Owners of the sport
Soccer clubs are an attractive endeavour for those with enormous fortunes. Whether they see it as a hobby with which to amuse themselves or simply as a money-making investment, many multi-millionaires and corporations from around the globe are behind some of the world's most powerful clubs. And that's why at Goalnomics we've decided to show you, with the help of a map, who the real owners of the sport are.
Who is who?
Select one of the sixteen European clubs that we've highlighted. Move over the points on the map to find out the business relationships involved with the club owners, presidents and chairmen.
Roman Abramovich is a Russian businessman and the current owner of the steel giant Evraz. However, his ascent to the Pantheon of millionaires began when he acquired the Sibneft oil company (sold to Gazprom in 2005) together with another Russian oligarch, Boris Berezovsky. The latter also helped him win the friendship of the then president, Boris Yeltsin. Abramovich was governor of the Chukotka region, in the east of the country, until 2008. He arrived at Chelsea in 2003 and would soon fill the team with star players, although the best-remembered signing in the club's history would be sat in the dugout – José Mourinho. With a fortune estimated at over 8 billion euros, Abramovich appears at number 137 in the Forbes list. Through the sponsorship provided by his company Sibneft, he also became a powerful influence at a club from his country's capital, CSKA Moscow. He owns a Boeing 767, and in 2013 he bought 40 paintings by Ilya Kabalov, the most expensive works of any other living Russian artist.
The Glazer family consists of the six children (Avram, Joel, Bryan, Ed, Kevin and Darcie) of Malcolm Glazer, the millionaire New Yorker and owner of a real-estate empire formed by the holding company First Allied Corporation. Glazer senior acquired 90% ownership of Manchester United in 2005, but this was not his first foray into sport. Ten years previously he gained control of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, an American football franchise with which he won the Super Bowl. Malcolm died in 2014, having suffered a stroke a few months earlier. Despite the titles that were won during his ownership, the magnate faced endless condemnation from the Old Trafford fans. They never forgave him for the ruse he had employed in acquiring United, one that burdened the club itself with debt. According to the Manchester press, Malcolm Glazer gained ownership of the club following a dispute between the previous owners and the then general manager, and head coach, Alex Ferguson, over the rights to a stud horse.
Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the fifth son of Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan, the first president of the United Arab Emirates. Mansour is a member of the government of Abu Dhabi where he controls several companies, backed by a family fortune of more than 350 billion euros. He acquired Manchester City in 2009 and made out a long list of signings with no expense spared. A sports enthusiast (he has competed in desert horse races as a rider), he broadened his horizons through the City Football Group consortium, which owns 80% of a new MLS franchise in the United States – New York City FC – and also has a holding in the Yankees baseball team. In addition, the group owns Melbourne City FC, a newly-fledged franchise in the Australian championship that has been created using the same model as its cousin in New York, in other words, by way of an association with another of the city's sports clubs – in this case Melbourne Storm Rugby League Club. Mansour also owns the Al Jazira club from Abu Dhabi. The Daily Mail reported that the sheikh hired his yacht Topaz, considered to be the 5th largest in the world, to the actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who arrived in lavish style aboard the boat at the last World Cup in Brazil.
The current chairman of Liverpool FC, Tom Werner, is a prize-winning script writer and television producer from New York. Besides his fine ability to discover new talent in acting (Tom Hanks and Robin Williams began their careers by appearing in his productions), the idea of investing in sport always appealed to him. his first acquisition was The San Diego Padres baseball team in 1990. However, he made his major investment in 2001 when he convinced the then owner of the Florida Marlins, John W. Henry, to buy the legendary Boston Red Sox (of which Werner is also the current president). They paid 660 million dollars. This prolific alliance resulted in the creation of the Fenway Sports Group, an investment group that a few years later, in 2010, would buy Liverpool FC for 300 million pounds from fellow Americans George Gillett and Tom Hicks. The group also owns both clubs' stadiums (Fenway Park and Anfield), as well as other teams in different disciplines (such as the NASCAR team, Roush Fenway Racing). An article published in Forbes magazine in 2014 considered the Fenway Sports Group to be 'the most sophisticated and synergistic player in the age of international sports conglomerates'.
Josep Maria Bartomeu (President)
Josep Maria Bartomeu is the CEO of two companies: Adelte, a port and airport engineering group; and Equipo Facility Services, which is responsible for the maintenance of airport terminals. Bartomeu assumed the presidency of Barcelona in 2014 following the resignation of his predecessor, Sandro Rosell, who stepped down in the middle of the ‘Neymar-gate’ scandal. This is the court case that concerns a series of fraudulent actions alleged to have taken place during the signing of the Brazilian star, and that has placed a number of the club's directors on trial, Bartomeu among them. In his earlier years, he played basketball for FC Barcelona's youth teams. Indeed, his first experience as a director was to manage the club's basketball section when Joan Laporta became president, but a rift would later grow between the two men. Bartomeu was re-elected president of FC Barcelona in early 2015, following elections in which 47,270 members cast their votes.
