Manchester City v Liverpool short on global pull but Premier League still wins


Show caption Millions will tune in all over the world to watch Mohamed Salah (left) and João Cancelo in action at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. Photograph: Peter Powell/Reuters Premier League Manchester City v Liverpool short on global pull but Premier League still wins English season’s biggest game will draw a lower audience worldwide than el clásico but top flight is most popular overall Paul MacInnes @PaulMac Sat 9 Apr 2022 13.00 BST Share on Facebook

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The USA Network has been encouraging its Twitter audience to engage on the topic of Manchester City v Liverpool. The cable channel, whose strapline is “here for the characters”, will be showing the top-of-the-table Premier League clash on Sunday morning United States time and it put out a call for gifs of characters “fierce enough to compete on the pitch during such an iconic matchup”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a channel that largely shows reality TV, witty responses weren’t overly forthcoming. There were only eight replies in total, and five of them came from accounts of other channels owned by NBC, which holds the rights to Premier League action.

“Peacock” suggested Ron Swanson, of Parks and Recreation, would make a “perfect hard-nosed defender”. “SyFy” nominated the hunky Tate from the monster-strewn comedy Astrid & Lilly Save the World. “E!” picked out Paris Hilton for “galloping into our hearts and on to the field”, which made more sense when you learned that the channel has new episodes of Paris in Love every Tuesday night.

A game effort by a number of social media managers, but perhaps the responses are indicative of where the big match sits in terms of global interest right now. We’re used to hearing that the Premier League is an international product, that it’s watched in “188 of the world’s 193 countries recognised by the United Nations”.

We also know of the fan clubs in places far from the Etihad and Anfield (and for those in Delhi this weekend, the Manchester City supporters group will be watching live at “virtual-reality-led entertainment gaming centre” Smaaash at the Radisson Blu). But will this match be stopping traffic in Mumbai? Will the game be on everyone’s lips in Guadalajara?

Pep Guardiola (right) and Jürgen Klopp have taken their teams to the summit of English football. Photograph: Martin Rickett/Reuters

It’s a question that’s not easy to answer. The Premier League does not share international viewing figures on its games. It prefers to talk more broadly about their reach and the cumulative audience of 3 billion plus for all matches in all countries over the course of a season.

These big figures are calculated by Nielsen, the experts in TV ratings, which conducts research for the Premier League on its audience. Approached by the Observer for an estimate on the likely global audience for City v Liverpool, Nielsen Sport gave a slightly more down-to-earth number. As “one of the most viewed fixtures in recent seasons”, it was likely to exceed 20 million live viewers across the globe. Or about five million more than the season-six finale of Line of Duty managed on BBC1 last year.

To make a footballing comparison, Fifa claims that the World Cup final of 2018 was watched by 884 million people at home on their television screens (with another 232 million watching out of home or digitally).

Another instructive comparison might be el clásico. La Liga likes to say that the reach of its biggest match is around 650 million people (that is, those who might catch some of it at some point). Actual live viewing is more like 100 million, still some way greater than the total City and Liverpool is expected to hit.

To pitch a single league match against the World Cup final, the most watched sporting fixture on the planet and a global event, might not be contrasting like with like. El clásico, meanwhile, is a match of historical importance regardless of where Real Madrid and Barcelona are in the league table.

The discussion over where the competition between Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp ranks in the list of great Premier League rivalries is a reminder that City against Liverpool has not always been the biggest match in the English top flight, not even five years ago.

Liverpool fans in a San Francisco bar watch their side in the Community Shield against Manchester City in 2019. Photograph: Sachin Nakrani/The Guardian

Deloitte’s authoritative Money List of the biggest clubs in world football made headlines this year when it placed City at the top of the rankings, after raking in revenues that totalled €645m (£540m) in the 2020-21 season. But another telling statistic in the report was the one totting up City’s social media followers, as close to a proxy for global support as is publicly available.

Across Facebook and Instagram City had 70 million followers, fewer than any other club in the top 10 bar Tottenham. The biggest English clubs by that reckoning were Chelsea and, far out in front with 130 million Facebook and Instagram followers, City’s neighbours and 20-time champions, Manchester United.

All of which brings us back (just about) to NBC’s cross-channel Premier League promotional push. The broadcaster, which has 13 subsidiary channels but is also one of the traditional big three commercial networks in the US, recently committed a reported £2bn to renewing its Premier League rights until 2028. This, it might not need explaining, is the most any American broadcaster has paid for foreign “soccer” rights and came after heavy competition from rivals, including the Disney-owned ESPN.

So it is not surprising to see the broadcaster using all its channels to promote the Premier League product. But it is also the case that NBC would not have committed such money if the investment were defined by a single fixture.

The Premier League in its entirety is the compelling product and it is not only American broadcasters who think so. In the coming years revenue from the Premier League’s overseas TV rights (once given away for free) will exceed domestic takings for the first time. Manchester City v Liverpool may not be the most watched match in world football, but the Premier League is a global hit every weekend of the season.