The Champions League features the very best club soccer teams in the world. The Premier League generally doesn’t: Saturday’s Champions League final, an all-Madrid affair between Real and Atlético, will be the fourth straight without a premiership team. The Champions League pits the best clubs in Europe against each other, including the four best Premier League teams, whose performance shows that their league is struggling to keep up with the best of Spain, Germany and Italy. Yet the Premier League remains the most popular attraction for U.S.-based fans looking for news and scores at ESPN’s soccer website — and its traffic dwarfs that of the U.S.’s own professional men’s soccer league.
Manchester United drew 12 percent of all U.S. visits to ESPN FC’s club and player pages during the 12 months through May 15, according to page-view data provided by Timothy Bayus, a senior analyst in ESPN’s research and analytics department.1 That wasn’t a particularly good 12 months for United: a fifth-place finish, failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League, exiting this season’s Champions League in the group stage. (United did win this year’s FA Cup, scant consolation.) Yet it led all clubs in traffic and drew more than four times as much as all the Major League Soccer clubs combined:
Even these metrics overstate MLS’s popularity among U.S. soccer fans, because they don’t account for U.S. page views of ESPN sites in Spanish, including Deportes. MLS gets an even lower share of those page views, which are dominated by Mexico’s Liga MX and Spain’s La Liga. Account for those, and Barcelona and Real Madrid would move closer to Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal in popularity but would still lag behind Manchester United. Those six clubs account for 49 percent of all U.S. traffic to ESPN’s English-language sites for clubs and players around the world. (Atlético Madrid remains far behind, getting about as much total traffic as MLS leader Los Angeles Galaxy.)
Leicester City finished with less than one-fifth of Manchester United’s traffic but gained during its stunning run to the Premier League title:
Counting all visits to English-language article and game pages, the Premier League is on top, with about three times the traffic as the Champions League. Then again, the Premier League had more than twice as many weeks and three times as many games on its calendar as the Champions League,2 and some Champions League games featured Premier League teams, so per game the two leagues are about even.
The international soccer activity includes the Women’s World Cup last summer. Although the U.S. women’s national team didn’t get many views of its club page, ranking behind MLS’s New York City FC and just ahead of Chile’s men, it drew lots of views to its game pages during its run to victory. The women’s wins in the final and semifinal drew more traffic than any other soccer matches, and four of the top five were U.S. World Cup matches. The match that clinched the Premier League for Leicester topped all other club matches, including any from the Champions League.