Brand Finance Football 50 2017 Exclusive: Manchester United hold off Real Madrid to retain title of most valuable brand in world football

Ross McLean
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Manchester United's Europa League victory, which secured Champions League football next season, was pivotal to them retaining their title of the world's most valuable brand (Source: Getty)

Manchester United have retained their status as the club with the most valuable brand in world football for a second successive year despite the power of Real Madrid reaching an all-time high.

United’s qualification to the Champions League, achieved courtesy of last month’s victory over Ajax in the Europa League final, was pivotal in ensuring they remained top of Brand Finance’s Football 50 list, which is published today.

Despite an underwhelming sixth-placed Premier League finish, United’s commercial nous and ability to strike lucrative sponsorship deals across industry sectors and national territories secured a brand value above $1bn – $1.73bn to be precise – for the third consecutive year.

La Liga winners Real, who were crowned champions of Europe for a record 12th time on Saturday, finished second behind United despite usurping the previously untouchable Barcelona and taking top spot in Brand Finance’s Brand Strength Index.

Barcelona, Premier League champions Chelsea, whose brand value slipped after their turbulent on-field showing during the 2015-16 campaign, and perennial German title-winners Bayern Munich complete the top five of the most valuable brands.

English clubs continue to lead the way when it comes to commercialising their brand and the Premier League can boast six of the top 10 most valuable. In addition to United and Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham all feature.

Failure to return to Europe’s elite club competition would have damaged United significantly and affected their revenues and brand exposure next season. As it is, qualification all but secures United as the planet’s most valuable brand in 12 months’ time.

“There is not enough Real could do in the space of a year to make up the commercial deficit,” said Brand Finance director Robert Haigh.

“Our estimation is that, under Jose Mourinho, Manchester United are likely to retain a Champions League position next season. This time next year, United are fairly certain for top spot again.

“But we did feel they were at risk this year. However, they have done enough of all the right things to protect their position commercially. Essentially, by qualifying for the Champions League they have secured all the necessary financial revenues.

“That said, continuing to finish outside of the top four would put them at risk, both from a direct financial point of view and from a reputational perspective as it would be harder to attract the top-tier players.

“A lack of significant on-field achievement would see a gradual decay of the brand, although they do seem to have an enduring power and any decay of the pure brand would be over the long term.”

Brand Finance, the leading international brand valuation and strategy consultancy, uses a wide range of factors to calculate both a club’s brand value and brand rating.

The brand rating reflects the image of the club as the public would perceive it, and takes into account reputation, heritage, on-pitch performance, and how aware people are of them.

That brand rating is then combined with revenue, both current and projected, to estimate a brand value.

Despite Real’s continental dominance and the strength of their brand – 96.1 on Brand Finance’s index – currently having no equal, Los Blancos still trail in United’s wake. Their brand value is calculated at $1.42bn.

Juventus v Real Madrid - UEFA Champions League Final
Real Madrid beat Juventus to win the Champions League on Saturday (Source: Getty)

While Real have blockbuster commercial deals of their own, such as the reported €1bn 10-year deal with Adidas, Brand Finance conclude that they have not leveraged their brand equity to the same extent as United.

The 33-time Spanish champions have failed to exploit their brand in markets outside of Europe. In the Middle East, for instance, Real are popular but they lag behind United and also Bayern Munich in the increasingly crucial Chinese market.

“Real’s brand strength score is the highest we’ve ever recorded, an all-time high of any club across the study,” added Haigh. “But they are under-exploiting the power of their brand across the board.

“That isn’t to say Real are not a successful club commercially as they have absolutely huge revenues, it’s just for a club which is clearly the world’s best they are not doing quite as much as they could to develop the absolute full complement of commercial partnerships.

“Such an approach would leverage the potential that their brand has for maximum financial gain. China is an obvious example of that.”

Chelsea and Tottenham have witnessed some of the biggest gains in terms of brand value over the past 12 months with rises of 61 and 58 per cent respectively and both stand to benefit massively in the coming years from increased stadium capacities.

All Premier League teams, meanwhile, continue to prosper from the vast revenues brought in by the £8bn broadcasting rights deal.

The relatively equitable spit has enabled teams such as Bournemouth, who were only promoted to the top flight two years ago, to command a more valuable brand than European heavyweights Lyon, Inter Milan and Roma.

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