The best matchday experience in English football

The best matchday experience
  • We ranked all 91 teams from the Premier League and English Football League (EFL) on nine aspects of the matchday experience.
  • The best Premier League experience is at West Ham United, followed by Arsenal, Leicester City, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur.
  • The best Championship experience is at Cardiff City, while the best League One experience is Sunderland and League Two at Bradford City.
  • Our survey of football fans revealed the price of entry as the most important factor affecting their matchday experience.
  • The next highest-rated factors were team quality, ease of travel, match result and stadium capacity.
  • Fans cared more about a stadium’s modern facilities than its heritage.
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England, the home of the beautiful game, is so renowned for its football that seeing a live match is reason enough for many to visit the country. But where can you find the perfect English matchday experience?

We surveyed football fans on what factors they think are most important for an amazing matchday experience and then crunched the numbers for every team in the English football league to find the league-leading matchday experiences.

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Ticket price affects fans’ matchday experience most of all

Magical matchdays

Each year, 20 teams battle it out in England’s top tier, the Premier League, with another 72 teams (currently 71 – sorry, Bury fans) making up the English Football League (EFL) comprising the Championship, League One and League Two.

What makes an amazing matchday experience? To rank each team and their stadium, we needed to know what fans find most integral to a good away day.

We identified 14 aspects of the matchday experience – from on-the-pitch factors, such as the match result, to off-the-pitch matters like the number of nearby pubs – and then asked 150 football fans the following question:

“How important do you think the following factors are for a great matchday experience when you attend a live game?”

Money talks, and so do football fans. They said the ticket price is the most important factor affecting their matchday experience. Whether the reason is astronomical transfer fees or financial strife in the lower leagues, the relationship between football and money is often a topic of debate among fans.

Football fans rated the quality of the teams on show as the second most important factor.
This was followed by ease of travelling to the stadium and – perhaps unsurprisingly – the result of the match. What was surprising was that fans said a stadium’s modern facilities are more important than its heritage.

Some of the factors our fans rated as important for their matchday experience are impossible to know in advance; the fact that you don’t know if your team will win is what makes it exciting. But for the factors that can be measured, how do the clubs stack up?

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West Ham United top the Premier League for matchday experience

League leaders

We collected data to measure nine aspects of the matchday experience for every club playing in the four major English leagues. We used fans’ polled opinions to determine the importance of each factor, ensuring our ranking system reflected the average fan’s ideal experience.

Buoyed by their move to the 60,000-capacity London Stadium, the best-rated team for matchday experience was West Ham United. The Hammers ranked strongly for stadium modernity (second of all 91 clubs), attendance records (third), and stadium capacity (fourth). Completing the top five Premier League matchday experiences were Arsenal, Leicester City, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur.

During the 2016/17 season, 686,000 international visitors came to the UK to see a Premier League game, spending £555 million. But there’s more to English football than the Premier League’s glitz and glamour. In 2018/19, the Championship, League One and League Two recorded a 60-year high annual attendance of nearly 18.4 million fans.

In the Championship, the highest-ranked team was Cardiff City, with strong results for how modern their stadium is (sixth of all English stadiums), the price of their cheapest adult ticket (ninth), and stadium capacity (16th). The Bluebirds, who enjoyed Premier League status as recently as 2018/19, ranked fifth out of all 91 clubs.

According to fans’ opinions and the data we analysed, the best League One experience can be found at Sunderland. Seating 49,000 supporters, the Stadium of Light has the eighth-largest capacity in England. The Black Cats also rank well for the number of pubs and bars within 1 kilometre (14th) and the distance between the stadium and a major train station (15th).

And finally, the leading League Two team according to our matchday ranking is Bradford City. The Bantams scored highly for ratings on Google (tied for seventh), ticket price (25th) and distance to a major train station (27th).

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Salford City FC have the cheapest tickets in English football

The price is right

Fans who attend games experience great highs and crushing lows in support of their team. However, we’ve seen they’re not so sentimental as to call the experience priceless.

