The way football clubs sell themselves can be more important than the game itself when it comes to scoring wealth, new research suggests.
The battle of the brands is hotting up
Football is a powerful industry and its brand strengths are as valuable as asset as corporate brands, according to a report by consultancy FutureBrand.
The top 20 European clubs earned revenues of over £2,598m in the year 2002/2003, it calculated.
The key to this wealth lies in the game's massive fan base and loyalty.
Many clubs are now listed on the stock exchange, so if their branding is looking offside it can seriously affect its share price.
FutureBrand analysed the top 50 teams across Europe, looking not only at revenues but also factors that influence the strength of their brands and loyalty of their fans.
In the league table of best brands, it is hardly surprising that Manchester United comes top, but competition is hotting up, according to FutureBrand.
Football Brand League Table
Manchester United is the most valuable football brand thanks to its ability to convert its brand strengths into revenues and expand its fan base overseas.
Number two is rival Real Madrid which has the strongest brand in Europe, but has not fully exploited its financial strengths.
Stricter TV contracts in Spain and that fact that star signings have not yet led to higher merchandise sales have hampered its fortunes.
Arsenal is catching up, currently at number seven. Thanks to manager Arsene Wenger the team has shed its boring image and has had a profitable season.
Chelsea is number 11 in the European brand table, but is the fourth most valuable brand in England, having enjoyed a reversal of fortunes following the arrival of billionaire owner Roman Abramovich.
"It is no surprise that Manchester United is number one but what we have discovered is that other teams have the potential to harness their brand strengths", said Marco Forato at FutureBrand.
"However, as international interest in football increases and the sponsorship market reaches saturation point, clubs and corporate sponsors need to be more creative in their approach."