Survey: EPL international strategy paying off

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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:

  • 72 per cent of UK sports fans are interested in EPL
  • Chile and Colombia are the biggest international markets for the EPL where 56 per cent of respondents show interest in English clubs, while the EPL attracts about a third of sports fans in Germany, France, and Italy
  • In the US, 20 per cent are interested in the EPL overall, which rises to 28 per cent for younger fans (18-24 years old)

When it comes to popularity of specific clubs in the EPL generating interest internationally, the study indicates several differences by country:

  • Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City rank top for viewers in Germany and Italy
  • Within France, fans name Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea on top
  • In Colombia, it’s Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool that are the most popular

The data has also revealed key viewing trends among the UK sports audience:

  • Sports fans are still critical customers for pay-TV: 80 per cent of regular sports viewers subscribe to pay TV, compared with 55 per cent of non-viewers
  • Sports fans are avid media consumers and an attractive target group for gaming and streaming services: 44 per cent of regular sports viewers use social media daily, 25 per cent play video games daily, and 34 per cent watch streaming daily
  • Favourite sports are specific to age groups: Football is the number one ranked sport watched on TV among all age groups; followed by rugby and tennis for older age groups, and cricket, car racing, and athletics for younger ones
  • Interest in sports remains strong: Fans, on average, say they have around five favourite sports leagues/tournaments and are interested in roughly seven additional leagues/tournaments. With live sports returning, 75 per cent of UK sports fans are as interested in watching live sports as they were pre-pandemic, with 17 per cent even more interested than before
  • Covid-19 has changed live sports-viewing habits for some:
    • 12 per cent say they would wait five months before attending in-person while 18 per cent say they would return within the first five months of reopening
    • Only 4 per cent of sports fans that attended games before the pandemic say they want to wait until a vaccine is developed

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.

 


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