The Premier League is known across the world as being the best and most competitive club league in the world. Football fans across the world tune-in every week to watch players like Kevin De Bruyne and David De Gea, but for all the superstars on the pitch and in the dugout, in terms of fan engagement the Premier League lacks massively behind it’s European counterparts.
Fans in other major European leagues are allowed to express themselves, with flares and choreographic displays common. This ultra culture has not made it across to the U.K on a major scale, and restrictive stadium rules in England severely limit what fans in England can do to show their support for their team besides chanting.
This is a huge factor behind fan disengagement in the Premier League, but other forces are also at play here. As I mentioned in my previous post the Premier League is becoming an increasingly consumerist for fans. So let’s compare it to another significant European league, the Bundesliga, to see how they stack up in terms of fan engagement.
The Premier League has become the preeminent club league in the world thanks to it’s entertaining brand of football and host of top world players who grace it’s clubs. This has allowed them to market the league into massive TV contracts both in England and across the world. The Premier League sold it’s last domestic TV deal to broadcasters Sky Sports and BT Sport for 2016-2019 for a cool £5.136 billion pounds. Now the Bundesliga has just celebrated it’s biggest ever TV deal for 2017-2021 for £4.123 billion pounds.
This has a direct impact on the spending power of clubs in the two leagues. In the 2017 summer transfer window Premier League clubs spent a massive £1 billion pounds on player transfers, attracting the worlds best to England. In that same period Bundesliga clubs spent £391 million. Now granted the Bundesliga has two less teams at 18, yet this does not explain a gulf of £609 million pounds between the two leagues spending.
Premier League clubs also use season ticket prices as yet another revenue stream for themselves. Bayern Munich are by far the biggest club in Germany, affectionately known as ‘FC Hollywood’ for their lavish spending, yet the cheapest season ticket they sell comes in at a measly £125 pounds. Now if we compare that to the biggest club in England, Manchester United, the sum is rather more at £532 pounds.
These figures on season ticket pricing explain why the Bundesliga regularly tops it’s rivals in terms of average attendances. For the 2017/18 season the Bundesliga averages 44,650 fans across all 18 clubs, whereas the Premier League averaged 38,300 fans across it’s 20 clubs. The latest figures also showed than in breakdowns of specific clubs, German giants Borussia Dortmund topped Europe with an average of 80,830 fans per game. A third of all the top thirty clubs in Europe for attendance came from the Bundesliga.
Whilst the Premier League is the richest league in the world, this relative lack of financial resources in the Bundesliga has led them to take a different approach when it comes to footballing talent. The English model at the moment is largely to use their massive financial resources to sign ready made talent from the rest of the world, whereas the Bundesliga model is more conducive to developing local talent from a young age.
This also affects the respective national sides of both countries. England performed well at the most recent World Cup in Russia, reaching a semi-final when the nation was more used to disappointment and frustration in major tournaments. For Germany the 2018 World Cup was one to forget with a group stage exit, yet in recent decades their respective fortunes have been a reverse of what happened in Russia.
Italia 1990 was the last time England reached a World Cup semi-final, and Euro 96 as host nation was the last time they reached a semi-final of a European Championships. In this same period Germany has won the World Cup twice, and reached a semi-final a further three times. In the European Championships they have a further victory and three consecutive final or semi-final appearances. It’s actually the national sides poor performance at Euro 2000 which initiated what we see today in the Bundesliga.
After an early group stage exit, reform in German football came swiftly. Every club in the top two German leagues was required to have an academy by the 2002-03 season to obtain a professional licence to play in these leagues. Within two years the 36 clubs had spent a combined £77.5 million pounds developing their academies.
The German FA also stepped in, creating over 365 centers across the country for young kids to receive coaching from 1,300 qualified FA coaches. National U19 and U17 leagues were also created to help develop youth players. This wide scale change in direction focusing on youth development has proved massively beneficial to both Bundesliga clubs and the national side.
Premier League clubs or the English FA do not seem to have this approach, as thousands of talented young players are left by the wayside of the extravagant spending their clubs make on foreign players. The Chelsea FC example is an extreme one, but does show the overall mindset of the the people in charge of these Premier League clubs. At some stages last season the club had 38 players out on-loan, largely made up of young English players who cannot reach the Chelsea first team.
Tammy Abraham proved prolific in the Championship with 23 goals but still could only find himself a loan move to another Premier League side, Swansea. Ruben Loftus-Cheek played in the 2018 World Cup for England, yet is still forced out on-loan to get game time. Lewis Baker was voted the Chelsea young player of the year in 2013/14 season, but since then has been forced to make successive loan moves to get minutes.
These examples show how in England promising young players are having their progress stunted because of foreign superstars. Despite having 38 players on-loan last season, Chelsea still spent £235.5 million pounds during the season, signing expensive foreign players with a proven pedigree.
The attraction of the Bundesliga is clear to see, and it’s sparked an English invasion as young players are now increasingly looking at the Bundesliga as the best place to develop their game. In recent years promising young players Reece Oxford of West Ham has joined Borussia Monchengladbach and Ademola Lookman of Everton has joined R.B Leipzig on-loan. Jadon Sancho has also left reigning champions Manchester City to join renowned youth player developers Borussia Dortmund permanently.
With the spending power of the Premier League and the youth orientated focus in the Bundesliga, it’s no surprise that the stats show a big difference in the percentage of foreign players in each league. The Premier League in 2017/18 was made up overwhelmingly of foreign players at 64.1%, whereas the Bundesliga last season was just over half at 53.9%.
Players from across the world are attracted to the Premier League thanks to it’s popularity and the financial rewards on offer. Player salaries in the Premier League far outweigh the Bundesliga, therefore it’s usually an easy decision for well-known players to move to the Premier League.
Bayern Munich are the only team that can financially compete with a top level Premier League club, with an average salary of $6.74 million dollars per year for their players. This matches the top two Premier League clubs Manchester United and Manchester City, who each spend $6.81 million dollars per year. Outside of this however the Bundesliga falls well behind it’s English rival. Borussia Dortmund are second in Germany with $3.56 million dollars per year, yet that figure would put them ninth in the Premier League spending last season.
All of this information shows that the Bundesliga is more willing to give young players a chance than the Premier League. It also shows that the Bundesliga is more willing to give young aspiring managers a chance also. Last season the average age of a Premier League manager was 49.95 years old, yet in the Bundesliga it was 44.6 years old. 45% of Premier League managers are over 50, whereas it’s 27% in the Bundesliga.
Whilst a lot of these stats show various figures, they do not explain explicitly why the Bundesliga has better fan engagement than the Premier League. They do however help explain the various factors behind the matter. The vast wealth of the Premier League has allowed it’s clubs the financial resources to go out and spend big sums for ready made foreign players with a proven track record in prominent leagues.
Fans do not have an affinity with these players because they cannot relate to them. They earn massive sums and do not orbit the same world as the fans. These players often move for financial just as much as footballing reasons, therefore these players know little of the history of the clubs they play for or the city they live in.
Football fans feel a much closer affinity to players who have graduated from a clubs academy because they already known about the club and are more likely to be from the same area as the fans. This is much more apparent in the Bundesliga, where talented youngsters are given chances to gain experience in the first team long before most young English players.
Ticket pricing and increasing commercial aspects within football stadiums are leaving fans feeling like customers not fans, yet in the Bundesliga fans are still held up as the lifeblood of football clubs and are allowed to express the love for their team more overtly than their English counterparts.
The Premier League these days has become a very effective consumer package, where clubs increasingly use revenue streams from sponsors to help them buy the players needed to consolidate their position in the Premier League and compete with their rivals in Europe. In turn sponsors get to market their products exclusively to a large fan base which increases their sales and revenue.
The Bundesliga still feels for many football fans like how football should be. Fans are allowed to show their passion for their team, as they watch a blend of top class players and young academy graduates. Initiatives like the 50+1 rule mean fans will always be the most important thing about Bundesliga football clubs, yet that dream has long since passed in the Premier League. For all it’s wealth and world superstars, the Premier League could learn a lot from the Bundesliga.
I would like to give a massive thanks to Reddit.com, TransferMarkt.com, Statista.com, Goal.com and The Guardian for their help with the research for this article.
If you have an opinion on this topic please leave your comments below I would massively appreciate it!
By Jordan Wilkins