The Premier League’s Biggest Club (And What Brands Can Learn From Competitor Analysis)

Greg Miles | September 3rd, 2018 | Read Time: 6 mins

It’s a debate that rages all around the country from North to South and East to West. Is your club a BIG club?

Football fans love to grapple the subject. Head to any pub near Elland Road on matchday and you’ll likely hear beer-fuelled patter about how Leeds are still a big club, despite not playing in England’s top division for over 16 years. As a Huddersfield Town fan (local rivals to Leeds) I’ve heard this argument more times than I wish to count.

But it’s not just the terraces, pubs and barbershops where such discussions take place. A similar conversation can be heard in boardrooms around the world; “Are we a big brand yet? How much bigger are our competitors? What can we do to squeeze that gap?”

Just like football fans, brand stakeholders want to know where they fit in with the competition. Competitor analysis is one of the key pillars of situational analysis, which forms the first stage of any serious brand and marketing plan. Understanding how your business compares to your rivals – and being equipped with that information up front, while you are developing (or overhauling) your strategy – will give you a sharper competitive edge.

Here we dive into the world of football to find out which is the biggest club in England, and what brands can learn from analysing the competition. And in the interest of remaining impartial, we’ll be avoiding Leeds and Huddersfield and focusing on the newly dubbed ‘Big Six’ of the Premier League.

PL Big Six

Defining the Criteria

Step one is to define the criteria for how you are going to judge the field. This will be unique to each business, market, and the context of the analysis, but in the case of our Premier League giants we will be focusing on the factors that fans use to define a club as ‘big’. We’ve identified five key areas:

  1. Fanbase
    Average attendance and total social media followers.
  2. History
    Total number of major domestic and European trophies won.
  3. Current Success
    Number of major domestic and European trophies won in the past 10 years.
  4. Popularity
    Volume of online searches and social mentions.
  5. Financial Power
    Total annual income.

When it comes to the business world, you might want to swap out trophies won with something like keyword analysis – how well does your competition rank in search engines for your most valuable keywords?

Other things to look at include:

  1. Domain authority – how well are your competitors likely to rank for relevant keywords in search engines?
  2. Backlink analysis – how many websites link to your competitors, and how do they acquire backlinks?
  3. Social media sentiment analysis – how positively or negatively do consumers feel about your competitors?
  4. Social media engagement – how many interactions do they receive on average per 1000 followers?
  5. Follower growth – how many new followers have they gained in the past month, or the past six months?
  6. Online reviews – how many reviews do they have (and how positive are they) on places like Google, Facebook, TripAdvisor and other niche review sites in your sector?
  7. PR – how often are your competitors mentioned in the press?
  8. Offline metrics – how often do they attend trade shows or speaking events?
  9. Products & services – how often do they launch new products? How are they priced?
  10. Content – what type of content does your competition produce, and how frequently do they publish new content on their website, social media channels and in print?

Identifying the Competition

A logical next step is to identify who or what you will be benchmarking against. These may be local businesses, national brands or global corporations – whatever you consider to be your main competition in the battle for your customers’ hearts and minds.

In our footy-themed example we will be comparing the Premier League’s big six:

Arsenal
Chelsea
Liverpool
Manchester City
Manchester United
Tottenham Hotspur

A quick note on methodology: To keep things as scientific as possible, the best club in each area that we measure will receive a score of 100, while the remaining results are expressed as a percentage of the result of the best club. E.g. When measuring total trophies won, if the second placed club has won 90% as many trophies as the best club, they will score 90. (Using the same scale for each area makes it easy to compare and tally up scores.)

Fanbase

Let’s dive in by looking at the size of each club’s fanbase. Using data provided by Statista we can see that Manchester United have the largest attendances at home games, with an average of just over 75,000 throughout last season. Spurs took advantage of their temporary home Wembley to sneak into second place with an average of 70,642.

Average Attendance

Football is a global game and not all fans can attend matches, so we’ve also totted up the total social media following of each club across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube. Although one follower does not equal one fan (something that also applies to brands), this gives us an insight into each club’s global appeal. Man Utd run away with this one with a total of 114.3 million followers. Spurs have a measly 15.94 million in comparison.

