That's another way of saying that the economics of football are abysmal. Gone are the days when broadcasters poured tens of millions into club coffers; today, many are near insolvency. While Real was toting Becks around Asia like a poodle, other teams were revealing their own strategies. Here's a guide to the leading business models in an era of austerity.
MadridEstimated Payroll: €140 million
Rank last year in Spain's Primera Liga: 1st
Copied from Manchester United, Real's global brand strategy has also been compared to the National Basketball Association's. But Inter Milan executive Jeff Slack has his doubts. "The question is: how are they going to develop on a longer term? You want a global brand, but you can't create offices around the world."
You can, however, create cafés and souvenir shops. According to Stephan Attia, CEO of Asia Sports Development, Real's Asian marketing partner, the team will be opening flagship stores in every large country in Asia, organizing fan clubs, Real cafés and restaurants, and football academies Asian stars in Europe have huge followings at home. The team also has plans for Real Madrid TV (à la MUTV, Alex Ferguson's propaganda channel) with programs in a number of Asian languages, plus gambling, message and other services. Of course, such an imperial strategy is simply unavailable to the Wolverhamptons and Celta Vigos and Brescias of the world or even the Liverpools and Ajaxs. Whether global branding, with its grueling travel, is good for players is another story. "If I go to one more country, I think I'll go mad," complained Brazilian fullback Roberto Carlos before the final leg of Real's Asian journey. Better keep your passport handy, Roberto next year Pérez wants to go to California, Australia and Shanghai.
ChelseaEstimated Payroll: €70 million
Rank last year in England's Premiership: 4th
Chelsea, an also-ran in the Premiership last season, is testimony to football's magnetic attraction for what economists call "non-financial investors," a.k.a. sugar daddies. Like Roman Abramovich, the Russian industrialist who spent around €200 million to buy the Blues and then another €160 million for parts, including Inter Milan striker Hernan Crespo (€24.3 million). "Chelsky" will lose millions, but what's an accounting entry against the Champions League trophy?
Bayern MunichEstimated Payroll: €45 million
Rank last year in Germany's Bundesliga: 1st
Bayern Munich, the perennial league champion, and the rest of the league are playing to a sad, familiar tune: "live within your means." Bayern made one major purchase this summer in Dutch forward Roy Makaay but even he took a pay cut. Overall, German clubs spent about €50 million on new signings this year Makaay accounted for €18.75 million of that down from more than €100 million last year. Reason: the bankruptcy of Kirch Media in 2002 deprived the league of its cash cow. Many clubs in Germany, including Dortmund, have been forced to slash payrolls a trend that's also hit England.
FiorentinaEstimated Payroll: €8 million
Rank last year in Italy's Serie C2 league: 1st
Fiorentina, on the other foot, shows what happens when a sugar daddy goes sour. The club once featured stars such as Gabriel Batistuta and Francesco Toldo, but it went bust in 2002. The team dropped from Serie A to the fourth division, where fashionista Diego Della Valle took over, pouring in €13 million. The team promptly won the C2 title, and in a controversial decision will play this season in Serie B. Inter Milan's Slack, an American, says salaries will decrease in Italy for the first time in decades. That's a new religion in the Serie A; teams such as Parma, Roma and Lazio are in serious trouble. But the football bubble, like the dotcom bubble, had to end.