Old Trafford's millions lead the rich list

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The Independent Online

Manchester United were confirmed as football's pace-setters off the pitch as well as on it yesterday when they were officially proclaimed the richest football club in the world.

Manchester United were confirmed as football's pace-setters off the pitch as well as on it yesterday when they were officially proclaimed the richest football club in the world.

In the Deloitte & Touche Rich List, which was based on the turnover of clubs worldwide during the 1997-98 season (the last full season for which figures are available) United finished first with a figure of £87.9m. That figure put around them 20 per cent ahead of Spain's Real Madrid in second (£72.2m), Germany's Bayern Munich in third (£65.2m) and Juventus of Italy in fourth (£55.3m).

United's achievement was all the more remarkable in that they did not win a single trophy during the survey year. In next year's list, which will cover last season's treble-winning year, United's turnover is expected to rise to £111m.

The survey, which took into account revenue from gate receipts, television, sponsorship and merchandise, is dominated by European clubs, with no representatives in the top 20 from outside the continent. Of the nine British sides that figure, United are followed by Newcastle in fifth place (£49.2m), Chelsea in ninth (£47.5m), Liverpool in 10th (£45.5m) and then Arsenal (13th), Rangers (16th), Aston Villa (17th), Tottenham (18th) and Leeds (20th). Chelsea, Villa and Leeds all moved into the top 20 for the first time this year.

"This is great news for the Premier League," Jason Zillwood, a senior manager in Deloitte & Touche's football industry team, said. "The top clubs are managing their businesses effectively. There is a lot of cash coming in from television revenue, but grounds are packed week in and week out as well."

United's television revenue amounted to £16.2m in the 1997-98 season, or 19 per cent of the total turnover, but that figure is likely to be dwarfed soon by the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain, and Juventus, Milan and Internazionale in Italy. The top three clubs in Italy have signed TV deals earning them about £35m a year from the current season onwards because they deal largely on an individual basis with broadcasters. The situation is being mirrored in Spain.

"Unless the structure of the Premier League TV deal changes in 2001, English,clubs just won't be able to compete with that soon," said Michael Hann, the editor of FourFourTwo, the magazine which co-produced the report.

The Premier League currently has a collective TV deal which has been protected by the courts and shares out revenue on a relatively even basis. The next deal is could raise revenues as high as £1.5bn, with a variety of terrestrial, cable and satellite broadcasters likely to be used.

While clubs could also have more freedom to show their own highlights packages if not live games as well, it may still not be enough to keep United on top of the next rich list, although at least the current structure is raising the turnover of many English clubs rather than just a few as in Spain.

Not that that will be any comfort to the England's less well-off sides. United might have turned over £87.9m in the year of the survey, but Watford turned over just a 20th, or £3.9m. And Colchester, the club with the lowest turnover of clubs surveyed in this country, turned over a grand total of £717,000. Which, for a year's work, is not lot, especially when you consider that Manchester United's 90 minutes of work in Japan yesterday netted them more than double that.

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