Premier League Clubs’ Reputation in Danger

Barclay’s Premier League teams have recently come under fire for not providing adequate accessibility for disabled supporters. Disabled fans have complained that stadiums do not have enough access points or viewing areas for people using wheelchairs and people with disabilities are not being considered when clubs make decisions. With many clubs receiving this negative publicity, the importance of a club’s reputation is being called into question.

The GuardianThe 2010 Equality Act outlawed disability discrimination in Great Britain, making it illegal to provide unequal services just because someone is disabled. However, many Premier League clubs have not made the required improvements. There are currently only two teams in the Barclays Premier League, Swansea City and Leicester City, which meet the required number of wheelchair places for the size of their stadiums. These standards were also laid out in the Home Office green guide for new grounds, and agreed upon by the 1998 Football Task Force to apply to existing grounds.

Premier leagues rule book, 2014/2015 seasonHowever, the guidelines that Premier League clubs must follow are very vague and left up to interpretation. The only mention of disabled supporters is in Section K.34 of the Premier League 2014/15 Handbook. All it says is Each Club shall provide sufficient and adequate facilities for disabled supporters. This does not give the clubs much information when it comes to providing adequate facilities for supporters with disabilities. Different teams may have different ideas about what is sufficient and adequate which can lead to unequal treatment of those with disabilities who are trying to attend a football match.

When it comes to adapting stadiums to meet the needs of supporters with disabilities, every team and every stadium is different. All Premier League stadiums were built either before 1914 and World War I or after 1993. This creates a huge divide between teams with newer grounds and teams with older, more historic grounds. Clubs that have built and opened newer stadiums, like Manchester City in 2003 and Arsenal in 2006, have been more strictly regulated in the construction of their new grounds as more legislation is created to help disabled supporters. Building a new stadium today is monitored much more closely to meet regulations than it was before. The graph below shows when all the Premier League grounds were opened.

Stadiums by age courtesy of the Stadium Guide

Stadiums by age courtesy of the Stadium Guide

Clubs with older stadiums have a harder time meeting the required standards. Some of the older stadiums in Great Britain are rather obsolete and cramped due to expanding fan bases, decreasing the provision for fans with disabilities. Some Premier League teams are currently building new stadiums to accommodate more supporters and are also aiming to better meet disability access regulations. Tottenham Hotspur FC and West Ham United FC are aiming to break ground on customer excellence with their new stadiums and look to better improve their reputation in the eye of the public. Liverpool FC are also looking to use the expansion of Anfield’s Main Stand as a catalyst for improved customer services.

So the question is, how much of an effect does reputation have on Premier League clubs? The answer is it has a huge effect. A club’s reputation is what brings in more fans and it is what they and members of the club itself pride themselves on. A good reputation can mean success on and off the pitch while a bad reputation can spell doom for an organisation.

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A good example is Swansea City Football Club in South Wales. Swansea City, one of the only two teams in the Premier League that meet the required number of wheelchair spaces in their stadium as stated earlier, isreportedly the most loved club in the Premier League. According to a survey done by the Daily Mail where a large sample of British people were asked their opinions on Premier League clubs, Swansea City scored the highest popularity rating with 60.6%4.

Trinity Mirror survey by Daily MailTrinity Mirror survey and image by Daily Mail

Factors like the good disability access, an attractive style of football, and an organisation that looks out for the fans creates a great reputation for Swansea City. This good reputation has translated to success as the club has finished in the top 12 of the Premier League for the past three years since being promoted.

By Patrick Goetzke, Villanova University