Manchester United is now officially the world's most valuable football club, usurping Real at the top of the Forbes annual rich list
for the first time in five years.
Jose Mourinho's men might have recorded a lowly sixth place finish in the Premier League, but the club is valued at $3.69 billion, up 11% on last year.
United generated record revenues of $765 million -- over $75 million more than Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid -- aided by an unprecedented domestic television deal, global commercial reach and an Adidas kit sponsorship arrangement worth a reported $90 million per year.
The club, owned by the American Glazer family, is also substantially the most profitable, posting operating income of $288 million -- more than fellow English clubs Arsenal ($122 million), Chelsea ($52 million, Liverpool ($29 million) and Tottenham Hotspur ($68 million) combined.
"Manchester United's return to the top spot is testament to their powerful brand and marketing acumen," commented Mike Ozanian, assistant managing editor at Forbes Media.
The Red Devils gained automatic entry to the 2017/18 Champions League courtesy of their Europa League win.
Premier League hegemony
Though Zinedine Zidane guided Real to one of its greatest seasons in recent memory
, the Spanish club's overall value has dropped 2% from $3.64 billion to $3.58 billion in the past year.
Los Blancos accordingly fall to third in the Forbes list behind domestic rival, Barcelona.
The La Liga top two generated identical revenues ($688M), but the Catalan club, now coached by Ernesto Valverde,
saw its overall value rise by 2% to $3.64 billion.
Bundelisga champion Bayern Munich ($2.71 billion) remains the fourth most valuable club in the world for the fourth successive year, with English clubs dominating the rest of the top 10.
Sheik Mansour's Manchester City
rise one place to fifth with a value of $2.08 billion -- up 8% on last year -- followed by Stan Kroenke's Arsenal ($1.93 billion), Roman Abramovich's Chelsea ($1.85 billion) and Liverpool ($1.49 billion), owned by Americans John Henry and Tom Werner.
Juventus, owned by the Agnelli family, is ninth on the list with a value at $1.26 billion.
With a new 61,000-seater stadium under construction, Tottenham Hotspur ($1.06 billion) rounds off the top 10.
Reduced debts, increased disparity
Financial fair play (FFP) rulings have helped teams reduce debt and record larger operating profits, with European club revenues now over six times what they were just two decades ago.
That has allowed player contracts and transfer fees to soar beyond all recognition,
but it has also widened the gap between the European elite and the chasing pack.
As UEFA's Club Licensing Benchmarking Report
highlights, a select group have morphed into "global super clubs" in this new digital age.
This, the report states, is enabling the top teams to "monetize their huge supporter bases."
The likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Arsenal, Manchester United and Liverpool boast vast social followings and attract as many as eight million monthly website visitors.
A club no longer needs to travel to a new country to appeal to a new cross-section of potential consumers.
Fans, UEFA reports, "can be accessed far better through social media than was ever possible through traditional marketing in the past."
It all leads to an "increasing concentration of sponsorship and commercial revenue among a handful of clubs."
Indeed, the top 15 teams in Europe have added over $1.5 billion in sponsorship and commercial revenue since 2009 -- compared to less than $600 million for the remaining 700 clubs included in the report.
Top-tier English clubs are able to report average revenues amounting to more than those generated by the 48 other European leagues (outside of those in France, Spain, Italy and Germany) combined.
UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin has gone on record saying he will "make sure UEFA competitions never become closed leagues or tournaments."
But as it stands the teams from Europe's top six leagues can potentially take up 21 of the 32 spots on offer in the Champions League group stages, leaving UEFA's other 49 member countries to fight it out for the rest.
Clubs from the likes of Portugal, the Netherlands, Romania and Scotland no longer reach the latter stages of elite European competition -- with the big five European Leagues dominating the UEFA Champions League since Jose Mourinho's Porto emerged victorious in 2003/2004.
The richest clubs are getting richer, the gap is growing, and football's financial bubble doesn't look like bursting yet.