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Web Design & Premier League Football: Why Man City’s new site is leading the pack

wd_eplThe English Premier League is big money. EPL clubs are as much businesses as they are generational sporting institutions, a point proven when cumulative wage bills total £1.2bn, revenues top £2bn, and an exclusive broadcasting deal with BSkyB is worth a staggering £1.7bn. £100m is paid to each club per season from TV revenues alone, and newly promoted clubs receive a promotional bonus of £60m for reaching the top flight. And that’s just the league – domestic trophies like the Carling Cup and FA cup generate even more revenue through sponsorships and advertising, as does Europe’s Holy Grail – the Champion’s League final. Winning this elusive cup equates to a further €110 million in TV rights, sponsorship, and prize money for the winner.

Looking at these figures, it’s easy to see why the Premier League is considered the most lucrative in the world. But if there’s this much money involved in the world’s fourth highest gross revenue-generating league (behind American football, baseball and basketball), why haven’t the clubs in the world’s richest football league recognized the value in the fastest-growing and most cost-effective channel available – Online – and invested accordingly?

Setting the pace

The recent launch of Manchester City’s new website prompted me to take a look at the websites of the 19 other clubs in the top flight. City (and the agency they used for the build – had clearly done their research into what makes a site usable and attractive in today’s market. More importantly, it seems they spent a while looking at what’s *not* being done across the majority of EPL clubs, and I’d imagine Poke happily realized their work was cut out for them after completing their competitive analysis. Simply integrating social media across a well-built site coupled with a modern, attractive and clean interface, I have no doubt the City site will win fans not just of the team’s football, but of a better online experience.

What about the rest?

One might argue that the traffic arriving on a football club’s website is qualified enough to know what they want and where to go – allowing the UX to be disregarded. However general web marketing and design should always be given priority, no matter how familiar the audience. What’s more, considering the EPL’s global reach and revenue, all 20 clubs have potential user bases worldwide, meaning their sites should be optimized for acquisition and retention where and whenever possible. Key web design factors such as usability, interface design & architecture, SEO, grid structure, Flash vs CSS, navigation, page number, page depth, ad space and many more should always be addressed, but in most cases of the sites below, these considerations seem to fall by the wayside.

Below are the websites of the 20 English Premier League teams for the 2009/10 season, in alphabetical order. Some thoughts follow.

Arsenal Aston Villa
Birmingham Blackburn
Bolton Burnley
Chelsea Everton
Fulham Hull
Liverpool Man City
Man Utd Portsmouth
Stoke Sunderland
Tottenham West Ham
Wigan Wolverhampton

Some recommendations

  • Update and differentiate. Man City’s rethinking of what their site visitors want and need – and stripping away the rest – is welcome progress to what seems like a stagnating and under-appreciated medium for football clubs. This thought is enforced by the realization that no less than 7 of the 20 clubs are built on identical templates, provisioned by a wholly owned subsidiary of The Football League called FL Interactive (FLi). The implicit trust those 7 clubs have put in FLi – that the templates used are indeed the most effective, usable and optimized designs and layouts possible – seems worryingly naive. Surely each club’s supporter base and season ticket holders are as unique as their club’s history? They deserve to be treated as such – both online and off.

    Instead, these 7 clubs have limited their web channel’s potential by using an agency who uses identical templates as 6 of their competitors. Shockingly, FLi actually use the same template for almost all teams in England’s Championship, League 1, League 2 and Non-League. See the full list here.

  • Become more social. Although Man City is not the first club to offer a live Twitter update feed directly from their homepage, they might be the only club to realize the importance of fully integrating social media across their entire site. Worth mentioning that Liverpool and Chelsea have also highlighted their social media presence on their homepages, with Facebook and Twitter the primary networks of choice. Surprisingly, neither Man Utd or Arsenal seem to have any such presence – yet.

    Clubs extending their brand name through 3rd-party social sites allows higher degrees of interaction and helps build loyalty amongst those supporters who haven’t grown with allegiances to any particular club. This is especially true in other countries where the EPL is broadcast, and where support bases translate into huge revenues through merchandising alone.

