Sports fans in Chile and Colombia show greatest interest in EPL outside of U.K., followed by Germany, France, Italy and U.S.
London – The English Premier League (EPL) has successfully expanded its fan base beyond the U.K. according to Altman Solon’s 2020 Global Sports & 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 U.S. leagues, the NFL, NBA, and MLB, struggle to attract mindshare of U.K. sports fans.
Altman Solon is the world’s largest global strategy consulting firm specialising on the media, technology and telecommunications sectors. The major international 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% of U.K. sports fans are interested in EPL
- Chile and Colombia are the biggest international markets for the EPL where 56% of respondents show interest in English clubs, while the EPL attracts about a third of sports fans in Germany, France, and Italy
- In the U.S. 20% are interested in the EPL overall, which rises to 28% 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 FC, Chelsea FC and Manchester City FC rank top for viewers in Germany and Italy
- Within France, fans name Liverpool FC, Manchester City FC and Chelsea FC on top
- In Columbia, 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% of regular sports viewers subscribe to pay TV, compared with 55% of non-viewers
- Sports fans are avid media consumers and an attractive target group for gaming and streaming services: 44% of regular sports viewers use social media daily, 25% play video games daily, and 34% watch streaming daily
- Favorite 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 5 favorite sports leagues/tournaments and are interested in roughly 7 additional leagues/tournaments. With live sports returning, 75% of U.K. sports fans are as interested in watching live sports as they were pre-pandemic, with 17% even more interested than before
- COVID-19 has changed live sports-viewing habits for some:
- 12% say they would wait 5 months before attending in-person while 18% say they would return within the first 5 months of reopening
- Only 4% of sports fans that attended games before the pandemic say they want to wait until a vaccine is developed
U.K. sports fans also show some interest in European leagues, with Spain’s La Liga and Germany’s Bundesliga the most popular with 22% and 20% 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, U.K. fans are less interested in foreign football leagues compared to other countries due to 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 U.S.,” said Christian Esser, Partner at Altman Solon. “But there are also differences within Europe: The U.K. and France show more traction with non-football options like rugby or darts than football-centric Germany and Italy. What the U.K. 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 U.S.”
“These findings suggest that the strategy to host British games and tournaments across the U.S. in summer is paying off. While the EPL has a lucrative deal with NBC Universal to broadcast matches in the U.S. 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 U.K. (10%, 9%, and 7% 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 U.K. pay TV channel dedicated to American Football. This may be due to future growth opportunities as while overall interest is low, UK fans of U.S. leagues are younger than their U.S. counterparts. Among 18-24-year-olds, the NBA’s interest level is 26% in the U.K., more than ten times that of older fans (2%, 55+). For NFL and MLB it is 21% and 19%, respectively.
“The Big Three U.S. leagues are facing more competition at home, especially for younger viewers, making Europe a logical place for expansion,” said Matt Del Percio, Director at Altman Solon. “While the leagues have more work to do in Europe, they have solid growth potential with new media deals and a younger fan base. Altman Solon tapped into its expertise across Europe and the Americas following this summer’s merger of the U.S.-based Altman Vilandrie & Company and Europe-based Solon Management Consulting to form the world’s largest Telecommunications, Media, and Technology consulting firm.
 Combined responses for interest level incorporating ‘favourite’ and ‘somewhat interested in’