensive in Europe, Bayern’s tickets are very cheap like all clubs in the Bundesliga (which may be why they have the highest average football crowds in the world). In the 2008/09 season, a ticket for a Bundesliga match cost an average of just over €20 (£18), while fans in the Premier League have to pay over twice as much. As Christian Seifert explained, “It is not in the clubs’ culture so much to raise prices. They are very fan orientated.”
The reason that Bayern can afford such generosity is the almost unbelievable amount they generate from commercial enterprises: £135.7 million, which is an incredible £87.5 million more than Arsenal’s £48.1 million. The North London club should not feel too bad, however, as Bayern earn more commercial revenue than any other football club: even higher than the Spanish giants Real Madrid (£118.6 million) and Barcelona (£95.5 million) and England’s most successful marketers, Manchester United (£70 million). It is with some justification that club Chairman, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, commented, “In terms of sponsorship, FC Bayern remains one of the world’s most successful clubs.”
I have often said that this is an area where Arsenal (and other English clubs) have a big opportunity to grow their revenue without fleecing the fans. New chief executive Ivan Gazidis is acutely aware of the revenue left on the table when the club (understandably) committed itself into long-term contracts with Emirates (stadium naming rights until 2021, shirt sponsorship until 2014) and Nike (shirts until 2014) in order to provide security for the stadium financing, but Bayern’s stratospheric revenue only emphasises the size of the prize. This is why he recently restructured and strengthened his commercial team, including the recruitment of Tom Fox from the NBA as Chief Commercial Officer, to explore new partners and overseas markets.
Bayern have the most lucrative shirt sponsorship deal in the world with long-standing partner, Deutsche Telekom. Currently worth €18 million a season, the contract was recently extended for a further three years with a guaranteed income of €22.5 million. However, the then General Manager, Uli Hoeness, revealed that there was a strong performance-related element on top and the money “will go up if we’re extremely successful internationally. There could be icing on the cake.” Deloittes estimated that this could take the annual earnings close to €30 million a year.
The partnership with Audi was also extended with the sponsorship element worth €110m, which works out to €10 million a season. The shirt supplier, Adidas, contribute another €4.5 million a year, and the club make a lot of money from the sales of replica shirts, especially for the major stars like Ribery, Arjen Robben and Miroslav Klose. In truth, Bayern has a whole raft of premium partners, including Coca Cola, Lufthansa, Nikon, Siemens and Sony Ericsson.
"We know a commercial opportunity"
Amazingly, Bayern’s commercial revenue had dropped from the highs of the previous year, as the difficult economic climate caused sponsors to tighten their belts. Commercial revenue had grown considerably in 2008 after the club bought out the 50 per cent of the Allianz Arena owned by 1860 Munich, who play their matches at the same ground, to take full ownership of the stadium. The €11 million payment saved their city neighbours from the threat of bankruptcy, but, according to Rummenigge, “was not done because of brotherhood or sympathy. It’s in our own self-interest.” You can say that again, as revenue from the stadium company was worth €35 million to Bayern, thanks to naming rights, stadium tours, rent, hospitality and catering.
Although Arsenal’s total revenue may be £21.5 million less than Bayern’s, they more than compensate (and live up to their parsimonious reputation) with their costs being £39.1 million lower. As always, the wage bill is the highest element in expenses with Bayern spending more on salaries (£118.6 million) than Arsenal (£104 million). Moreover, Arsenal’s wage to turnover ratio is also lower (46 per cent against 48 per cent), even though this is a fundamental principle for the Bundesliga.
"Hair Becker (Herr Becker - geddit?)"
Boris Becker, who is bizarrely a Bayern Munich director (Tim Henman for the Arsenal board, anyone?), said, “We wouldn’t even consider bidding £100 million for a player like Kaka, because it is irresponsible.” However, the club has still signed some big names, as explained by the former England international, Tony Woodcock, who played in Germany during the 1980s, “They have attracted Franck Ribery, Mario Gomez and Arjen Robben. To get them, you have to offer good rates. Bayern realise this.” This was supported by the list of the top 50 footballers’ salaries, which included four from Bayern.
However, their approach appears to be a balanced one, as an unofficial list of the club’s payroll suggests that other players are on comparatively low salaries, especially those developed in-house. Furthermore, after splashing out over £60m last summer on new players, director of sport Christian Nerlinger said, “We are going to try to reduce the wages. The wages have gone through the roof and therefore we have got to get our message through to the players that a new contract does not necessarily mean a pay rise.” True to his word, Bayern offloaded four players in the January transfer window, including the very highly paid Luca Toni.
Having said that, even Nerlinger admitted that Ribery could be an exception to the rule, because “every case has to be dealt with individually and according to the market.” Bayern’s selective approach was confirmed by Rummenigge, “We’ll never pursue a risky business strategy, but we will continue to sign high quality players. We’ll invest in quality, not quantity. We’d rather have one more Ribery than three surplus players.” Some Arsenal fans might prefer their club to tweak the youth policy by also signing a few more world-class players to combine with the home-produced talent.
"How much you paying me?"
Bayern’s higher player amortisation costs (£28.3 million against £23.9 million) indicate their greater willingness to spend their cash. Remember, this expense reflects how much money has been spent on buying new players. The accounting treatment here is to write-off the costs associated with buying players over the length of their contracts, based on the assumption that a player has no value after his contract expires, since he can then leave on a “free”. Having said that, Bayern’s amortisation is still much lower than most other big clubs, so they’ve hardly been spending like Imelda Marcos at Jimmy Choo’s.