  • Question the value of 3rd-party ads. Interestingly, given the huge revenues generated by EPL clubs over a season, it seems strange that 17 clubs use 3rd-party advertising on their homepages and subpages. Only Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea opt against 3rd-party ads on their homepages, and it’s no coincidence these 3 clubs are currently considered the richest in England. Strangely though, most clubs also tend to run ads for their own content using standardized IAB ad sizes. In my opinion this contradicts a maturing web society’s user behaviour: basic run-of-site banner ads are becoming white noise due to saturation and ineffectiveness. I can’t recall the last time I clicked a banner ad, so why train users of a club website to go against a growing online behaviour? Improve the overall user experience to gain long or short-term revenue, and lessen the reliability on ad-generated revenue.
  • Improved use of white space. After a quick scroll of the list above, one main pattern emerges: the clutter. In the world of web design, white space and padding are not-so-secret ingredients to a successful layout. Proper spacing aids in the visual differentiation of a page’s content into digestible chunks for the eye. Unfortunately, the majority of the sites below blatantly dismiss the need for white space, and opt instead for cramming as much content into each page as possible. Again, Man City’s new site leads the pack here, and the choice of sIFR typography accents the white space very effectively.
  • Deliver multilingual content to a global audience. As mentioned above, EPL club websites can’t afford to assume their user base are in the British Isles only. The Big Four of the EPL have included multilingual site variants, with Arsenal and Man Utd opting for Chinese, Korean, and Japanese, whereas Arsenal and Chelsea have also translated into Russian. Both Man Utd and Man City (no surprise given their new owners) have translated into Arabic. Of the 16 other club sites, only Spurs have elected to provide translated content – into Chinese. It should however be a matter of time until the remainder of the EPL sites start translating into languages their records show are generating overseas sales.

So what do they do successfully?

The above recommendations don’t touch on the various web marketing methods that are implemented by most, if not all, of the 20 EPL sites – and successfully so. Given the growing size of the UK’s mobile industry, SMS marketing seems to be a very popular channel used by all clubs, as well as registration-based marketing and subsequent email marketing for maintaining communications. Streaming video content is also widely used, as are other media forms such as podcasts, TV, blogs and RSS. Various forms of competitions, prize draws and contests are used to retain traffic and build site loyalty. As already mentioned, some sites successfully use social media, although there is definite room for improvement in this area. Ultimately one might consider the point of doing such effective web marketing campaigns when the base website could be so much better.

Have any thoughts on the 20 EPL web sites listed above, or feel I’ve missed something? Feel free to comment below.

20   Responses  to “Web Design & Premier League Football: Why Man City’s new site is leading the pack”

  1. 7/22/2009
    Andy Snaith

    Awesome post, that was a great read and you summarized it well. I agree, the MCFC site is the best out of them all. I absolutely loathe FLi templates, my team Leicester City uses it and it’s awful!

  2. 7/22/2009
    Ollie Kavanagh

    Great post. Something that has really grated me recently is the usability of most football websites and the generic templates they use. I recently had a go at re-designing the liverpool website for a personal project, something different and giving the content more room to breath (but still keeping all the ads) I use the current site so much but it is so difficult to use!! Looking back now if I ever get the chance I would love to remove all the ads from the site in a future design.

    After seeing it Liverpool contacted me and sent me links for there new design which you can see here Better but still really busy and covered in ads.

    Poke london have a done a great job with the new Man City site. Clean, accessible and hopefully some sort of blueprint that other clubs can look at and see what is possible.

  3. 7/22/2009
    Jon Aizlewood

    Wow Ollie, great mockup of the LFC site! It’s no coincidence that your mockup echoes some of City’s site as far as better white space, padding, clear navigation and hierarchy – seeing as *that’s what’s needed!*

    RE: LFC’s new site design… sure it’s better than the old version, but not by much. I agree that it’s still too busy, and I still don’t understand the reason for 3rd-party ads on these sites! Surely their revenue is enough that they don’t need to devalue the experience?

  4. 8/4/2009

    What an exciting designs. Thank you very much for sharing this.

