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  • Federico Graffi, Paolo Mastrapasqua, Florian Walter

Global success: the secrets of the Premier League

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

The Premier League, what factors have led to the English league becoming one of the most popular in the world?

Firstly, for those who do not know, we need to explain that the Premier League is the English football league and nowadays considered as the best European Football League by players and fans. In the past, the gap between the Premier League and other European leagues was not that significant. Today, on the other hand, the English league consists of many financially powerful teams that can afford to sign a range of talented players and thus build very strong teams that overperform, even at the European level (e.g., Manchester City's performances in the Champions League).

These differences are also due to the business surrounding the Premier League and in particular the TV rights, which enable English football clubs to gain much higher revenues on average than teams of other European Football Leagues. For example, Manchester City, the reigning champions, earned €187.2 million in TV rights last year - more than twice as much as Inter Milan, which is the club with the highest TV earnings of the Serie A.

Our research was initially based on a qualitative survey in the form of three individual interviews lasting 15-20 minutes. The interview questions were designed to test respondents' general football knowledge and, in particular, to identify satisfaction and choice factors related to the Premier League.

Subsequently, we launched an online questionnaire. The online questionnaire mainly consisted of questions regarding the individual success factors, which were weighted according to their attributed influence using rating scales. In addition, the respondents were asked to indicate which of the pre-assigned success factors they most closely associated with the respective top European leagues.

Factor analysis and cluster analysis

One of the core questions of the questionnaire aims to explore which key factors play a leading role in determining the success of the premier league. The question was constructed as follows: "On a scale of 1 to 9, where 1 = least important and 9 = most important, what importance does each of the following factors play in your choice to follow the Premier League?"

The 14 variables under analysis are: Refereeing style, Physicality, Fan involvement, Club history, Presence of youth, Presence of champions, Spectacle, Quality of infrastructure, Tactics, Style of play, Television accessibility, Unpredictability, Intensity and Competitiveness. Through a factor analysis, 4 macro-elements (or factors) were extracted, guaranteeing a percentage of explained variance of 65.075%.

Below is the component table, which allows us to observe the correlation between the variables and the extracted factors.

It can be seen that each of the extracted macro-elements has a correlation greater than 0.5 with at least 3 of the original variables and greater than (or very close to) 0.8 with at least one of them.

Let us look at the characteristics of the factors in detail:

Fluidity: the correlation is excellent with refereeing style and good with physicality, as well as being quite good with fan involvement and club history. Focusing on the first two, the correlation with a modern, flowing, and uninterrupted game (so-called "English-style refereeing") appears evident.

Aesthetics: the two strongest correlations are with presence of champions and spectacularism, to which is added, in third place, quality of infrastructure. It collects the opinions of those respondents who give priority importance to the "beauty" of matches and stadiums.

Technicality: has a very high correlation with tactics and style of play and a good one with TV accessibility. It is a factor that includes evaluations by people who are experts in the field and are very attentive to the technical side of matches.

Agonism: the best correlations occur, in order, with unpredictability, intensity and competitiveness. It collects the opinions of those who consider of priority importance in the English league the balance, competition and the weight that teams attach to each match.

The 4 factors derived from factor analysis were used to carry out cluster analysis, resulting in 4 internally homogeneous and externally heterogeneous groups. Below is the table of the final cluster centers, the radar chart and the resulting interpretation:

Indulgent: they consider all elements of evaluation relatively unimportant, especially those related to the competitive factor.

Diplomats: they prioritize the fact that in every match surprise is around the corner and that every team can aspire to success while neglecting the tactical side and the way of playing.

Experts: they put together the aspects favoured by the previous two clusters, i.e., the unpredictability and difficulty of the league, with the technical type elements.

Demanders: consider almost all variables to be more important than average, especially those typical of English football such as refereeing style, physicality, and the quality of the fans.

All factors entered into the analysis were found to be statistically significant. In fact, the p-value is less than 0.01 for each of the F-tests. In addition, no cluster has either excessively low or excessively high numerosity (minimum 24, maximum 70). Consequently, it was possible to best interpret each cluster and its distinguishing characteristics.

Correspondence analysis

Next, we performed a correspondence analysis to which it was possible to simultaneously analyse multiple categorical variables to have a better understanding of our sample's perception of individual top European leagues (Bundesliga, La Liga, Premier League, and Serie A).

To this end, we asked the participants of our questionnaire to associate a number of characteristics with the various leagues, leaving them free to select one league or more than one, as well as none of them.

The 6 evaluation elements are as follows: balance among teams, spectacularism of the game, quality of environment, presence of champions, intensity and physicality of matches, and presence of historical clubs.

By looking at the number of associations of each attribute to the relevant league, it was then possible to obtain the tables with row and column points and construct the correspondence map, shown below:

Managerial considerations

To conclude, we have attempted to extract the most important considerations that were drawn from the analysis and based on this, we also propose a series of managerial considerations that Serie A could introduce to try to replicate the English model.

In general, through an association question between the Premier League and the league that is the closest in similarity, it was possible to determine that Serie A is the European league that is most likely to replicate the success of the English model. This closeness can be particularly seen this year with three Italian teams (Inter, Roma Sand Fiorentina) reaching the finals of all European competitions.

This replicability is more suited to the Italian league since, after the years of Juventus' dominance, in the last three seasons the league has been won by as many teams, which for many years were the so-called "chasers." These are some of the most historical and successful clubs in Italy, such as Inter, Milan and Napoli, who have been able to take advantage of the favourable moment to relaunch themselves in all competitions, both at the national and European level.

These considerations have allowed us to identify some salient points on which to intervene, to bring Serie A teams permanently back to the roof of Europe. In detail:

Coaches: The League should stimulate (or at least encourage) the hiring of young coaches who propose an innovative style of play without imitating each other as happens nowadays. A concrete example of this is the success De Zerbi is having in the Premier League thanks to his proactive, bottom-building style of play.

Young talents: Italian teams should invest more resources and time in youth teams, to further enhance young talent and attract more fans from abroad. In fact, nowadays, Italy is one of the most important forges of talent in Europe but often, due to inadequate management, they "escape" abroad in search of better prospects.

Infrastructure: One of the key elements of the Premier's success is certainly that of infrastructure. In fact, even in Italy, the construction of owned stadiums would allow companies to significantly increase revenues and provide additional complementary services such as museums, access to trophy cases, and a widespread presence of official stores in the territory.

Television accessibility: In order to increase the visibility of our league, one could consider scheduling matches at times that would allow them to be enjoyed in as many time zones as possible; in addition, through improved streaming services one could certainly encourage the visibility of matches abroad.

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