Which is the Most Competitive League in Europe?
By: Ishika Sanghi and William Pan
Soccer is a sport played by over 250 million people from more than 200 different countries. The level of competition ranges from children playing in a field to the World Cup and each one is supported and played with more fervor and passion than the next. It is the predominant sport in terms of popularity in Europe, which has 38 different professional leagues that are played by over 1000 clubs from 31 different countries.
In this article, we chose to delve deeper and examine the level of competitiveness across different leagues in Europe. We compared the leading leagues in Europe named the “Big Five” which are the Premier League in England, La Liga in Spain, Serie A in Italy, Bundeslinga in Germany, and Ligue 1 in France. The constraints for our definition of “competition” are the mean market values of players, the number of different winners in each league, the UEFA association coefficient, and the point differences.
Mean Market Values
The market value of a player is the direct indicator of the market demand of a player. In order to evaluate the demand holistically, several important factors are usually included in the process of calculation, for instance, performance in clubs and national teams, future prospects, experience level, marketing value, reputation, etc. As a result, market value is a good assessment of a player’s overall ability. Therefore, considering the market values of an entire league could show the general abilities of that league’s players and could help to compare and determine the competition levels between different leagues. The following data are acquired from Transfermarkt, one of the most professional sources of market values in the soccer world.
This graph shows the mean market value of teams in different leagues in the past 10 seasons. As illustrated by the plot, Premier League is very distinguished and has the highest mean value in all of the past 10 seasons. Premier League’s high mean value shouldn’t be very surprising due to the high market values of top teams. In the past 5 seasons, the top 3 teams in market values in Premier League are all around $1 billion, which is unimaginable in the other 4 leagues (La Liga exception in 18-19 season). The peak occurs in the 18-19 season, where the mean team market value of the entire league was $539 million. This figure is close to the market values of Everton FC (7th) ~ Leicester City (8th) in Premier League, Valencia CF (4th) in La Liga, AS Roma in Serie A (5th), RB Leipzig (3rd) in Bundesliga and Olympique Lyon (2nd) in Ligue 1. Besides the Premier League, the mean market values of La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A are roughly the same with a mean market value between $250-300 million in the past 3 seasons. The market value of Ligue 1 ranks the lowest, due to the fact of the generally low market values in this league except for PSG. For instance, in this season, the market value of PSG is around $1 billion, while the second highest team only has a market value of $387 million.
One may question the influence of extreme values on the mean, and the plot above shows the mean market value of teams in a league after excluding 4 teams with the highest market values and 3 teams with the lowest market values in the past 10 seasons. As shown by the graph, however, Premier League is still ranked at the top, due to the fact that teams like Everton FC, Tottenham Hotspur, and Arsenal still have very high market values compared to teams in other leagues. Below the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and Bundesliga are still close in mean market values and Ligue 1 is still the lowest.
In conclusion, Premier League has a higher mean market value than the other 4 leagues, which implies that Premier League is more competitive when we are measuring by market value.
Number of Different Winners
The number of different clubs that have won the leagues in the past 10 years would give an indication of whether a league is regularly dominated by a selective few teams or has a greater variety of winners. Leagues could be considered to have a higher level of competition based on this data as with a greater variety of winners as the plausibility of a different team winning is much greater as compared to a league which has a very limited number of winners that are almost predictable. There is an increased feeling of anticipation and suspense when the outcome of a league is unforeseeable.
The graph above shows the proportion of clubs in the league that have won since 2010 as different leagues have a different number of participating clubs. The Premier League and Ligue 1 have the highest proportion of unique teams that have won (0.25) indicating that the leagues are less inclined to consistently have the same winner as compared to Bundesliga which has the lowest proportion (0.11) and variety of clubs that have won in the past ten years. A proportion of 0.15 of the clubs in La Liga and Serie A have won each league.
In conclusion, the Premier League and Ligue 1 could be considered more competitive than the others as they have the highest proportion of club winners and a greater degree of difficulty due to the increased ability of a larger number of teams to challenge one another for the top position in the league.
UEFA Association Coefficient
The Union of European Football Association (UEFA) is the overarching governing organization for soccer in Europe. The UEFA coefficients are weighted mathematical means statistics that are used to rank and seed teams in the club and international events. It is based on a point system that allocates two points to a club for a win, one point for a loss, and additional points for qualifying for semi-finals, finals, and for winning the championship. The UEFA coefficient for a league is calculated through the compilation of the coefficient of its respective teams. Thus a higher UEFA coefficient of a league indicates a higher level of performance of the clubs within the leagues. This in turn reflects an overall greater competition within that particular league.