Florentino Pérez (President)
Florentino Pérez is the president and biggest shareholder of ACS, the largest infrastructure construction group in the world. Pérez appears at number 949 in the Forbes list, with a fortune valued at more than 1.7 billion euros. He became president of Real Madrid in 2000 after defeating the previous incumbent, Lorenzo Sanz, in the club elections. He was responsible for the team known as Los Galácticos, which included Zidane, Figo, Ronaldo and David Beckham. He resigned in 2006 only to stand for election again three years later. His second stint has been marked by the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo and by José Mourinho's arrival at the club, which has now overtaken Manchester United as the wealthiest on the planet. Incidentally, it's worth mentioning that Florentino Pérez attempted a venture into politics at the start of his career. Under the UCD (Union of the Democratic Centre) government, he rose to become a city councillor in Madrid, responsible for infrastructure.
Cerezo - Gil - Wanda
With the aim of meeting the financial controls imposed by both the Consejo Superior de Deportes (Sports Council) and the Liga de Fútbol Profesional (Professional soccer League), as well as adapting to the new regulations introduced in 2013, Atlético Madrid completed a capital increase in early 2015. After this process, the club's shares were distributed as follows. Miguel Ángel Gil Marín owns a 52% shareholding that he inherited from his father, Jesús Gil, the controversial building developer and Spanish politician. Gil senior assumed presidency of the club in 1987 and emerged as the majority shareholder in 1992 after the club was transformed into a Sociedad Anónima Deportiva (Public Limited Sports Company). Some 20% of the shares are owned by the film producer, and current club president, Enrique Cerezo. Another 20% has recently been acquired by Chinese magnate Wang Jianlin. Owner of the Wanda company, he is the wealthiest man in Asia (with a fortune valued by Forbes at 38 billion dollars). Other members of the Gil Marín family hold a 5% stake, while the remaining 3% is owned by small shareholders.
When Peter Lim Eng Hock assumed ownership of Valencia CF, the owner of the investment company Meriton Holdings Limited was received in the city as a veritable saviour. The financial problems besetting the Mestalla club led its fans to celebrate the arrival of the Singapore magnate, on 24 October 2014, as a truly landmark event. And with him came money; Forbes magazine estimates Lim's fortune at more than 1.8 billion dollars. Yet his wealth belies his humble beginnings. The son of a fisherman, in his younger days he shared a two-bedroom flat with eleven other people. He also worked as a cook, waiter and taxi driver in order to pay for his accountancy and finance studies at university. This self-made man initially managed other people's investments until he decided to take his first big step – an investment of 10 million dollars in Wilmar, the world leader in palm oil production, which eventually yielded him a profit of 1.5 billion dollars. He has made multiple investments since then, ranging from textile companies and medical clinics to Manchester United bars in Asia and a percentage shareholding in the McLaren Formula 1 team. He dropped his latest big surprise when he bought the image rights of his close friend Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Agnelli family are the heirs of Giovanni Agnelli, the founder of Fiat. The Agnelli dynasty manages the club through the Exor group. Juventus is quoted on the Stock Exchange and the Agnellis currently own a little less than 70% of the total shares. Agnelli, Fiat and Juventus form an association that stretches back nearly a century. In 1923, great-great-grandfather Giovanni bought the club and turned it into the biggest giant in Italian history. This was to the detriment of the country's other big club – Torino, to be precise – a direct rival from the same city as Juventus. The current president of the club is Andrea Agnelli, although it's John Elkann – another of the descendants – who manages the company. Another fact: Al-Saadi el Gadafi, son of the Libyan dictator, came to acquire a substantial shareholding in the club. In fact, Gadafi's heir made his way to Italy in order to become a professional soccer player, trying to buy his right to play for clubs such as Udinese, Perugia and Sampdoria. He got to play a few minutes with the first two teams mentioned, but didn't even dare to ask at Juventus.
Suning is a an electronic goods chain in China and one of the largest private firms in the country. In 2016, the company acquired 70% of the group led by Indonesian tycoon Erick Thohir for 270 million euros. Suning, with sales of around 44 billion euros per year and with more than 1,600 stores across China and Japan began as an appliance retail shop in Jiangsu province. In the past years, investments diversified and the group now owns an array of companies which include PPTV, one of China’s most popular online video platforms and Jiangsu Suning, a Chinese Super League club which featured some of the most spectacular signings of recent times such as that of Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Alex Teixeira for a figure or 50 million euros.
