With just over a week to go until the start of another Premier League season, football fans are not the only ones taking a keen interest in the fortunes of their local clubs.
Universities are using the competition’s huge global audience, estimated at 643 million households during the 2010-11 season, to entice overseas students to their campuses.
Staffordshire University has sponsored a stand at Stoke City, which won promotion to the Premier League in 2008, for the past two years. Paul Richards, its deputy vice-chancellor, explained that the international profile that comes from an associated top-flight club is “increasingly significant”.
“One of the things [overseas students] really like is being able to see Premiership football live,” he said.
He explained that Staffordshire representatives who visit the Asia-Pacific region, where Premier League fame and international student recruitment are greatest, find that applicants are keen to see one Stoke player in particular: Peter Crouch, the gangly striker who has made 42 appearances for England.
The deal with Stoke provides the university with a number of free tickets that it often gives away to students, Professor Richards added.
Football-keen overseas students generally come to see “a couple of games a season” rather than follow the side week-in, week-out, he said, adding that Staffordshire could consider bundling cut-price season tickets along with tuition fees.
Swansea University has also benefited from a surge in interest since Swansea City was promoted to the Premier League in 2011, particularly among African students, and this season will enter an agreement with the club that includes television and match programme advertising. It will also sponsor an as yet unnamed foreign player to boost recognition of the institution in their home country.
Cardiff University is another beneficiary of the global exposure offered by its local Premier League side, which has just won promotion to the top flight, explained Sandra Elliott, the university’s director of communications and international relations. Cardiff City’s Malaysian owner, Vincent Tan, has generated “massive coverage” for the club in his home country, she added.
While the team played in the second-tier Championship between 2010 and 2012, the university enjoyed a 42 per cent rise in the number of Malaysian students, and applications for 2013 are up 36 per cent, she said. Whether this is down to Mr Tan’s fame is impossible to say, Ms Elliott admitted, but the “enormous” impact of the Premier League on the city’s profile since the club’s promotion is undeniable.
The University of Southampton, meanwhile, lists Premier League tickets (£75-£100) on the international student section of its website as one of the “common items that you may need to pay for during your student life”.
Evidence that the league attracts overseas students seems to be purely anecdotal, however. When Caroline Elliott and Kwok Tong Soo, economists at Lancaster University, researched the matter in 2008, they found no “significant effect” overall, Dr Soo said. However, he added that it was plausible that Premier League exposure could have an impact on lower-profile universities.
But whatever exposure the Premier League brings, relegation can take it away, Professor Richards acknowledged, meaning that many Staffordshire staff have turned into “proxy fans” of Stoke.