The English Premier League (EPL) has successfully expanded its fan base beyond the UK according to strategy consulting firm Altman Solon’s 2020 Global Sports and News Survey, which has revealed its popularity both home and away. Conversely, while there is competition for fan interest from Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga, the major US leagues, the NFL, NBA, and MLB, struggle to attract mindshare of UK sports fans.
The study, which gauged viewing and fandom trends among 14,000 sports fans in 10 countries across Europe, North and Latin America has revealed the following trends when it comes to following for the EPL:
When it comes to popularity of specific clubs in the EPL generating interest internationally, the study indicates several differences by country:
The data has also revealed key viewing trends among the UK sports audience:
UK sports fans also show some interest in European leagues, with Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga the most popular with 22 per cent and 20 per cent respectively. This comes as no surprise given their teams’ success in European tournaments, winning seven out of eight UEFA Champions League seasons between them since 2013. However, UK fans are less interested in foreign football leagues compared to other countries as a result of high interest in other domestic sports such as cricket.
“Major European sports markets are dominated by national football leagues compared to the multi-sport model in the US,” advises Christian Esser, Partner at Altman Solon and co-director of the survey. “But there are also differences within Europe: The UK and France show more traction with non-football options like rugby or darts than football-centric Germany and Italy. What the UK and Germany share is the success in ‘exporting’ their leagues: EPL and Bundesliga have been successful in showcasing the world’s best teams and players in the US.”
“These findings suggest that the strategy to host British games and tournaments across the US in summer is paying off. While the EPL has a lucrative deal with NBC Universal to broadcast matches in the US through the 2021-22 season, a direct-to-consumer streaming platform could extend its international fan base even further.”
The survey indicates that interest in NFL, NBA, and MLB is low in the UK (10 per cent, 9 per cent, and 7 per cent respectively), despite stated ambitions and games played in Wembley Stadium since 2007 every year. Despite this , the Big Three have struck contracts with European TV broadcast partners, including the NFL’s recent deal with Sky Sports to launch the first UK pay-TV channel dedicated to American Football. This may be ascribed to future growth opportunities as while overall interest is low, UK fans of US leagues are younger than their US counterparts. Among 18-24-year-olds, the NBA’s interest level is 26 per cent in the UK, more than ten times that of older fans (2 per cent, 55+). For NFL and MLB it is 21 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively.
“The Big Three US leagues are facing more competition at home, especially for younger viewers, making Europe a logical place for expansion,” suggests Matt Del Percio, Director at Altman Solon and co-director of the survey. “While the leagues have more work to do in Europe, they have solid growth potential with new media deals and a younger fan base.