Liverpool and Manchester United are the teams everyone wants to watch. No other club in the English Premier League comes close to matching their appeal. That is the verdict of a study into televised football audiences in the UK published last month. The research by the Centre for Sports Business at the University of Liverpool Management School looked at viewing figures for 790 English top-flight games screened between 2013 and 2019. The evidence in Armchair Fans: Modelling Audience Size For Televised Football Matches suggests that Anfield and Old Trafford are in a league of their own in attracting television viewers. It is striking how far the north west giants are ahead of the pack. The academics used an exhaustive range of criteria to assess the pulling power of all 28 clubs who competed in the Premier League over the period. AFC Bournemouth were used as a reference point based on alphabetical order. Back at the @AXA Training Centre with the Reds pic.twitter.com/B2zdt0m6sq — Liverpool FC (@LFC) November 19, 2020 The south-coast club have a tiny fan base and are a recent arrival in the top flight after spending most their existence in the lower leagues. Only three other Premier League participants in the six-year study attracted fewer viewers: Wolverhampton Wanderers, Fulham and Cardiff City. At the other end of the scale are the England’s traditional powerhouses. “Two clubs stand out in terms of appeal to a national audience,” the study says. “If either Liverpool or Manchester United were substituted for AFC Bournemouth in a televised match, the ‘brand effect’ alone would be predicted to raise audience size by about 75 per cent.” Liverpool grumbling over Van Dijk’s loss leaves them vulnerable What is striking is how far the other teams in the so-called Big Six are behind the two leading sides. Arsenal, the next most popular club, only generated a 43 per cent improvement on the Bournemouth base level. The news is even grimmer on the blue side of Manchester. The report lays out their predicament in clear terms. “Manchester City was the dominant club in our data period but its success was a new phenomenon and evidently it had not (yet?) accumulated the appeal of Liverpool and Manchester United, which both performed somewhat under-par in most of the seasons we cover,” it says. City are neck and neck with Everton in the study’. Both clubs performed just 26 per cent better than Bournemouth in attracting TV viewers. . From the build-up to the finish, unreal team work against @LCFC pic.twitter.com/0eLrh0sznK — Liverpool FC (@LFC) November 19, 2020 The likelihood is that these trends are replicated globally. “I’d love to get viewing figures from India and China and compare Liverpool and United to Real Madrid and Barcelona,” Ian McHale, one of the paper’s authors, said. “Right now there’s an argument for Liverpool being the biggest draw in the world.” The academics assessed a huge amount of data to reach their conclusions. For the first time in this type of study they used the most up-to-date analytics to grade the effect of individual players on viewing figures. They also measured whether uncertainty over the outcome of games mattered. A massive number of variables were considered. As the paper’s writers noted, Liverpool and United were underwhelming during the time frame of the study. Since it ended, Jurgen Klopp’s team have gone on to win the Champions League and the Premier League in successive seasons. This explains why McHale is confident that Anfield would have pulled ahead of Old Trafford if the research would have continued. Liverpool have a history of recovering well from thrashings In the most crucial measure, match significance, Liverpool’s attractiveness has grown. “A match with the highest championship [Premier League title] significance observed in our data set would be expected to attract an aggregate audience size 96 per cent higher than one with no implications at all for the prizes to be awarded at the end of the season but with the same clubs, players, etc,” the paper explains. Remarkably, the next level of interest is provoked by the relegation tussle. United have been involved in the third positive category, the quest for Uefa Champions League qualification, which the authors say has “weaker but still positive potential for attracting additional viewers although, in contrast to the other two, this match significance variable is only borderline significant.” A display from the Reds An impressive performance in front of the new Main Stand pic.twitter.com/qVLsQCtbRO — Liverpool FC (@LFC) November 19, 2020 Liverpool have more watchable players and play in matches of greater consequence. United’s brand awareness is still massive but the Merseyside club have a similar recognition factor. The two clubs came together recently to support the Project Big Picture proposals aimed at reshaping the economics of the sport. The initiative has been seen by its opponents as a power grab by the elite teams but the report seems to endorse Project Big Picture’s rationale. The academics found no appetite for levelling up the competition. “People don’t want Liverpool and United to be handicapped and become like Crystal Palace and West Ham,” McHale said. With broadcast income dwarfing other revenue streams, the writers indicate that their data could be used to maximise television audiences and generate even more cash. That will be received positively at Anfield and Old Trafford but less so in other Premier League boardrooms. Thiago’s arrival brings guile to the Liverpool midfield The two clubs are clearly England’s biggest but Liverpool edge ahead because they are, for the moment, the best. Even United are being forced to play catch-up.