Why the success of the Premier League goes beyond its star power, competition, or upsets

The Premier League can proudly celebrate becoming the most watched football league in the world thirty years after its first season. There are other factors at play, some of which you may already be aware of.

You could mention, in no particular order, the following factors: heritage (the game was invented here, after all), language (English is the world's lingua franca), a very pro-business environment that encourages foreign investment, strong leadership that frequently presents a united front (especially in the 15 years Richard Scudamore was in charge), excellent marketing and packaging/production values, and a willingness to accept expertise from abroad (not just players, but coaches, too), among others.

You might disagree with some of the above, there could be more, and we could likely go on and on about the effects of each mentioned factor. However, there are two that, in my opinion, are either completely irrelevant or, at the very least, grossly overrated: superstars and competitiveness. To some, this may sound contradictory because you would think that success would be fueled by well-known figures. You must also have some element of surprise and competition, otherwise, viewers will lose interest.

The Premier League, in my opinion, provides proof that this may not be the case. Or, more precisely, that, unlike, example, the NBA in its heyday, these weren't major drivers in fostering the league's expansion.

Start with the component that stands out. It's true that this idea is hazy and that I'll know it when I see it. The Premier League may have had less than you think, at least before to Erling Haaland's arrival, if you interpret it to mean a mix of being among the best in the world, popularity, and having a corresponding hype machine/commercial operation following you around.

Who do you have if you look at the A-upper list's echelons? Jesus Christ Ronaldo (minus the 15 years in the prime of his career he spent in Spain and Italy either side of his two spells at Manchester United). Beckham, David (though, of course, he left age 28). Ibrahimovic, Zlatan (again, arriving on the downside and not staying very long). Henry, Thierry Rooney, Wayne John De Bruyne? Salah, Mohamed

These players are extraordinary, no doubt. But even at their height, few athletes could compare to Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, or Ronaldinho in terms of excitement and global superstardom. Consider one straightforward metric, the Ballon d'Or, football's most prestigious popularity event.

Regular readers will be aware that I don't like it because it's a huge popularity and media contest. However, it serves these objectives here just fine. Take a look at the previous 20 awards. Just 17 out of 100 instances saw Premier League players finish in the top five. Ronaldo twice, Thierry Henry three times, and 12 other men merely once.

Did the popularity of the league decline? In no way. Most likely because it is based on well-known megabrands rather than well-known megastars. Loyalty to the crest on the front of the jersey rather than the name on the back is the foundation of allegiance. I recognize that this is a cliche and somewhat what fandom is meant to be about, but marketers have long issued warnings about fan bases that follow their superstars from team to club, as is the case in the NBA. It's likely that the Premier League and football are both affected, but few organizations are able to handle the loss of a star (in terms of hype/attention/relevance) the way the English top flight does.Competitivity comes next. The notion is that, unlike other nations, the league is unpredictable and unknown every year due of the existence of a "Big Six." The Premier League has been won by five different clubs in the past ten years, whereas the Bundesliga has only had one champion (Bayern Munich, in case you've been living under a rock), along with three each in France, Spain, Italy, and the Serie A. However, there is a small flaw in such way of thinking.

First off, while title battles may be fascinating to an outsider, the majority of fans worry about their club's success and advancement. Did the other 18 clubs' supporters enjoy witnessing the thrilling Premier League championship game last season that saw Manchester City emerge victorious? Probably. Is that why they continue to support a team in that league? In my opinion, no.

In a literal sense, the number of winners is also irrelevant. If you aren't owned by a Russian oligarch or a sovereign wealth fund that is willing to finance years of losses, you probably won't become a super club, despite the claims that the league is all about social mobility and that you can create success over time. Only one team outside of the "Big Six" (which, admittedly, were more of a "Big Five" at the time given Abu Dhabi had not yet invested in City) has managed a top-four result since 2005, when Everton finished fourth: Leicester City, who won the championship in 2015–16. (and extinguished their lifetime quota of fairy tales).

Consider this. Only six of the 20 clubs have a genuine chance of finishing in the top four when the season gets underway. Revenue flowing to the top is one of the consequences of the league's success. The aspirant middle class is thus faced with a Sisyphean challenge, as shown in recent seasons with Aston Villa, West Ham, Everton, and Leicester.

Like comparison to England's meager seven clubs throughout the course of 17 seasons, other European leagues in France (14), Germany (13), Italy (11) and Spain (10) had greater top-four diversity. But what's this? It might not be a "thing" in terms of a league's overall popularity. Fans are used to the division and stratification between the ultra-wealthy (there are some in every league, but more in the Premier League) and the rest of us. They acknowledge that they will be arriving at the race in a walker while others will be driving Ferraris.

Because of this, people assess success differently. They find delight in seeing their team reach their very minimum targets, be they finishing in the middle of the table or avoiding relegation, etc. And probably more than the outcome or the league standings, they take pleasure in the games themselves. For a business owner, it is the ultimate goal: to amuse your clients and provide them with something priceless that they can treasure year after year without having to spend a fortune to actually win something. They accomplish this better in England than anyplace else, judging by the attendances and fan bases of mid-to-small Premier League clubs (not to mention those in the lower leagues, whose crowds dwarf those of the rest of Europe).

The Premier League routinely feels "big-time" and competitive from top to bottom, especially on television, in a manner that other leagues don't. Why? The majority of stadiums appear well-kept on television, the spectators are crammed close together, the action moves quickly, and the players appear to be paying attention. Even while upsets aren't any more often (and occasionally less frequent) than in the other Big Five leagues, the four elements listed above—real or perceived—consistently apply to most Premier League games in a way they do not elsewhere. And that makes it much simpler to sell the "Any Given Sunday" story that so many people buy into (and which is, in most cases, untrue).

The formula above might stop working at some point. After all, they assert that league dominance is cyclical. But for now, it's pretty much a given that the Premier League is the de facto Super League of the world (at least in terms of revenue). And the causes of its success might not be what you initially believed.