By Alex Young
Manchester City’s form threatens to herald a changing of the guard on the pitch but off it Manchester United remain a financial juggernaut unlikely to ever be caught by their domestic rivals.
City have certainly made impressive strides, rising to sixth in the Deloitte Money League released on Thursday, growing their commercial revenue significantly and establishing their brand and reputation on the global stage.
But while City have surpassed their neighbours in the league this season, the champions still remain in a different stratosphere to their rivals at the Etihad Stadium.
|DELOITTE MONEY LEAGUE - THE TOP 10
1. Real Madrid
3. Bayern Munich
4. Manchester Utd
5. Paris Saint-Germain
6. Manchester City
10. AC Milan
"But it will be a real challenge for them to get into the top five, especially with the likes of PSG in fifth - who have further growth to come. There is a significant gap between the top four - Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United - and the rest."
In the latest financial figures released by Deloitte, City are the only English team to have risen in the 'Football Money League' - boasting a standing of 12th in 2012, 7th in 2013 and, now 6th in 2014. But that is where the good news ends.
United still boast the title of most affluent English side with an annual revenue of £432.8 million - far superior to City’s of £285.6m - improving 13 per cent from last year. United may have dropped out of the top three for the first time since Deloitte started releasing the figures 17 years ago but in reality, they remain in an incredibly strong position.
Houlihan added: "Bayern's treble, and what that delivered in revenue and exchange rate impact allowed them to jump above United. Next year, we expect revenue to increase above £400m, so their chances of regaining a top-three place are very strong."
City have been following their rival’s lead by exploring unique sponsorship revenues, such as Indonesian energy drink Extra Joss, but their 16-name list of partners does not come close to United’s 33 - with the Old Trafford club’s commercial revenue increasing by 30% - £34.9m - from last season.
Following the retirement of long-serving chief executive David Gill, it is telling that the Glazers opted to promote commercial management director Ed Woodward into the role. Woodward played a key part in the Glazers’ takeover at United and continued commercial growth. He is now the man running the club behind the scenes.
|WHERE THE ENGLISH CLUBS RANK
United are a giant that will continue to grow. A staggering £340m seven-year shirt sponsorship deal with Chevrolet - which starts next season - is just the beginning. A new world-record shirt sponsorship deal with Nike, worth an estimated £1bn over 13 years, is in the offing.
"Next year there will be another increase in commercial revenues, with another the year after when the General Motors shirt sponsorship comes fully into effect," Houlihan continues. "It will be difficult for City to overtake United in the short-to-medium term, at least. City have got a significant way to go to match United across the matchday and revenue streams.
"City have plans in place to expand the Eithad, but there is a long way to go. Bridging that gap is going to be a real challenge. Even if United do not qualify for Europe, they enjoy commercial growth to offset that, potentially wholly."
In comparison, current Premier League table-toppers Arsenal’s commercial revenue was £62.4m - just 40.9% that of United’s. Chelsea, while earning 58.5% of United's total, saw their overall revenue drop, slipping two places to seventh in the rankings, going from £323m last year to £303m this. The elimination from the Champions League was a major factor but United trump the Blues in every category, bar broadcasting - with the extra Europa League games contributing to that.
But what of the top two in Barcelona and Real Madrid? Can United regain the top spot they last held in 2005? Los Blancos broke United’s record of eight years at the summit with their placing this year but one thing the two Spanish giants hold over their English rivals is the division of La Liga’s television rights, with is heavily in favour of the two top.
Clubs in La Liga negotiate their broadcasting deals individually and Real and Barca take about half the total amount, but there are continuing discussions over a more collective distribution model with the view to a 2015-16 start.
"Real Madrid still enjoy a healthy gap over Barcelona - £36m this year - and have done over the past few years," Houlihan detailed. "The interesting thing, along with Barcelona expected to accrue over €500m in revenue next year, surrounds Manchester United.
"If they continue to qualify for Europe, and with the Chevrolet deal in 2014-15, then United have a real opportunity to challenge the top two."
Houlihan also ruled out a continuing City rise in the rankings, adding: "PSG have established themselves in the top five this year, and we fully expect them to stay in the top five next year."
In more positive news for United, and the other Premier League sides, the impending new television rights are worth £3.018bn between 2013 and 2016 - a 70% increase on the current three-year contract. The prize money is expected to be worth up to £100m for the title winner, while this season's 20th-placed side are to earn more than last season's champions.
The fact that United’s chief executive vice-chairman Woodward is based in Mayfair, not Manchester, is symbolic of where the power at United truly lies: not Wayne Rooney, not Robin van Persie, not David Moyes, not even Sir Alex Ferguson. It is the money men who will determine the club's future.
So while the club's form may not be good enough on the pitch, they will continue, in England at least, to dominate off it.
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