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

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The 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 - www.pokelondon.com) 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

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.