ESL: No-one likes us, we don’t care?

Yesterday I wrote up a few thoughts on the ESL and the concept of “future fans”.

YouGov have now released some initial data on how the ESL proposal has gone down with fans in the UK. The topline result is that 79% of football fans oppose it, with only 14% showing any support.

Even among the big six teams, support is only 20%. To be honest, I’m surprised it’s that high judging by the social media reaction, but that probably tells us something about social media bubbles and the slightly biased agenda of some media channels.

In any normal business you’d think this is a total disaster – alienating 80% of your most loyal customers along with the media, governing bodies, federations, governments, future monarchs and even Gary Lineker.

But the architects of the ESL will most likely have predicted this kind of response and priced it in. They certainly don’t seem to care much about the reputational damage being inflicted on their brands, at least in their home markets.

That’s because what fans in England (or Spain or Italy) think is only a small part of the picture, to their way of thinking. The ESL is overwhelmingly about these big clubs reaching and monetising their global followers: 97-99% of the ESL clubs’ followers live outside of the country where the club is located.

It’ll be really interesting to see what the sentiment is like from fans based in China, the USA, the Middle East, India, Africa etc… These ‘fans’ are far less emotionally invested in the club, and obviously far less committed to it, geographically. I’d predict that support from these markets will be much higher, especially among younger age groups.

If that’s the case, and I assume the ESL already did some pre-testing in these markets, they will feel that disapproval from the core, home fan base is a price worth paying.

There will also be a calculation that, whatever those core fans are saying now, when it comes down to their team playing a big game in the ESL they will come back to the fold, because sports fans aren’t just consumers who can easily switch to another brand.

I actually don’t think the ESL will happen and these clubs will reach a compromise around a greater share of Champions League money and some kind of insurance against not qualifying. The UK government also seems pretty serious about stopping it, but it’s a pretty high-stakes game of poker being played on all sides right now.

Meanwhile, I’m off to buy shares in some sports law firms.

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