Survey: EPL Fans More Passionate About Their Teams Than NFL Counterparts
Bernie Mullin has had to “bite his lip” for 39 years whenever he has heard U.S.-based sports fans talk about being passionate for their favorite club. Mullin said, “I’ve been to every major sporting event in the U.S. The fans in Europe don’t need a band or cheerleaders or a prompt on a video board to tell them to ‘Make some Noise.’" The Liverpool native grew up six miles from his beloved Everton FC’s Goodison Park, played for the semi-professional Oxford City FC, and since '73 has held top positions at the NBA, several major league teams, and at various times has been a Denver Broncos and N.Y. Jets season ticket holder. His Atlanta-based Aspire Group has offices in five countries on three continents. Results from a recent first-of-its-kind study conducted on behalf of SportsBusiness Daily Global by Turnkey Intelligence and Toluna support Mullin’s belief. After satisfying a significant number of qualifiers in Toluna's Online international panel, 300 avid NFL fans living in the U.S. and 300 avid EPL fans living in the U.K., all at least 18 years old, were asked a series of questions to measure their level of support for their favorite football club.
PASSIONATE ABOUT TEAMS: The study, conducted during the weeks leading up to the end of the EPL winter transfer window and the NFL playoffs, shows that avid EPL fans in the U.K. consistently demonstrated that they tend to be more passionate about their favorite club and spend more time and money supporting it than U.S.-based NFL avid fans do with their best-loved squad. Mullin said: "The majority of EPL fans are defined by their support for their team -- it’s endemic. Before their religion, before they say they’re married, before they say what they do for a living, before they say anything else, they say, for example in my case: I am an Evertonian. That affinity defines their lifestyle more than anything else.” For example, EPL fans were twice as likely than NFL fans to attend games featuring their favorite team. According to the data, EPL fans on average attend 30% of all team home games compared to NFL’s 15%. From a marketing perspective, however, it is important to note that the average EPL club plays approximately 40 matches, versus 20 games for an NFL team. As a result, in terms of absolute numbers, EPL fans attend games by a ratio of 4:1 over NFL fans.
TURN ON THE TELLY: When it comes to games watched on TV, NFL fans watched an average of 79% of their teams’ games on TV, or roughly the equivalent of the entire regular season. EPL fans watched about two-thirds of the games on TV. But again, that number translates to about 10 broadcasts more than NFL fans due to the longer schedule.
There are many possible reasons for this disparity. There are 92 professional football clubs in the U.K. in the top four divisions, and a typical team can expect to have approximately seven games broadcast nationally during a season. Most NFL clubs can expect all their games to be available on TV. Additionally, throughout the U.K. no live broadcasts nor highlights of the 3pm Saturday afternoon games are allowed, a longtime policy that the league believes encourages attendance. EPL fans in the U.S., however, will be able to watch nearly every match this summer on one of the NBC Sports’ platforms, something fans in the U.K. will be unable to do.
HOME, SWEET HOME: Fenway Sports Management-owned Liverpool FC Chief Commercial Officer Billy Hogan said the atmosphere of a home field advantage also drives people to the pitch. Hogan, who's seen some pretty intense games in a decade with the Red Sox, said: “I’ve never been in a sporting environment with the tension and energy of an EPL match. Every single minute of every single game means something.” Hogan said that more than 90% of fans in Anfield for a match are Liverpool supporters, a ratio that he says is pretty consistent across the league.
REACHING FOR THEIR WALLET: When it comes to opening the wallet, fans of each league spend an average of 12% of their monthly income on activities and merchandise related to following and supporting their favorite team. And 51% of EPL fans spend 6% or more of their monthly income to support and follow their favorite team, compared to 40% of NFL fans that do the same.
KEEPING TABS ON COST: Arsensal Chief Commercial Officer Tom Fox said the club has raised ticket prices twice since moving into the new Emirates Stadium in July '06. Following a 3% increase after the stadium opened, a 4% hike in '11 coincided with a 2.5% increase in the VAT throughout the U.K. Fox, whose resume includes running Gatorade, NBA Asia and Nike’s Asian business, said: “As a league, the EPL is very conscious of the cost of attending a match. What our charts show is that our fans are now spending a larger percentage of their disposable income to support us, so we as clubs need to be much more careful about how we grow our revenue. When you raise ticket prices you do risk pricing some of your fan out of the most important thing that they support and do in their lives.”
LIVING IN THE WEB WORLD: Most EPL clubs also generate revenue from subscriptions to their team websites. Away from the game itself, EPL fans seek information about their favorite team more frequently than NFL fans -- both during the season and in the off-season. During the season 61% of EPL fans look every day for news, scores, standings or other information about their favorite club. 44% of NFL fans do the same. The margin expands considerably during the offseason, where EPL fans are twice as likely than NFL fans to keep tabs on the club. Hogan said the frequency of times seeking info was a key takeaway for him. Hogan: “The most significant difference between the fan bases is that for an EPL fan there is a lot less distraction, frankly, over here in regards to other sports. If you’re a Patriots fan living in Boston you’ve got the Red Sox and Bruins and Celtics all taking up the bandwidth in terms of your attention during different times of the year. If you’re a Liverpool fan, or really a fan of just about any EPL club, you’re a fan 24/7/365.” For example, ManU has 31.8 million Facebook ‘likes,’ nearly six times the combined total of Facebook ‘likes’ plus Twitter ‘followers’ of the NFL’s most popular team in the social-media realm, the Dallas Cowboys.