PL Big Six: Total social followers

History

When it comes to history, it will be no surprise to the football fans among you that Liverpool and Man United lead the way. Here we’ve excluded Supercups like the Charity Shield as they are one game wonders and do not merit the same reward as winning a league title or knockout tournament. As a result, Liverpool just edge their rivals with a total of 42 to United’s 41. Man City have a comparatively paltry 15 trophies in their cabinet.

PL big six: history

Current Success

While the previous chart shows every trophy won by each club since 1878, here we can see the more recent success of the Big Six. Looking at the number of major trophies won over the past 10 years gives us an insight into how the field is changing, and which club has been the most dominant in recent memory. Chelsea and United are neck-and-neck with 10 trophies each in the last decade, while Man City aren’t too far behind on seven.

PL big six: current success

Popularity

Next we take a look at the cultural popularity of each club by analysing search volume over the past 12 months. Using data from Google, we found that Liverpool and Man United had near-identical average search volume over the year. While United’s search volume was relatively consistent throughout the year, interest in Liverpool spiked in May, coinciding with the Champions League final.

PL big six: search volume

We also looked at club mentions across the main social platforms. Manchester United lead the way again, with Arsenal and Chelsea almost level, behind. Despite winning the Premier League last season, City received about half as many mentions as their Manchester rivals.

PL Big six: social mentions

Financial

As Ed Woodward will tell you, success in football doesn’t just happen on the field. Man United are the world’s richest football club and according to data from Deloitte, pulled in an eye-watering £581.2 million last season. Man City were second, reeling in £453.5 million.

PL Big six: Annual income

The Premier League’s Biggest Club

As well as comparing the clubs across each key area individually, we are also able to combine the scores to get an overall measure of how ‘Big’ each club is. Our totals reveal that, perhaps not surprisingly, Manchester United are the country’s biggest football club. The traditional ‘Big Four’ of United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool are still leading the way, but Man City are catching up fast thanks to their huge investment and recent success. Spurs are still lagging behind, but the story could start to change in 10-20 years.

PL big six: the biggest club

Interpreting the Results

Following a situational analysis, the next step for brands is set objectives. Looking at the data above we can identify the weak spots that each club should focus on to improve their standing.

Arsenal
The Gunners are faring well on their social media following, attendances and online popularity, but are let down massively by their lack of recent trophies. The objective for Arsenal is simply to add more silverware to their trophy cabinet. (Easier said than done, but that’s the next phase of formulating the strategy – answering ‘how do we get there?’).

Chelsea
Since Roman Abramovich introduced his £billions, Chelsea have become the second biggest club in England winning 10 trophies in the past 10 years, and building a global fanbase that stretches through Europe to Africa and Asia. Their weak points are; their average matchday attendances and their historic success. Building a new stadium would fix the first issue and while history can’t be changed, winning more trophies will see the club’s name written into the history books.

Liverpool
Liverpool are in a similar boat to Arsenal. Good on all fronts except their current success. Recent silverware is all that’s missing.

Manchester City
City are let down by their history and their global popularity and fanbase. They’re on the right track, all they need is time and they will close the gap with their local rivals if they can continue to win trophies at the rate they have over the past few years. They also need to grow their global appeal by building fanbases throughout the world if they are to compete with the big four on a commercial level.

Manchester United
United’s only focus is to keep their standards and fend off the competition. Their dominance will only increase if they can prevent their rivals from winning trophies, by winning themselves.

Spurs
Tottenham are the fledgling of the group having only recently established themselves as a serious title contender in the Premier League. They lead the chasing pack of outsiders but need to start winning trophies and developing their global brand.

So there we have it, sports fans. The Red Devils take the crown.

You can use a similar model to map out your brand’s competitive position and set objectives. Following that, the next phase would be to formulate a strategy for how you are going to fulfill those objectives, the tactics you will employ to get there, and the measures you will use to assess your progress.

If your brand needs an overhaul or you’d like some support in the process, contact our team.

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