  5. 8/27/2009
    Futurize Korea

    Just looking at the thumbnails you can see how Man City has done a great job distinguishing their site from the rest. I would try to get an interview with someone from their web team to learn more about their redesign.

  6. 8/27/2009

    Wow ollie. nice going. I’m an epl fan all the way from Malaysia and had never bothered logging onto the clubs official site for news. serves me better and its nice to see different views about a match (other news sites).

    I totally agree with Jon that clubs cant treat their fans the same as a rival club. Each would have a different history, tradition hence different expectation can arise when visiting the website.

    I think most club management are caught on generating ancillary income from banner ads and neglect the wants of their fans. And usually the decision makers aren’t empathic enough to think about that. I have worked with a multi national company who just wanted to make their site better to get better banner-ad revenue and totally ignored what would be best served to their customers online.

    Either way, I love ollie’s design. Strong and structured grid. A lot of information [rows of text] (MCFC’s cut their content by a lot) but it all blends in. paddings and the use of red tones are excellent.

    Go Hull City ! (i love the underdogs)

  7. 8/27/2009

    I wrote a blog on the Manchester City FC site and how it effects the publishing of free content and its benefits, read it here

  8. 8/27/2009

    I’ve worked on 4 of the sites in the list, and would like to point out we are given very strict guidelines, and the clubs have a larger hand in how their sites are displayed in terms of ad space and what content is on what page. A lot of our design recommendations are thrown away in favour of their own “needs”.

    In terms of Man City’s design, it would come across to me, they where much more open and willing to change then the rest of the EPL clubs.

    A sidenote, Man City are not the first to include a twitter feed on the homepage.

  9. 8/27/2009

    John – in your article you state the Man City website was an investment of £2m. Can you clarify this?

    Few football clubs other then the top 5-6 have spare cash. Consequently a website must, at the very least pay for itself, and if possible create extra revenue to pump back into the club.

    Very few clubs have the money Man City has. Plus Man City only has 2-3 headlines sponsors. Etihad and Umbro who inject significant money. Other clubs will have 15-20 sponsors who all demand space on the site.

    A good website with 10m impressions could bring in £10k per month, not much, but enough to pay 2-3 admin staff.

    Well done Man City. Great website but I doubt others will follow. Unless they are bought by a billionaire Arab of course.

  10. 8/27/2009
    Jon Aizlewood

    @Mark, actually nowhere in this article do I specifically state that the investment was £2m. However I have mentioned it on Twitter if that’s what you’re referring to? Either way, I can’t source the *official* £2M figure, but it is indeed what was being thrown around at the time of launch and seems to include the entire R&D, design, build, CMS, photog, video, membership site, and more.

  11. 8/27/2009

    Jon – apologies I was referring to the John who left a comment. See above.

    “John Says:
    August 27th, 2009 at 11:04 am

    I wrote a blog on the Manchester City FC site and how it effects the publishing of free content and its benefits, read it here”

    In his article he refers to £2m.

    I assume the £2m covers total club branding and not just web. Whichever. They have done a great job. Man C was always seen as the poor relation to Man U now they look ‘the’ club of Manchester. I imagine the marketing team at Man U are working over time.

  12. 8/28/2009

    The new City website is leading edge design – clean, uncluttered and stylish. A great job.

    You know a thing or two about web design but you do need to check your financials. Clubs don’t get £100m from TV revenues alone. Information below shows that TV revenue would probably be around £20-25m made up of £13.9M plus £480k per live match with a minimum payment of 10 matches.

    Premier League earnings: prize money (max £15.2m, min £761,000); TV cash (£13.9m per club plus £480,000 per televised match – minimum payment 10 matches); overseas TV, sponsorship and licensing money (£12m per club).

    Sources: Premier League

  13. 8/28/2009
    Jon Aizlewood

    Cheers @bluedune for the clarification. I got those stats from Wikipedia; clearly not the best source for official stats.

    Either way, there’s a lot of money, and the conclusion is the same – most Prem clubs should be investing more in their websites and giving a bit more love to the users.

  14. 9/7/2009

    great info !!!