Transfers, new sponsorships, TV deal leaves Chelsea books in rude health
LONDON -- The Premier League title isn't quite won yet, but Antonio Conte has already led Chelsea back to the top table of European football.
Sunday's 3-0 win over Everton at Goodison Park secured a top-four finish and ensured that Stamford Bridge will host Champions League matches again next season, regardless of what happens in the final weeks of this campaign.
Returning to Europe's elite club competition was, as Conte has repeatedly stated in recent weeks, Chelsea's "first target" this season.
Long before the Premier League trophy emerged as a likely prize, the idea of a season out of the Champions League becoming a longer exile was a source of significant anxiety.
UEFA distribution figures show that Chelsea earned €69.17 million (£58.5m) from their run in the 2015-16 competition, when they lost to Paris Saint-Germain in the round of 16 after winning their group.
Given that Conte's revived team might have fared just as well and possibly better this season, it's clear that missing out on European football entirely has led to a sizeable loss of revenue; an extended run in the Europa League would also have brought in somewhere in the region of £35m.
But has Chelsea's European absence caused significant harm on or off the pitch?
"The answer is no," Rob Wilson, sports finance expert from Sheffield Hallam University, told ESPN FC.
Conte was still given four new players last summer for a total outlay of around £122m, while Chelsea's lighter schedule has been key to their Premier League title charge. Since 1992, last season's Leicester City are the only champions to play fewer matches (43) than the Blues will navigate (45) this season.
Wilson adds: "While the financial impact has been there, the on-pitch performance has been much better, which has allowed Chelsea to presumably win the league this year and recover a lot of that lost revenue."
From a financial perspective, Chelsea have timed their return to the top of the Premier League perfectly.
Bumper new domestic and overseas TV deals, together worth in excess of £8.3 billion, mean this season's champions will receive an estimated £140m -- a rise of almost 40 percent from the £87.3m awarded to the Blues for last season's 10th-placed finish.
Improvement is also expected in Chelsea's commercial revenue, which increased by eight percent to £117m in 2015-16 -- thanks mostly to the boost provided by a new £40m-a-year shirt sponsorship deal with Yokohama.
This season will be the first in which Carabao's £10m-a-year training-wear sponsorship shows up on the books, while the mammoth £60m-a-year kit deal agreed with Nike in October kicks in from 2017-18.
"Just on the shirt sponsorship from 2017-18, that's £110m," Jake Cohen, sports lawyer for Mills & Reeve, told ESPN FC.
"There are only 35 to 40 clubs in the world that have made £110m in total [in terms of commercial income], so I think Chelsea's renewed push towards exploiting its brand and growing commercial revenue more than offsets a single year's loss of Champions League revenue."
Matchday revenue is expected to fall. It has hovered around the £70m mark in the last four years, limited by long-standing ticket price freezes and the relatively modest 41,500 capacity of the soon-to-be-redeveloped Stamford Bridge.
In 2015-16 Chelsea earned £69.7m from 25 home games. This season the absence of a European schedule means there will have been just 23 matches at Stamford Bridge, yielding a projected return of just over £64m.
But in the wider context this isn't disastrous, particularly in light of the fact that Chelsea continue to distinguish themselves within the realm of player sales.
Last summer saw the departure of Papy Djilobodji to Sunderland for £8m and the completion of Mohamed Salah's £12.75m move to Roma, followed by the £6m sale of Patrick Bamford to Middlesbrough in January and, most spectacularly of all, the staggering £60m deal that took Oscar to Shanghai SIPG.
"It was a lot of money for an extremely talented but, ultimately, a back-up midfielder," Cohen said of the Brazilian. "They saw an offer that exceeded market value and money that could be spent on improving other areas of the squad."
"Chelsea have done really well to get top money for those players and that's really supported their player acquisition policy," Wilson added.
"It means they haven't had to dip too far into cash reserves or other earned income."
Returning to the Champions League as Premier League winners would entitle Chelsea to a larger pre-determined share of the competition's TV money than England's three other representatives, painting an even brighter picture of the club's projected accounts for 2017-18.
In the meantime, there is every indication that Chelsea will have all the funds they need to pursue their top targets in this summer's transfer market, while the army of 37 loanees returning to Cobham this summer could also prove a helpful source of reinforcements for Conte.
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.