PUTTING IN THE TIME: All told, avid EPL fans spend roughly 11.6 hours per week following their favorite team, nearly two hours more than the average avid NFL fan. Turnkey Intelligence VP of Research Nikolay Panchev said, “What hopefully doesn't get lost in these comparisons is how just much time and money fans in both leagues dedicate to their favorite team and sport. They are hungry for more, and I think it validates what's happening with both media rights and stadium upgrades in our industry.”
FANS FOLLOW SPONSORS: Fans were also asked a series of questions related to sponsor awareness and support. While EPL fans find it more important to know the official sponsors of their favorite team, their loyalty to team sponsors is virtually at the same level as among NFL fans. For example, 57% of each league’s avid fan base claimed that it was more likely to consider trying a product that is an official league sponsor. London-based Synergy Sponsorship CEO Tim Crow honed in on the pyschographic response that showed that 78% of EPL fans and 63% of NFL fans are ‘miserable’ the day after a loss. The London-based shop has handled Coca-Cola’s soccer work in the U.K. since the 1990s, and runs Capital One’s sponsorship of the English Capital One Cup. Crow: “I can tell you from the business side, that is a really correct insight when it comes to football fans. When we are working with clients and their target is football fans, one of the things that we always say to them is that ‘what you need to know about football fans is that it’s all about suffering.’ We tell them ‘you know, you’re not going to win every time -- there’s only one champion each year, and most teams struggle, but their fans are passionate.’
PLAYING WITH EMOTION: Emotionally, EPL fans in general appear more passionate about supporting their favorite team: they are more likely than NFL fans to say “WE” rather than “THEY” when referring to their favorite team (88% vs. 76%) Mullin said: “As a kid, I would never, ever wear red because Liverpool is red. As an adult, I’ll wear red, but never on gameday. Here I am, sports executive for 30-plus years, still stupid and suspicious. I like to think I am reasonably intelligent, I think I’m analytical and strategic, but you know what? When it comes to being a fan of Everton, I’m right back to being an idiot fan.” And when asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 was ‘completely disagree’ and 5 was ‘completely agree,’ EPL fans were more likely to support their team ‘win or lose,’ (86% vs. 79%). MLB Miami Marlins President David Samson attended a ManU-Liverpool match during a trip to England in 2009, and said the atmosphere was unlike any sporting event he has ever attended. Samson: “It made a Yankee-Red Sox playoff game look like a Marlins-Rays Wednesday night game.”
When it comes to title matches, 71% of EPL fans said they would do ‘everything possible’ to attend the championship game if their team made it, compared to 62% of NFL fans who would make a similar effort to travel to the Super Bowl.
|Fan Loyalty Metrics (top 2 box score)||NFL||EPL|
|Likely to encourage others to watch TEAM games on TV||94%||88%|
|Following TEAM is an important part of my normal routine||86%||94%|
|For me there is no better entertainment than watching TEAM games||82%||83%|
|If TEAM loses a game, I feel miserable the next day||63%||78%|
|Likely to encourage others to attend team home games||65%||69%|
|If TEAM were to reach the Super Bowl / UEFA Champions League Final, I would do everything possible to attend||62%||71%|
|Likely to encourage others to attend team away games||44%||53%|
BATTLE OF THE SEXES: Finally, the study found no significant differences by gender and age or income levels of the fan bases of the two leagues, although NFL fans were more likely to be never married. Crow mused, “Maybe there is a role for an official dating site sponsorship of the NFL because it looks like these guys are struggling to make themselves attractive to the opposite sex!”
METHODOLOGY: For this project, Turnkey Intelligence conducted an online survey of 600 members of Toluna's Online international panel as follows: 300 avid NFL fans living in the U.S. and 300 avid EPL fans living in the U.K.; all respondents were at least 18 years old. The survey was fielded in Dec. 2012.
Respondents in the respective territory were screened to ensure:
- They are "Very interested" in NFL (for U.S. respondents) or Premier League/nPower League Championship (for U.K. respondents), and
- Have a favorite team in the NFL (U.S.) or EPL/ Championship (U.K.), and
- Are self-described "Very avid supporter" or a "Strong supporter" of their respective favorite team.
U.S. respondents were provided questions only pertaining to the NFL and their favorite NFL team, while U.K. respondents could answer questions only addressing the EPL/Championship and their favorite EPL/Championship team.
Paris-based Toluna has offices in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Netherlands, Romania, Germany, India, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong.