EPL and Championship clubs urged to take a leaf out of Bundesliga book to boost attendances

15 April 2019

fans
Photo: Getty Images Werder Bremen fans playing away against F.C. Nuernberg,

Analysis shows Bundesliga’s top two tiers well ahead of English top two divisions.

Calls for clubs to make more use of differentiated and dynamic pricing to ramp up fan loyalty and put bums on seats.

Premier League and Championship clubs could learn much from their German counterparts to better engage fans and boost attendances, an English university football specialist tells offthepitch.com.

A new report by the CIES Football Observatory, analysing match attendances in 51 national football leagues from 42 countries, reveals that five German clubs are in the top 10 of highest average attendances from 2003 to 2018.

The Bundesliga is the most followed league, with 18 per cent higher average attendances than the English Premier League (43,302 spectators to 36,675) over this five-year period.

even in these days of hyper-commercialism, there's still value in the community and fraternity of fandom, which the Germans have in abundance.

Borussia Dortmund tops the rankings for attendance by club, with 80,230 spectators. Manchester United (75,218), FC Barcelona (74,876), Bayern Munich (73,781) and Real Madrid (69,822) round out the top five.  Schalke 04, Hamburg and Stuttgart are the other highly-ranked Bundesliga clubs. Arsenal are ranked seventh, but Liverpool and Manchester City place 12th and 21st, respectively. Atlanta United, in tenth place, are the most popular non-European club.

Getting fans onside

Simon Chadwick, professor of sport enterprise at the University of Salford Business School, believes EPL and Championship clubs can take a few lessons from the way Germany’s top-flight and second division clubs put bums on seats to pack out their stadiums.

He told offthepitch.com the research underlines that “even in these days of hyper-commercialism, there's still value in the community and fraternity of fandom, which the Germans have in abundance”.

I think fans and clubs in Germany have a much closer, more trusting relationship which manifests itself in terms of bigger attendances.

Chadwick also highlights the prevailing economic conditions, the fact that Germans have strong disposable incomes and the benefits of more transparent governance “because of the way German clubs are governed”.

He refers to the 50+1 ownership rule which means that clubs - and, by extension, the fans - hold a majority of their own voting rights. Under German Football League rules, clubs are barred from having commercial investors with more than a 49 per cent stake.

“I think fans and clubs in Germany have a much closer, more trusting relationship which manifests itself in terms of bigger attendances,” Chadwick said.

Low ticket prices offered by German football clubs also keep the fans flocking to games in huge numbers.

“The analysis of the average attendances over the past five years highlights the incredible passion surrounding professional football clubs in Germany,” the report said, noting also that Germany’s second tier, 2. Bundesliga, is the second division championship with the greatest average number of spectators, just ahead of the English Championship.

Boosting fan engagement is key

Asked how Premier League and Championship clubs might improve their gate receipts, Chadwick said:

“They take the view that theirs is a premium product that people are prepared to pay premium prices for. Instead, what clubs need is the stronger, more competitive use of differentiated and dynamic pricing. My feeling is also that English clubs have a somewhat tepid approach to market segmentation i.e. targeting specific fan groups. They need to be more innovative and sophisticated.”

Chadwick offered some suggestions for English clubs to consider helping lift attendances and bolster fan loyalty – even through the tough times – which, in turn, can grow[LCHN1]  revenues.

“It is about better fan engagement and relationship management - knowing what people want and then giving it to them, which implies the need for better market research allied to the implementation and management of its findings,” he said.

“However, the short-termism of many clubs is unhelpful, a more strategic commitment to developing fan bases is required.”

With English clubs under ever more intense scrutiny to achieve success on the pitch and revenue targets off it, Chadwick believes clubs would do well to look outside the football industry a bit more to recruit staff.

“What they actually need is good people, possibly from outside the game, helping them to grow fandom and attendances. Instead of judging, we need to start helping.”

Mexican top-flight ranks 4th

According to the analysis carried out by the research group at the International Centre for Sports Studies in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, the Mexican top division is the most popular competition outside the non-European leagues with average attendances of 25,582, ranked fourth behind Spain’s La Liga (27,381) but ahead of Italy’s Serie A (22,967).

Despite the increase in the number of teams participating in the MLS, average attendances have consistently increased to break the 20,000-spectator threshold over the past five years

The Chinese Super League (6th with 22,594) and Major League Soccer (8th with 21,358) are the two other competitions outside of Europe making the top ten in terms of spectator numbers. The Japanese J-League is 12th, just ahead of the Brazilian Serie A.

“The study of the changes since 2003 reveals the growing enthusiasm for football in the United States and Canada,” said the report.

“Despite the increase in the number of teams participating in the MLS, average attendances have consistently increased to break the 20,000-spectator threshold over the past five years. This limit has also been broken in China, where football’s popularity is henceforth well established too.”