If we had to find a motto for AS Monaco, “Less is more” would certainly be perfect.
AS Monaco’s management has gained the consideration of many well-respected football business experts: for example, a recent study by the Financial Times and KPMG ranked the Monaco side third among the European teams, taking into account the results obtained in comparison to wages.
The team’s main prerogative is to be competitive not just within the national boarders (in a 2nd tier league despite the presence of PSG), but also in the UEFA Champions League, although the management must always try to increase the year-on-year value of the young players.
The set is clearly appealing, even more if we consider that boredom is quite improbable for Rouge et Blanc fans attending live matches: Falcao & co. guarantee nearly 3 goals per match, the best team in the Top-5 European leagues.
However, all the credit gathered doesn’t seem good looking at the last five financial reports. Why?
AS Monaco, how to change a planned business model
2011 will be remembered as a historic set-changing year for AS Monaco regarding both ownership and football side. On one hand, the relegation in Ligue 2 closed, in the worst way possible, a mediocre period started after the memorable 2004 UEFA Champions League final against José Mourinho’s FC Porto; on the other hand, the Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev bought the controlling share of AS Monaco. For the first time in AS Monaco’s history, the majority stake of the club was not in the Grimaldi family’s ruling hands.
In the shadow of Chemin des Révoires, the “classic tale” starring a billionaire who buys a football team for his amusement seems to take shape day after day. That seems initially confirmed by the huge investments of the new president of the club. The objective is to go back to Ligue 1 as soon as possible, in order to candidate AS Monaco immediately to be one of the main characters within the national league.
The new course began in the best way possible: AS Monaco returned to the main French division right away and, as the Ligue 2 champion, in 2013-14 they ended the Ligue 1 campaign in the 2nd position. That seemed to be an exploit (even if we have to remember that players like Falcao and James Rodriguez were on that roster) but day after day AS Monaco turns out to be a fearsome side to face. The regularity of the team’s results appear remarkable taking into account that Monaco is just a little city-state counting a population of about 38,000 people.
The effort is even more unexpected adding to the puzzle three extra pieces: Rybolovlev’s divorce, the Financial Fair Play investigation and the AS Monaco’s taxation disparity in comparison with other Ligue 1 clubs.
Rybolovlev’s personal lawsuit against his ex-wife (€ 3.8 bln to pay, then reduced to about € 500 mln) and the settlement agreement with UEFA (May 2015) caused the sudden reduction of available cash. The restriction was mandatory for reaching the breakeven imposed by FFP over the next three sporting seasons.
The favourable taxation of Monaco for the local club triggered the Ligue 1 clubs’ protest against the Ligue de Football Professionnel, because AS Monaco (headquartered in Monaco) does not pay any tax at all. In order to settle the disparity, the AS Monaco management and LFP reached an agreement to neutralize the fiscal benefit. The established amount is € 50 mln una tantum (sum equal to 43% of the AS Monaco turnover and greater than the turnover of 13 Ligue 1 teams). Surprisingly, the French Conseil d’État stopped the payment: resulting in new investments for AS Monaco.
Despite all the problems and in a different way in comparison with other cases, the AS Monaco owner and management didn’t quit, pushing harder through a business model shift: “emotional” transfers out, strategic planning and vision in.
The club boosted its investments in the academy: “La Turbie” training center facilities were upgraded thanks to a twenty-five-million euro government grant; the effort for building an effective scouting network increased, aiming at developing a bulk of future stars to improve team performance on the pitch as well as in the financial reports.
The turnaround is well managed and it appears to bare its fruits without too many problems. One of the main actors of the successful shift is not part of the club management: his name is Jorge Mendes.
When cash was available, Mendes used to act like an agent bringing his best players (Falcao, James, and Moutinho) to the squad. However, with an ongoing “spending review” new arrivals are young potential stars like the talented Bernardo Silva, perfect players to stay competitive in Ligue 1 and generate capital gains from player trading. AS Monaco appears to be a rich and expensive shop window.
As highlighted from the tables above, many players bought and sold by AS Monaco are part of Mendes’ network. Their stay on the Louis II pitch is limited: only two years on average, the perfect timing to reach results, increase players’ value and sell them for millions.
Jorge Mendes’ work is not limited to being a player agent. With his influence and business acumen, according to industry experts, he seems to be advising the management to boost AS Monaco’s growth: on one hand, many pundits spot his touch in AS Monaco-Prozis (a Funchal-based company) commercial agreement; on the other, he appears to help the club in the creation of a European network for the development of young players (sent on loan à la Chelsea) in partnership with Cercle Brugge and Vitória Guimarães.
AS Monaco, which obstacles slow down AS Monaco’s competitiveness in Europe?
The implementation of a new business model and the stability in its achievement have a natural impact on AS Monaco’s financial reports. Starting from 2013/14, Profit & Loss accounts are more balanced in comparison with the other fiscal year’s results in which players’ wages were two or three times greater than total revenues.
In this better set, great obstacles remain holding the club from reaching bigger revenues, despite a clever marketing and commercial strategy.
AS Monaco has decided to focus on increasing its brand value. One of the pillars of the marketing strategy is a digital and social media presence. The main target markets are French-speaking countries, Portugal and South America through exploiting “local” stars as testimonials such as Falcao, J. Rodriguez as well as Bernardo Silva. It is interesting to highlight an outstanding growth in Brazil thanks to a digital partnership with the Brazilian side Cruzeiro.
