I wrote a recent piece for this publication where I put forward the theory that football fans have a default position of optimism, especially at the beginning of a new season, and that it’s optimism that helps sell tickets, shirts and beer in pubs for televised games.
Fortunately, I’m in a position where I can test this theory out. I run an online market research company, so I frittered away some of the company’s assets asking fans of Premier League teams where they think their team will finish the season.
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I ought to say that everyone we interviewed was aged 18 or over; we aren’t allowed to invite anyone younger than that. Everyone is a member of our panel, so have been verified as being who they say they are. I should also say that a lot of respondents completed the questionnaire after the Community Shield game, so the results may include data from over-excited Gooners and frustrated Chelsea fans.
We filtered out anyone who supported a team in a different league, and – obviously – anyone who didn’t like football. We ended up interviewing 2,639 fans of Premier League teams. I have no idea whether they are fanatics, hold season tickets etc; they just describe themselves as supporters.
No one was asked to try and compile a league table, just say where they believed their team would end up in the league. We took those positions, averaged them, and sorted them from top to bottom. This is what we got:
I don’t think too many people would think that was a mile off where things will end up. What it says is that Newcastle fans, on average, think we are around the 14th best team in the league when their opinions are placed alongside those of fans of other Premier League sides.
But the optimism that abounds at the start of a new season can be seen on the table below. This shows the average position people thought their team would end the season in. The order is the same, but the numbers to the right show anticipated league position averaged:
So the average Newcastle fan – if there is such a thing – thinks we will end up between 10th and 11th in the table. In fact, fans of most of the teams that you’d anticipate being near the bottom of the league envisage their teams achieving mid-table respectability. Even Watford fans – the least optimistic of all – think, on average, that they’ll be 5 places off relegation.
As I say, those are average results. Within any group of people, there are people at extreme ends of the scale. If we look at the percentage of fans who think their teams will end up in the top 4, and therefore qualify for the Champions League, we get…
And when we look at the percentage of people who think their side will be relegated, we see:
As you can see, just about every team in the league starts the season with 9 out of 10 fans believing they will avoid relegation. And every team has some fans believing they can achieve a place in the Champions League. In my view, this shows Newcastle fans as displaying a healthy blend of optimism and realism. It’s good – I think – to start the season believing it won’t be disaster.
I’ll run this again mid-season and see how things have changed. Let’s hope the Geordies are even more optimistic then…