Indeed, Bayern are (again like Arsenal) to an extent a selling club, making £12.2 million profit on player sales. This may have been lower than Arsenal’s £23.2 million, but it should be noted that Bayern benefited from an “enormous transfer surplus” of £28 million the year before, compared to Arsenal’s £26 million in the same period. However, they’re not afraid to play hardball in the transfer market. When Ribery was linked to Manchester United and Real Madrid last summer, Uli Hoeness joked, “We will only negotiate under certain conditions, namely when another club does something crazy. €50 million would only get one of his legs.”
Craziness is the very antithesis of the German model with the Bundesliga strictly regulating its clubs. In order to obtain a licence that allows them to play in the league, clubs have to submit detailed information about their budgets and expenditure and in effect prove that they are financially stable. There are strict rules controlling the level of debt that each club can have and the amount of money that can be spent on players’ wages.
"Arsenal have some stars too"
There is some concern that this financial caution has a price, namely that it limits the ability of the German clubs to compete with their big-spending English counterparts, who are permitted to take on loads of debt and pay their players high salaries without fear of intervention from the Premier League. Given the relative lack of success in the Champions League in the last decade with only one German team reaching the final (Bayer Leverkusen in 2002), those critics might have a point, though Bayern would appear to have blown it out of the water this season. The improvement might well be due to the decline of Sterling, which contributed to the dramatic reduction in players moving to the Premier League last summer.
There are occasional detractors in Germany too with the Hannover president, Martin Kind, claiming, “The rule means the loss of many Bundesliga clubs' ability to compete nationally and internationally. And in some ways it prevents further development of German football, especially those clubs who play in the lower half of the Bundesliga, as they do not have enough financial resources.” However, he seems to be a lone voice, as all the other clubs in the Bundesliga voted against his proposal to modify the regulations.
Some English supporters might wish that a similar system had been in place in England, as their clubs have been financially embarrassed – and worse. The Bundesliga’s Chief Executive beautifully summed up these clubs’ willingness to gamble on their future, “It's a completely crazy thing to burn billions of Euros so that one club can win the Champions League. In Germany we call it the rat race. No matter how fast the rat is running, it's still one piece of cake.”
"Seifert - a good Christian"
One little known aspect of the German licencing system is that clubs also have to run a youth academy, which is the main reason why Bayern fielded four homegrown players in the Champions League final: Philipp Lahm, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Holger Badstuber and Thomas Muller.
This conservative approach is greatly assisted by the German ownership model, which is essentially that football clubs are sporting associations owned by their members. Up until the late 1990s, all Bundesliga clubs were 100 per cent owned by members (or fans) who had paid to be part of the club, e.g. Bayern has over 150,000 registered members. This approach was modified because of the fears that this traditional stance would indeed limit the clubs’ ability to compete with their European rules, hence the advent of the so-called “50+1” rule, whereby the members must own a minimum of 50 per cent of the shares plus a deciding vote. Although this still prevents an unwelcome owner from taking control, it allows considerable scope for private individuals or businesses to invest in the club.
The more astute among you will by now be asking: what about Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen? Aren’t they owned by Volkswagen and, er, Bayer respectively? This is true, but Christian Seifert has an answer for this too, “If a company is supporting football in a club for more than 20 years, then it can acquire the majority. The idea is that a company has by then proved to fans and the league that they take their engagement in the Bundesliga seriously, that it's not just a fancy toy.”
"Chairman of the Board"
This continuity is also clearly seen in Bayern Munich’s leadership. In fact, most of the management cadre comprises former players: the legendary “Kaiser”, Franz Beckenbauer, was the club’s president until last year; his replacement, Uli Hoeness, was the club’s General Manager since 1979; Karl-Heinz Rummenigge is the Chairman; while Christian Nerlinger is the new boy, trying to fill the large hole left by Hoeness climbing up the corporate ladder. The club is owned 81% by its members, but has two important shareholders from the business world, both with 9.09%. Adidas acquired their stake for €77 million back in 2002, while Audi bought their shares last year for €90 million (bringing their total commitment to €200 million when the sponsorship is included).
These cash injections have been used to help pay off Bayern’s loans quicker than planned. What’s that I hear you say? You were under the impression that Bayern had no debt? Well, it’s certainly true that the football club has no debt. Indeed, Finance Director Karl Hopfner stated, “We can state without reservation that the AG has no debts or bank liabilities whatsoever.” However, there are two companies that form Bayern Munich’s consolidated accounts (FC Bayern Munchen AG and Allianz Arena Munchen Stadion GmbH) and all the group’s debt is in the Allianz Arena company. To be fair, this is “good” debt, used to finance the €346 million needed to build the stadium. The annual interest and repayment costs amount to around €30 million, which is why Bayern’s finance costs are £10m higher than Arsenal’s.
However, at the last AGM, Hopfner informed the shareholders that €163 million had already been repaid: €90 million from Allianz itself with the remainder being funded by Adidas’ equity injection. According to Rummenigge, the €90 million investment from Audi “will (also) largely be used as repayments on the Allianz Arena, so our stadium will be free of debt considerably earlier than originally planned”, which will free up an additional €30 million a year. This lead to Hoeness bragging, “When we’ve paid off the debt for the stadium, we’ll be the richest club in Europe.”
Credit where it’s due: in his own larger-than-life manner, Hoeness has presided over a hugely successful financial transformation at Bayern Munich. In his final statement before taking over the presidency, he rather more modestly said, “It is very important for me to be handing over the club in a sound financial condition.” His thoughts were echoed by fellow director, Boris Becker, “Sustainability is very important. As a football club you never want to be dependent on one rich guy, because after a couple of years, what if he loses interest in the club? Or what if his valuation crashes on the stock market?” Who would have thought that “Boom Boom” could speak so much sense? Game, set and match to the Germans.