Spotlight: Football

Football may be considered the national game and is followed with enthusiasm by six out of ten men in the UK. But football authorities and the clubs seem unable to translate that enthusiasm into formal support for a club, or to get fans to pay

<b>Interest in football </b> <b>Adults aged 15 or over %</b> Very interested 21 Quite interested 23 Not very interested 19 Not interested at all 37

<b>TV viewing in past three months</b> <b>At least once a month %</b> Terrestrial (BBC/ITV) 92 Sky, cable or satellite in private home 54 Sky, cable or satellite in public venue 39

<b>Types of football watched live </b> <b>At least once a month%</b> Local amateur or junior club game 20 Premier League 20 Non-Premier League professional 15

NOP’s exclusive research for Marketing Week reveals an extraordinary high level of interest in football. A fifth of all adults in the UK (aged over 15 ) define themselves as “very interested in football” and another 23 per cent as “quite interested”, while 36 per cent describe themselves as “not interested at all”.

Men and women show very different levels of interest. Although the proportion of women who are “quite interested” is only two per cent less than for men, men are five times more likely to be “very interested in football” and make up 83 per cent of serious enthusiasts. In contrast, women are twice as likely as men to take no interest in football at all. Unsurprisingly, young men (aged 15to 24-years old) form the core of support for football with half of this group defining themselves as “very interested”.

By comparison, there are relatively few other demographic differences. The oldest third of the adult population, aged over 55, contains the highest proportion of people denying any interest in football. There are few significant class differences, except those which reflect age. However, football enjoys stronger support in the North than in the rest of the country. Some 27 per cent of people from the North are “very interested” in football, compared with 17 per cent in the South and the Midlands.

Yet it seems that the attention that football receives from the media and politicians is widely seen as excessive – even by some football fans. Nearly two-thirds of all adults believed that “there is too much concentration on football these days”, with 42 per cent of respondents agreeing strongly with this view. Among people who were very or quite interested in the game, the levels were lower. But even so, nearly half agreed and a quarter agreed strongly that there was too much football coverage in the media.

There was also some concern about the example set by professional footballers, both on and off the pitch. Less than half of all adults – 44 per cent – thought that professional footballers were not “a good influence on young people”. However, this feeling was closely related to the age of the respondent, with 35-to 54-year-olds being twice and people aged over 55 being three times as likely to disapprove strongly of footballers’ influence, compared with 15-to 34-year olds.

Following football

Television is the most popular way of following football, with 80 per cent of people who were “interested” in the game, watching it on TV at least once a month during the season. Although the majority – 92 per cent – watched matches on “ordinary terrestrial” TV, the alternative channels also attracted a large audience. Some 54 per cent of people who watched football on TV at least once a month had watched a match on cable or satellite in a “private home” in the first three months of 2001, and four out of ten had watched a match on satellite or cable TV in a pub, club or other public venue.

Nearly two-thirds of people with any interest in football read about it in a national newspaper at least once a month during the season. Local newspapers, which cover amateur and junior games as well as local professional sides, have a strong regular readership. Some 56 per cent of all those interested in football read about matches in a local newspaper at least once a month – only eight per cent less than national newspapers.

The really dedicated media – specialist or fan magazines – attract a far less substantial audience. Only 17 per cent of people with an interest in football follow the sport in a specialist magazine and two-thirds of readers are the serious fans.

Match attendance

Live football attracts about half of the audience of televised matches, with four out of ten people with any interest in the game watching a match “live at the ground” at least once a month during the season. Attendance is fairly evenly spilt between various levels of the game. Some 20 per cent of respondents attend local amateur or junior club games, exactly the same number who go regularly to Premier League matches. Slightly fewer – 15 per cent – watch non-Premier League professional games at least once a month.

In the light of this enthusiastic attention, both through the media and in person, it is surprising that formal membership and support is not higher. Only five per cent of “consumers” belong to an official supporters club of a Premier League, or other, professional team, about the same number as those work for or help a local or school football team. The lack of formal support is especially disappointing in the light of the enthusiasm among supporters for such activity. A third of interested people defined themselves “as a real fan of a particular football club”, with 22 per cent strongly agreeing with this view.

The gap between the public’s interest and enthusiasm, and the football industry’s ability to translate it into profitable support, was emphasised in attitudes to sponsorship and merchandising. Only one in ten adults admitted that they “like to wear the same clothes and gear as my favourite footballers”, although since young men make up a quarter of this total, it receives a disproportionate amount of exposure in public places.

More serious, perhaps, in view of the vast sums spent and the breadth of the intended target market, is the public’s attitude to football sponsors. Just under four-fifths of all adults rejected the idea that they should “like to buy products and services from companies that sponsor football”. Those who were prepared to demonstrate their gratitude in the way that the sponsors hoped were very much the hard core of football fans. Reciprocity only reached significant levels among men aged 15to 24-years old – and even here, fewer than half were prepared to reciprocate the input of sponsors.

Analysis: Elaine Hunt.

NOP Research Group interviewed a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults aged 15+ using its Weekend Omnibus

Main Findings

. 44 per cent of UK adults are ‘very or quite’ interested in football

. 65 per cent think ‘there is too much football in the media’

. 23 per ‘like to buy products from companies that sponsor football’

Vital Statistics

<b>Interest in football </b> <b>Adults aged 15 or over %</b> Very interested 21 Quite interested 23 Not very interested 19 Not interested at all 37

<b>Attitudes to football </b> <b>Adults agreeing %</b> a lot a little not at all There is too much concentration on football these days 42 23 35 I like to buy products and services from companies that sponsor football 6 17 78* I would define myself as a real fan of a particular football club 22 13 65 I do not think professional footballers are a good influence on young people 22 34 45 I like to wear the same clothes and gear as my favourite footballers 3 7 89

*Please note figures are rounded to the nearest integer

<b>Following football in the season </b> <b>At least once a month %</b> Watch on TV 80 Read a national newspaper 64 Read a local newspaper 56 Read a specialist or fan magazine 17

<b>TV viewing in past three months</b> <b>At least once a month %</b> Terrestrial (BBC/ITV) 92 Sky, cable or satellite in private home 54 Sky, cable or satellite in public venue 39

<b>Football activities <b>All interested %</b> Belong to a Premier League or other professional team supporters’ club 5 Work for or help a local or school football team 6 Play for an amateur or college team 8

<b>Types of football watched live </b> <b>At least once a month%</b> Local amateur or junior club game 20 Premier League 20 Non-Premier League professional 15

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