The Murky Real Estate Dealings Of Champions League Finalist Liverpool (And Last Year's Winner Real Madrid)
Champions League finalists Real Madrid and Liverpool are football royalty.
On the pitch they are two of the most successful clubs in European history, with Real having won the Champions League a record 12 times, and Liverpool’s five putting them third on the all-time winners list.
But off the pitch, both teams have not always lived up to this reputation. In their real estate dealings, both have been accused of unfair dealings in the way they have gone about redeveloping stadiums and using real estate to fund their operations.
Real Madrid regained its status in the European elite at the start of this century when construction magnate and team president Florentino Perez ushered in the era of "Los Galácticos", buying the most famous player in the world each summer.
But this policy and the success it achieved was to a large degree brought about by a number of questionable real estate deals. Today Real is the richest club in the world, but at the end of the 1990s that was not the case: the club was labouring under debts of almost €300M.
In 2001 the Madrid local government struck a deal with the club to buy its training ground to build a cluster of skyscrapers known as Cuatro Torres for €480M. The sale wiped the club’s debt and allowed it to buy players like Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo and Luis Figo.
In 2004, the European Union commenced an investigation into whether the Madrid government had overpaid for the site in a deal that essentially constituted state aid for a private company — illegal under EU law. The investigation was dropped later that year.
In 2016, Madrid was forced to pay back €18M to the local government after another land deal involving its training ground in 2011 was found to have constituted state aid. Several other Spanish clubs including Barcelona were found to have received state aid in the form of not paying the proper amount of tax.
Today Real is undertaking a €400M redevelopment of its Santiago Bernabéu stadium. The property is something of an anomaly among major European football stadiums. When it was originally built in 1947, its location in a northern suburb was a relative backwater. But the city expanded and today it sits slap in the middle of Madrid’s prime office district. As a result of this location the new development will feature a luxury 150-bed hotel, and the revamped stadium will feature a state-of-the-art retractable roof.
The development was to be paid for by selling the naming rights to the stadium to Abu Dhabi oil and gas company Cespa, but that deal has fallen through.
Liverpool completed a major overhaul of their famous Anfield stadium at the beginning of last season, with the Main Stand seeing 8,500 seats added, taking the capacity to 54,074. There are plans in place to add a further 4,000 seats to the Anfield Road end of the stadium, with no timeline in place. The £260M expansion has been funded by equity and debt from the club’s U.S. owners, Fenway Sports Group, which also owns the Boston Red Sox.
Liverpool has had plans to extend Anfield since the 1990s, but the way it has gone about it, under three different owners, has proved hugely controversial.
Like many old football grounds in England, Anfield is in a densely populated, working-class residential area, with rows of terraced houses packed tightly around the ground. For years this stopped the club from expanding the stadium — there simply wasn’t the room, and in the era before television money became the main source of funding for Premier League clubs, having a smaller ground than rivals like Manchester United and Arsenal was a major hindrance to Liverpool.
Indeed, Manchester United’s success in the 1990s can to some degree be put down to a serendipitous collision of factors including real estate. Old Trafford is in a low-density industrial area in Salford on the edge of Manchester with plenty of cheap land available, so when success first came on the pitch it was easy for the club to expand the stadium to close to 80,000 seats, widening the financial gap on rivals.
In its effort to expand Anfield, Liverpool has been accused of deliberately buying up houses in the streets around the ground and leaving them empty and derelict to hasten the blight of the area and force residents to leave. Combined with the local council using the unpopular process of compulsory purchase orders to buy out residents, reporting by Guardian journalist David Conn highlights how the most famous institution in the borough of Anfield is widely disliked and in many cases hated by residents, who accuse it of contributing to the economic distress that is common in the district.