Sino-Europe Sports Investment Management Changxing
After thirty years of ownership of the Italian club, Silvio Berlusconi sold it to Chinese investor group Sino-Europe Sports Investment Management Changxing. Although some of those involved in the acquisition have yet to be named some have already been released such as Chinese state development fund Haixia Capital with business tycoon Yonghong Li leading negotiations with Il Cavaliere to close the sale for a figure above 700 million euros. Although at first instant there were rumours of Chinese giants Alibaba and Fosun joining in on the acquisition, until now the only presence confirmed by the Beijing government is that of Haixia. Many wonder, what’s the motivation behind the purchase? Perhaps with boosting involvement in the sport to secure China as 2030 World Cup hosts?
Aurelio De Laurentiis
De Laurentiis is without doubt one of the most controversial leaders in world soccer. A shareholder and board member at Rome's legendary film studios, Cinecittà, he is also the owner of Filmauro, an Italian and international film production and distribution company. He has received awards for his artistic work on multiple occasions, but is just as likely to be the focus of attention of the sports press on account of an embarrassing utterance. The Rome businessman (originally from Naples) became the majority shareholder and president of SSC Napoli in 2004, after the club went bust and suffered relegation to the Italian third division. It returned to italy’s top division three years after De Laurentiis assumed the presidency. A combination of good results and the film executive's strong investment in signings (bringing internationally prestigious players such as Lavezzi, Cavani and Higuaín) made him a hero in the eyes of the home fans. As well as being a renowned businessman in Italy and self-confessed fan of Robert de Niro, De Laurentiis is quite capable of resisting pressure from the Camorra or of sending players to train in the Alps with the youth teams in order to resolve their ego issues.
Audi - Adidas - Allianz
In 2014 Karl Hopfner took over from Uli Hoeness who was imprisoned for financial fraud after 35 years of managing the club. Bayern's members own 75% of the club's capital, which is administered through a public limited company, FC Bayern München AG. The remainder is shared evenly between 3 companies: Audi, Adidas and Allianz. The last named is the latest to purchase a slice of the Bayern cake following a capital increase. Apart from the above exceptions, the club's capital is not public. Companies in Germany may access part of a club's share capital, but never more than the 50% ownership reserved for its members. There are, however, two exceptions: Wolfsburg (owned by Volkswagen) and Bayern Leverkusen (owned by Bayer). This is due to the clubs having been founded in under their respective factories.
The city of Wolfsburg was founded in 1938 in order to house the entire workforce of the Volkswagen car company, which back then was launching its innovative Beetle model. A few years later, after the end of the Second World War, the company's workers formed the VfL Wolfsburg sports club on 12 September 1945. Volkswagen currently controls a 100% shareholding in the club, and has done so since November 2007. According to Forbes magazine, the German giant is placed 67th in the rankings of the world's most valuable brands and is 14th in the table of the world's biggest companies, with a revenue of 197.007 billion euros in 2013 and nearly 600,000 employees on the payroll. A curious fact worth noting is that the club's president is Spanish. As well as presiding over the German club, businessman Francisco Javier García Sanz is on Volkswagen's board of directors and is president of the Volkswagen group in Latin America.
Bayer 04 Leverkusen was founded in 1904 after 170 employees at the Bayer chemical company signed a petition asking that a sports club be formed under the auspices of the corporation. The pharmaceutical giant has owned the German club since. Forbes magazine places the multinational at number 52 in the world in terms of market value. The company, which invented aspirin and employs almost 120,000 people, received revenue totalling a remarkable 39.76 billion euros in 2012 (according to Bayer's own report). In the last few years, the club headed by Michael Schade has featured regularly in European competitions. It's one of only two German clubs – the other being Wolfsburg – where a single company (Bayer) enjoys more than 50% ownership.
Signal Iduna - Morgan Stanley
90% of Borussia Dortmund shares are distributed among 70,000 members, which is why it's considered the ‘people's club’, although the strong bond that exists between the citizens of Dortmund and their team also has something to do with it. The Signal Iduna Park is the stadium that boasts Europe's highest average match attendance, with 80,500 fans making their voices heard at every game. But the journey hasn't all been plain sailing. About ten years ago, and after several seasons of excessive spending, the club suffered a serious crisis that almost led to its disappearance. It was the American bank Morgan Stanley, now a shareholder, that provided Borussia with a loan of nearly 80 million euros, allowing the club to extricate itself from the serious predicament it had got itself into. The club was saved by a combination of the loan, a capital increase of 40 million euros and the able management of current club president Reinhard Rauball, the then president of the German soccer league. Rauball repurchased the stadium, then called the Westfalenstadion, for 70 million euros from an investment fund controlled by Commerzbank, as the previous management had mortgaged the stadium in order to obtain liquidity. The Signal Iduna insurance company rechristened the grounds for an annual fee of five million euros. The stadium was undoubtedly the cornerstone of the club's recovery.