Why are Premier League clubs leaving value on the table?

By Joe Lawrence

5 mins

Why are Premier League clubs leaving value on the table?

By Joe Lawrence

5 mins

Football has always been labelled as the game which brings the world together. But the value in football has historically been concentrated within the big five European leagues, which have tended to attract both the talent and the lucrative broadcast revenue, to cement their place on the top. But while the same leagues remain relatively secure in their hegemony the nature of their fanbase has changed, becoming both more transient and international.



Let’s cover the international angle first. Of the 5bn football fans Fifa counts in the world, the largest markets are Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, noticeably not in what the English like to cast as the home of football. For the first time this year, the Prem is set to generate more money from international broadcast income than domestic. And this trend is only likely to be exacerbated by the World Cup, where we saw four teams from Asia and Africa (if we exclude Australia) qualify for the knockout stages of the competition for the first time, and each upset one of the top four ranked teams in the world. This shouldn’t matter, with the star players of each team still tending to play in one of the big five leagues, and so drawing international fans into their club’s respective fandoms. Some teams are even using this to their advantage to reach new markets; Celtic has recently signed five Japanese players, who while keeping Celtic at the top of the table have also rapidly expanded Celtic’s fanbase in a market they traditionally would struggle to penetrate. As new signing Kobayashi states: “Celtic is one of the most famous teams in Japan”.



However, we’re also seeing changes in the football fan itself. Gone are the days of old boys reminiscing in pubs holding a monopoly on fandom, with factors like the rise of women’s football opening up access to fandom to demographics who were previously less interested. With this we’ve seen the rise of a much more transient fanbase: in the UK 20% of those who consider themselves football fans don’t follow a team, but watch football at least once a week or never miss a big game. These are fans living in the same country where one of the big five leagues is based, with the rise of so-called “plastic” fans likely to be much more prevalent internationally. Many of these football fans are dedicating themselves more to star players than single clubs, with stars like Ronaldo having the power to raise Al Nassr’s Instagram followers from 864k to 4.1m upon signing. This is great for clubs who own the talisman players, but few of these fans are likely to stay with Al Nassr once Ronaldo has left.




Even whilst they have these new-breed fans spread across the globe, clubs have traditionally struggled to monetize them directly. Barcelona recently stated they only have data on 1% of their 350m fans, with one of their key aims to get to 5% with all the revenue benefits they can bring from targeting these “lost” fans for memberships.



On the international front, clubs aren’t helped in this endeavour by the uninspiring nature of the international memberships they are offering. These are often opaque as to the perks they’re offering and are still centered on matchday benefits that an international fan will very rarely use. Being allowed to potentially win tickets in a lottery dominated by fans who have been with the club for 30 years is understandably unappealing for an international fan who lives miles away around the globe. But the opportunity is huge: Barcelona has the highest average attendance in Europe for home games at Camp Nou, with over 83,000 fans squeezing in, but this pales in comparison with their total fanbase. Admittedly due to purchasing power disparity, a lot of the non-attending international fans will be unwilling to pay the same amount as a domestic fan to get involved with the club, but the scale of the opportunity outweighs this.


So what we’re seeing is a huge opportunity to increase fan value, with two main problems. Firstly, how to directly monetise your more international and transient fanbase, and secondly how to lock them in so they don’t leave the club once you’ve acquired them.


At Manifesto one of our specialisms is building memberships that drive the engagement necessary to build fan value, and we’ve learnt that successful propositions rely on four key elements:



  • Content – Exclusive access to the original content and behind-the-scene footage to bring fans closer to the action.

  • Commerce – Exclusive access to products and partnerships that enrich fan’s lives

  • Community – Authentic digital and physical communities that open up communication and deliver value to the global fan family.

  • Experience – Providing digital and physical experiences that surprise and delight across the fan journey.



These pillars need to be centred around what your fan needs and how they want to interact with your club and need to come with stellar CX that allows fans to extract value from their membership. Although high-performing CX is another feather in the metaphorical Manifesto cap, let’s focus today on these four key elements – who’s doing them well?



Content – NFL games pass


Second prize goes to Netflix’s Drive to Survive, whose narrative and personality driven format sparked a massive wave of interest in F1 despite its previous reputation amongst some casual viewers as slightly dull and very inaccessible. However, for virtual content to drive engagement, the prize has to go to the NFL’s game pass which offers both an extensive content library with personalised recommendations, high production value live shows and a variety of different replay options for when time zones (or supporting your other team) don’t allow you to catch the big match.



Commerce – Kenzo


As we saw with Jordan’s partnership with PSG making their kit the most hype on the market almost overnight, exclusivity in merch can pay big dividends. Kenzo recently had a promotion where users had to play games virtually and defeat other opponents to get access to buy exclusive sneakers. Even the most casual fan is usually keen for exclusive merch, won in a fun and innovative way.



Community – Wolves


Wolves have the usual premiership international fan membership advertised online, but right next to it they also openly encourage fans to become chairpeople of fan clubs in their country. Becoming a chairperson offers great benefits, a prestigious position, and helps fans feel they are more involved in their clubs, building long term engagement and habits. Crucially fans are more likely to be attracted to clubs at a younger age if their family or them has involvement in a fan club, allowing clubs to more easily lock them into their ecosystem. 



Experience – WWE


WWE tackled vacant ticketing revenues during Covid by creating a virtual arena “Thunderdome”, aimed at re-creating the experience of an in-person crowd at home. Powered by drone footage and virtual fan engagement, the WWE posted record-level revenues for 2020 despite the pandemic. Despite Covid restrictions being lifted, the lessons in driving engagement around events for fans who can’t necessarily be present at the match remain.



Interested in more? Check out our case studies for more examples of where we’ve helped companies with challenges like this, and our Engagement Economics report for the science of building obsessed fanbases


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