Among the top French clubs, AS Monaco is the best performer (from January 2015 to February 2017) regarding the increase in Facebook fans (+97%), moving closer to Olympique de Marseille (two years ago OM had two times more FB fans than ASM) thanks to 4 mln digital fans.
The result is even more relevant when comparing teams and the population of their metro area: Paris Saint-Germain and OM have twice the amount of fans than inhabitants, AS Monaco ratio between FB fans and Monégasque is about 105!
Unfortunately for the club, social media monetization is still hard to get. This consideration underlines the real sore point for AS Monaco, preventing the club to become a European giant: AS Monaco is supported by a “non-place”.
Monaco counts about 38,400 inhabitants, but many of them are just residents for tax purposes, whilst other may not be football fans. Paradoxically the average attendance (8,000 people) of the Louis II seems to be the real live match number of customers for the Monégasque football market, but considering the total amount, the number is too low to compete with the French and European mammoths.
The club pays for the absence of a huge fan base in the metro area deeply identified and committed to the Rouge et Blanc. This situation is not appealing for partnerships or sponsorships as emerges from the analysis of revenue streams:
- Commercial: the extraordinary results accrued on 2013/14 are clearly influenced by the agreement with AIM Sport (marketing agency focused on digital, working also with Real Madrid, FC Bayern Munich and UEFA). The agency helped the club to improve its digital presence paying € 140 mln to the club but keeping the revenues generated by ticket sales, sponsorships, hospitality, and the UEFA Champions League participation.
- Broadcasting: the value is strongly influenced by the collective agreement managed by LFP, smaller in comparison to the other top European leagues (even if the Ligue 1 appeal is increasing). Only the stability in reaching the UEFA Champions League pushes the revenue stream’s growth (+166% between 2013/14 and 2014/15). The participation in the top European tournament is critical for AS Monaco’s survival.
- Matchday: low average attendance is obviously the main problem for the AS Monaco accounts. Only a few people attend live matches (only 4,000 season tickets sold per year, price range € 110-€ 1.170). Few tickets are sold at extremely competitive prices (price range € 10-€ 100 aligned with Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A teams standing at the middle of the table), even if Monégasque are quite wealthy. Another negative factor is the proximity with Nice and the historical rivalry with OM, preventing the attraction of fans from nearer areas. The outcome is merchandising sales that are barely developed, as well as the revenues per available seat (max RevPAS registered in 2014/5 equal to about € 14).
This situation confirms the substantial dependency from the UCL, the only way to attract sponsors, even though neither the UCL matches lure attendance (in the 2016/17 group stage matches the average attendance has been around 55%). The increasing value of young players is the real financial balancing factor starting from 2014/15 (capital gains on player trading is equal to 37% in comparison with total revenues).
AS Monaco, how far is PSG?
AS Monaco is competitive on the pitch and balanced on financial figures thanks to a clever business model. But in the modern football, AS Monaco pays for the location in a city that is hard to monetize, and in the short term, it will be difficult to compete constantly for both the Ligue 1 and the UCL.
Comparing ASM and PSG, in absolute terms, the difference is huge, thanks to the Qatari-ownership investments setting the different power of the two sides both financially and politically. PSG’s magnitude emerges. Both clubs have been investigated by UEFA in relation to FFP but the impact for ASM is clearly bigger.
Further analyzing and considering the figures (table above), the difference is still remarkable (see ratio ASM/PSG), but other interesting findings emerge: in relative terms, ASM’s performance is surprisingly not so far from that of PSG considering the different size of the two sides.
Focusing on 2014/15 financial reports:
- ASM total revenues are a quarter smaller than PSG
- ASM players’ wages are a third smaller than PSG
- ASM amortization is half smaller than PSG
- ASM EBIT is a third smaller than PSG
- ASM intangible asset (squad) value is half smaller than PSG
Anyway, and more importantly, ASM’s bottom line is substantially on par, whilst PSG registered only losses in the five seasons.
ASM’s CAGRs are also not quite far from those of PSG. Looking at the ratios different managerial views emerge: ASM is better in player trading, profit/loss, and intangible asset (squad) value.
AS Monaco, the value of having a wealthy owner with a clever business model
Lastly, it is interesting to compare ASM with a comparable Italian side like Atalanta BC, with a similar business model founded on the same principles (academy and capital gains on young stars), a stadium (not owned) within the city and a stint in the 2nd division.
Comprehensibly, AS Monaco loses when comparing matchday revenue: attendance is lower (in terms of the number of attendees and percentage on capability) and Atalanta’s Revenues Per Audience (RevPA) is bigger, until 2014/15 when ASM’s business model starts to run.
Anyway, having a rich owner is critical for ASM. The club registers higher revenues and spending availability (wages and amortization). Capital gains on young talent are even.
In conclusion, despite the limitations highlighted, AS Monaco is proving that organization and strategic vision can make the club competitive within national borders. But something still lacks to become a top club in Europe.
With an asset like the young talents on the squad, potential future stars grown up with re-invested revenues coming from the academy and scouting performance (such as Fabinho, Tiemoué Bakayoko, Bernardo Silva and Mbappé), the club has everything to guarantee (at least in the short term) a successful future.