Some clubs have a simple, flat ticket price structure. But usually, a club’s ticket prices vary based on club membership, fixture popularity and competition type, advance purchasing and seat location, among other things. To compare prices across all 91 teams, we sourced each club’s 2019/20 ticket pricing and found the cheapest advance adult ticket to a league game for nonmembers.

The cheapest Premier League tickets were found at Aston Villa and Southampton, where adults can experience a top-flight game for £20. The average price among all Premier League clubs was £29.02.

Loyal fans of lower-tier teams might argue that the most authentic English football experience isn’t found in the Premier League. Predictably, the cost of a matchday experience drops as the competition tier descends.

The cheapest tickets in the Championship were for Queens Park Rangers, who offer adult advance tickets for as little as £14. The average price across the Championship was £23.50.

In League One, both AFC Wimbledon and Rochdale had tickets for £17, while the league average was £20.35. In League Two, the newest addition to the major English leagues, Salford City offered tickets from as little as £10, significantly below the league average of £18.08.

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Luton Town have the second-best 2019/20 attendance percentage

Perfect ten

The magic of a matchday experience is in feeling part of a collective that’s more than the sum of its parts. Two-thirds of our surveyed fans rated stadium capacity as at least moderately important, while half (52%) believed the number of empty seats inside the stadium to be similarly important. Only 12% of fans claimed that the number of empty seats isn’t at all important.

Based on 2019/20 attendance figures to date, the team with the best attendance – the average percentage of seats filled on matchday – was Arsenal, who sold out the Emirates Stadium every game (100%).

In second place was Luton Town, who sold 99.9% of available tickets in their 10,356-capacity Kenilworth Road this season.
Two more London clubs took the third and fourth spot with almost perfect attendance – West Ham (99.8%) and Crystal Palace (99.5%), respectively. Norwich City completed the top five with 99.3%.

Fans we spoke to also said the quality of teams in action is important to their matchday experience. To measure team quality, we averaged their end-of-season position across all four major leagues from 2016/17 to 2018/19 (for example, Championship winners would be 21st). Naturally, Premier League regulars dominated. Manchester City topped the team quality ranking, having won the Premier League twice since 2016/17.

West Bromwich Albion, a Championship team during 2019/20, averaged 18th place since 2016/17, while the recently relegated Huddersfield Town (average position 20.3) and Swansea City (21.0) also scored highly for team quality.

Despite fans rating the number of nearby pubs and bars as less important than the atmosphere inside the stadium, only about 1 in 5 (22%) believed it to be not at all important. Topping the league table for supporter watering holes was Blackpool, boasting 59 places to soak up the pre- or post-match atmosphere. Sheffield United, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Newport County and Chelsea rounded out the pubs and bars top five.

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Summary

The magic of a matchday experience inside an energetic English football stadium cannot be completely captured solely by cold hard facts, but many aspects can. We analysed the aspects of a match day that can be measured, combining fans’ opinions with raw data, to show where the very best experiences can be found.

You don’t have to confine yourself to England’s top tier to find a memorable match of football. Based on our results, seven of the top 20 matchday experiences are found in the lower EFL leagues, most notably Cardiff City, who are currently playing Championship football (fifth-best experience in English football). Whichever stadium you next travel to, as a one-off or part of your long-lived loyal following, the chances are you won’t forget the day.

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Fair use statement

We’d love for you to pass on our results and images for noncommercial purposes. All we ask is that you link back to this page to give readers access to the full findings and give credit to the Premier Inn research team.

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Methodology

Survey: In November of 2019, we surveyed 150 self-identified football fans about the matchday experience.

Rankings:
The 91 teams playing in the top four English leagues were ranked for nine measurable factors: stadium capacity, attendance percentage, ticket price, distance to a major train station, stadium modernity, team quality, the number and quality of pubs and bars near the stadium and the stadium’s Google review rating.

To create an overall ranking, we took all nine rankings for each team and calculated a weighted average based on how important the football fans we surveyed claimed each factor to be. Therefore, the ticket price was the ranking that carries the most importance, while rankings for the number and quality of pubs and bars have less influence on a team’s overall ranking.

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