Growing Popularity: Barça fans at October's El Clásico clash - the game attracted around 400 million viewers worldwide
In terms of which country boasts the best league, there will never be full accord as supporters of each respective division will advocate the league closest to their hearts. No matter what slant is put on it, there will always be pro’s and con’s and it will always be possible to argue a case for each.
Much has been asked as to how one quantifies the success of a league. Is it pinned on the amount of Champions League winners throughout its history? Does closer competition between domestic league teams make a league more exciting? Is it dependent on the number of star players in each of the squads? Or is it the volume of goals scored that makes a league more exciting?
Below is a table that shows the past decade’s European champions in each of the ‘Top Five’ leagues in European football:
European Honours (2002/03 – 2011/12)
If going on the number of combined Uefa competition victories, it is clear that La Liga has had the most success in Europe’s two highest regarded tournaments.
However, with 15 English Premier League teams making the final four in the Champions League over the last ten years, it has had more Champions League semi-finalists and finalists than any other division. La Liga is the closest contender but falls four short of the Premiership in the Champions League but boasts 11 semi-finalists in the Europa League (UEFA Cup pre-2009), the most of any of the ‘Top 5’.
Maybe it is the highest goal average per match that determines whether one league is superior to another. Last season, it was the Bundesliga that topped the bill:
Average Goals per Domestic League Game (2011/12)
Converting a total of 1.43 goals per game the Bundesliga were the most frequent scorers however, just 34 games are played per team in a Bundesliga season compared to all other leagues whose teams each play 38. Of those teams, it is the Premier League who outperforms the remaining four. Ligue 1 saw the least goals per game with an average of just 1.26 goals.
If a more balanced competition between teams boosts a league’s entertainment value, you would probably say the main criteria would be the smallest gulf in points between those who win the league and those who finish last.
Last season, the gap between French Ligue 1 champions Montpellier and relegated Auxerre was 48 points, the lowest of the top five leagues. The largest points difference was in La Liga, whose champions Real Madrid earned 94 points more than the relegated Racing Santander.
Another way of looking at is by saying that a higher distribution of goals determines superiority as a competitive league.
Through understanding these charts it is evident that there is also less competition between teams in the La Liga, in which Real Madrid and Barcelona alone scored nearly a quarter of the total goals tally for the whole division.
Last season, La Liga was the only division with such a gulf in goal differences and was the only league to boast just two clearly dominant sides. All four other leagues had at least one more team who was in close range of the highest scorers.
Global viewership figures could also play a part in the popularity of the league. Assuming La Liga’s El Clásico derby between Real Madrid and Barcelona and England’s Premier League derby between Manchester United and Liverpool are the most widely watched games in the top five leagues (emphasis on ‘assume’), to bring it into perspective the following should be considered:
Respected American business magazine, Forbes, reported on January 10th 2013 that the global audience for last weekend’s 186th Premier League derby between Manchester United and Liverpool “could far exceed that of the Super Bowl”, an event that attracted a 111 million worldwide audience in 2011.
On the other hand, El Clásico, Spain’s most anticipated game of the whole calendar year, attracted around 400 million worldwide viewers for the clash in October 2012 and was shown live in more than 30 countries, with well over 600 journalists attending the game. So assuming these two games are the biggest in Europe, La Liga would probably have swayed it.
That said, last season (2011/12) the Bundesliga topped the chart out of all five leagues with its average and total domestic league game attendances. With an average matchday attendance of 45,116 and a total of 13,805,496 fans going through the turnstiles throughout the season in Germany, the next highest competitor was the Premier League with 13,148,465 supporters going to games.
It is not surprising that the Bundesliga can boast such a statistic. Recently documented in the news, the Premier League took some criticism for Arsenal’s decision to increase their already high ticket prices. A characteristic for various Premier League teams – using the £62 charged by Arsenal at their recent home league match against Manchester City as an example – when compared to the Bundesliga, the Premiership far exceeds its German counterparts. For example, Borussia Dortmund sell adult tickets from just £12.30 at their cheapest, to £40.18 for a top of the range seat.
Most Bundesliga tickets also include free travel to games, another additional cost that willing Premier League fans must endure to see their team play up close in this country.
A survey carried out by the BBC discovered that a season ticket for the German champions ranges from £150.27 to £819.67 (a ticket that includes three Champions League group games). In the Premier League, the cheapest season ticket at Arsenal is £985 and the most expensive would set fans back £1,955, which includes seven FA Cup or European games in addition to the standard 19 Premier League matches.
England’s cheapest top-tier season tickets can be bought at Wigan Athletic, starting at £255 and reaching £310 for the best seats.
With this in mind it is still the Premier League that has been most financially extravagant of all five leagues since the 2002/2003 season, spending €6 billion, almost double the expenditure of the next biggest spenders Serie A. Like La Liga and the Bundesliga, it has also spent far more than its actual revenue amounts in every one of the past ten seasons.
Ligue 1 made profits in six of these 10 seasons, making it the most financially successful league of the five. Despite profiting in three of the ten seasons, Serie A has outspent La Liga in the last four seasons, which shows Italian expenditure is on the rise.
Looking at the flow of player transfers also highlights where most players tend to go in terms of leagues. On the whole, Serie A had seen more departures than arrivals until the 20112/12 season when the figures of imports broke the league record.
Player migration is also something to consider. Since 2002, the switch from Spain to England has been the most lucrative and it is also the Premier League who spends the second most bringing in players from Ligue 1. Additionally, more players move from Ligue 1 to the Premier League than in any other of these transactions. Moves between Holland and France are the least productive in that sense.
After looking at all of the aforementioned statistics, the Premier League and La Liga would appear to be the powerhouses of modern day football. Throughout the modern history of these leagues La Liga was dominant during the 1960′s until the popularity of English football following their World Cup win. Towards the end of the seventies the Bundesliga stole the spotlight until English football was back at the top in the late 80’s.
Italian football however, was prominent from the nineties into the new millennium, until English teams like Manchester United and Chelsea and Spain’s Real Madrid and Barcelona were back at the top of European football once again.
So which is the best league in the world today? It really depends on what you feel determines a league as ‘the best’. The facts are there, it’s up to you what you think.