As seen in the graph above the UEFA coefficient for La Liga was consistently greater than the others till 2017 after which it was overtaken by the Premier League four times in the past five years. The UEFA coefficient for the Premier League steadily increased after 2016 and peaked in 2020. Ligue 1 had the lowest UEFA coefficient till 2017. The UEFA coefficient of Bundesliga began declining after 2015 and has been the lowest of all the leagues for the last four years. There is a general decline in UEFA coefficients in the last two years which can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and the extraneous circumstances caused as a result of it.
As seen in the graph above, La Liga has the highest mean UEFA coefficient in the last 10 years with a value of 19.80. However, In the last 5 years, as indicated in the graph below, the Premier League has the highest mean UEFA coefficient of 19.05.
In conclusion, both La Liga and Premier League could be considered the most competitive leagues based on the mean UEFA coefficients in the last ten and five years, respectively.
The point difference is another indicator to show the competitiveness of leagues. A smaller point difference implies more competition and less relative advantage between teams, indicating that the competition level is high in the league. Conversely, a larger point difference implies less competition and thus lower levels of competition within the league. In this section, the point difference in Bundesliga is calculated after adding 4 times the average point per game (PPG) to each teams’ points since there are only 34 rounds each season compared to 38 rounds per season in other leagues. The data from the 19-20 season is not included for all the leagues since Ligue 1 had 10 rounds unfinished due to the COVID pandemic.
The plots above show the point difference between 1st place and 2nd place in the past 10 seasons. It helps to assess how competitive it is for a team to win a particular league. From the scatter plot, we can see the point differences in the Premier League and La Liga are relatively small.
For the Premier League, the low point 0 occurs at 11-12 season, which Aguero’s last-minute goal helped Manchester City to reach 89 points, the same as Manchester United, but the better goal difference helped Manchester City to win the league. Another low point occurs in the 18-19 season, in which Manchester City finished with 98 points and won the league and Liverpool was only 1 point behind. A similar scenario occurred at La Liga in the 15-16 season. In that season, Barcelona won the league with 91 points and Real Madrid ranked second with 90 points. Besides the scatter plot, the mean point difference plot also shows that the point difference between 1st and 2nd in the past 10 seasons is the smallest for the Premier League (7.7 on average) and La Liga (6.6 on average). For the other 3 leagues, Serie A (9.6 on average) and Ligue 1 (11.2 on average) have relatively larger point difference in comparison to the Premier League and La Liga, and Bundesliga accounts for the largest point difference (15.3 on average) due to Bayern Munich’s dominance in the league.
Besides considering the point difference between 1st and 2nd, the point difference between 1st and 4th is another important indicator since reaching the 4th place will qualify teams for the UEFA Champions League or other UEFA games. According to the scatter plot above, the Premier League has a smaller point difference than the other 4 leagues in the past 10 seasons, and approximately half of the time the Premier League has the smallest point difference of all 5 leagues. The low point occurred in the 13-14 season, in which the point difference between 1st (Manchester City) and 4th (Arsenal) was only 7. The mean point difference plot also suggests the same conclusion, the average point difference for the Premier League is 18.1, which is the lowest when compared to Ligue 1 (20 on average), Serie A (22.1 on average), La Liga (24 on average) and Bundesliga (27.7 on average).
In conclusion, the Premier League has the lowest point difference in the past 10 seasons, which suggests that Premier League is the more competitive one under this metric.
The article aimed to compare the competitiveness across the Big Five Leagues in Europe. Based on the chosen statistics in this article we can conclude that the Premier League is the most competitive league in Europe.
The following conclusions about the Premier League from each statistic provides evidence for this:
It has the highest mean market value.
The proportion of different winners is the greatest.
It has the largest mean UEFA Association coefficient for the last five years.
Finally, it has the lowest point difference in the last ten years.
This is evidence that is a testimonial to the competitiveness of the Premier League and explains the global sensation surrounding this league.
The conclusion drawn in this article is limited to the Big Five leagues in Europe, but it would be fascinating to explore these statistics across more leagues across Europe and the world.
Transfermarkt, Skysports, UEFA.com, CNBC