The price tag of football players taking part in this year’s European Championship has nearly doubled since the last edition, but this broadcasting rights-fuelled bubble is showing signs of deflating.
The value of the average player has risen by 82% since the 2016 Euros according to data from Transfermarkt https://www.transfermarkt.com, juiced up by broadcasting deals that until recently seemed to grow ever bigger.
That 13% annual growth rate jars with meagre inflation in much of Europe over the same period outside of a select few assets that have also boomed, such as prime real estate and digital art.
But what do French striker Kylian Mbappé, this tournament’s most expensive player at an estimated 160 million euros, a penthouse in Paris and a piece of pixel art for sale at Sotheby’s have in common?
Simply put, they are each very rare in their own way, and this pushes up their price disproportionately.
“There’s a non-linear function for people at the top, who have skills that are not replicable,” said Pedro García del Barrio, a professor at Spain’s Universidad de Navarra who has studied the football market for two decades.
This year’s most highly valued squad, England, are worth a staggering 1.25 billion euros, putting the average value of the 26 English internationals at 49 million euros.
This is almost double the mean value of 25.7 million euros for the most expensive squad at Euro 2016, Spain.
The main driver for the increase is to be found in TV rights, which have risen as a growing audience of armchair sports fans pay out to watch the beautiful game from the comfort of their homes, including in new markets such as Asia.
The top 32 European football clubs saw a 65% leap in broadcasting revenues from 2016 to 2020, according to consultancy firm KPMG.
The Euros will be no exception, with 2 billion viewers around the world expected to follow the tournament this summer. Broadcasters in Germany as well as Britain have paid more than 150 million euros to secure rights to the games.
But this bonanza may be coming to an end.
The value of broadcasting rights for league games has fallen this year in Germany, Italy and above all France, where the latest TV deal was worth half as much as the previous one.
This was due to a number of factors ranging from piracy to reduced competition in the broadcasting industry.
Whatever the reason, the fall in TV revenues was likely to bring down transfer fees, which are already stagnating below their pre-pandemic levels according to KPMG.
This is adding to financial concerns about the football industry at a time when some large clubs are already in over their heads with debt.
Twelve clubs even attempted to launch an almost-instantly sunk plan for a breakaway “Super League” in spring in a bid to stabilise their finances.
“The average player value in the Big 5 leagues has doubled between the 16/17 and the 20/21 seasons,” said Andrea Sartori, KPMG’s global head of sports.
“Over the same period, the evolution of the average club revenue…has shown a compound annual growth rate of only 5.2%.”
For Pierre Maes, a sporting rights consultant and author, the implication was clear: Clubs need to start paying less for players and cut their wage bill.
“We will have lower transfer fees and revenues but football will continue to live with half the money,” Maes said.