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Who owns European football? EBU investigates the sale of the beautiful game

04 June 2024
Who owns European Football? The sale of the beautiful game

A new report from the EBU Investigative Journalism Network reveals how investment funds have transformed European football, bringing the Beautiful Game to a new level on the pitch and on the balance sheet. The increased arrival of foreign capital has caused a concentration of club and player ownership. Smaller teams can be deliberately held back as business decisions trump sporting success, their rising stars shipped off to bigger clubs in the same ownership group. The result is the integrity of the game is compromised with regulators struggling to keep up. 

For months, investigative journalists from the EBU newsroom and its Members: RTBF (Belgium); RTVE (Spain), RSI (Switzerland), and ZDF (Germany), have worked to meticulously unravel ownership systems and the effects on European football leagues and the player transfer market. By speaking to key experts and highlighting significant conflicts of interest, the investigation sheds light on the evolving landscape of football ownership and its implications.

The shift in European football ownership has been dramatic. City Football Group (CFG), owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family and vice president of UAE, has 13 clubs across five continents, while other groups like Red Bull and 777 partners also hold multiple clubs. This concentration of ownership influences the transfer market, with significant player transactions, and could pose integrity risks for international competitions where these clubs might face each other; both Manchester City and Girona, part of CFG have qualified for the 2024/25 Champions League. The influx of Gulf state investment also sparks ethical debates, creating associations with regimes with poor human rights records.

“A first risk is an even greater domination by these big structures, that through these strategies control a swarm of talent and are very influential on the transfer market, they have control over many more players than they really need”, says Raffaele Poli, head of CIES Football Observatory, pointing out that player transactions exceeded EUR 10 billion last year. “But it also clips the wings of the competition, not an ideal situation. And in any case there are risks of conflict of interest, even of fairness in competitions, especially in international club competitions where these clubs could come up against each other.”

In 2023, the aggregate enterprise value of Europe's 32 most prominent football clubs was estimated at EUR 51.7 billion, by the data and analytics platform Football Benchmark

“You’re talking about industrial assets”, says Simon Chadwick, professor of Sport and Geopolitical Economy at SKEMA Business School Paris. “This year Manchester City became the first football club in the world to turn over one billion pounds worth of business. These industrial assets generate export earnings, tax contributions, and create jobs. So you would imagine we want to protect those outcomes. I would ask the question, not just the European Union, but which government in Europe is doing anything to protect these assets?” 

Meanwhile local fan bases are increasingly disconnected as they are increasingly priced out of matches. The focus on profitability often caters more to business strategies than local communities, undermining deep rooted social connections. “Sport is an industry unlike any other, it has cultural value to the countries, and is very much connected to things like education, development, youth programmes,” says law professor Katarina Pijetlovic, an expert in European Sports Law. 

Both UEFA and FIFA face challenges in regulating these multi-club entities and as multi-club ownership grows, concerns about fair competition and financial transparency grow with them. Legal experts and economists stress the need for robust regulations to maintain the sport's integrity. 

As the football landscape continues to evolve, the sale and ownership of clubs across the continent The EBU's investigation shows that European football is at a crossroads, balancing commercial interests with preserving its cultural heritage, and underscores an urgent need for transparency and regulation to maintain the integrity of the sport amidst these sweeping changes.

Pilar Requena, Head of Investigative Unit at RTVE, chairs the Steering Committee of the EBU Investigative Journalism Network: “The research was born to analyze who the owners of European football are and why American investment funds, Gulf States or millionaires from other countries take ownership of European football clubs. As the research progressed, new questions arose about fair play, transfers and multi-club ownership, showing how football has become an industry and a money-making machine, leading to the loss of power and influence of fans in their clubs and the loss of the traditional values and spirit of European football. 

“It has been exciting to work with colleagues from different European countries, as we have been doing for some years now, and it shows that cross-border investigative collaboration makes us stronger and more effective when we share the same values and goals.”

Belen Lopez Garrido, Eurovision Editorial Manager and Project Manager for the EBU Investigative Journalism Network, says, “To deliver an investigation of this scope and on this scale, demands diligence and a commitment to thorough, fact-based reporting. By working together and sharing our findings throughout the process we were able to achieve a much wider perspective on the issue and its consequences for big and small clubs around the continent”. 

Liz Corbin, EBU Director of News, says, “We’re committed to investigative journalism as a core principle of public service broadcasting and our reporting really benefits from this strong, Europe-wide network that can pool expertise, resources and contacts to dig deep and report on stories that matter. Once again, this team has delivered important journalism that is squarely in the public interest.”

The report – Who owns European football? The sale of the beautiful game – is by the EBU Investigative Journalism Network. 

Relevant links and documents


Jo Waters

Head of Content Communications

Notes to editors

The EBU’s Investigative Journalism Network has reported on several game changing stories since its launch in 2017, including The Missing Children of Ukraine (2023), an in-depth report on the forced transfer of hundreds of children from occupied Ukraine to Russia; followed by an investigation into the harsh living conditions and Russia's aggressive assimilation policies in the illegally annexed territories of Ukraine, "Russification in Occupied Ukraine".