Liverpool has been named the top Premier League club in the inaugural edition of The Sustainability Index, an in-depth ranking of football clubs’ financial sustainability, good governance, equality standards and fan engagement.
The index has been developed by football reform group Fair Game, which partnered with independent experts and organisations in football to create “fair and impartial metrics” across the four criteria.
Liverpool scored highly in the Football Leadership Diversity Code, which makes up 50% of the governance score. The lowest-ranked Premier League club was Nottingham Forest, which scored a financial rating of 1.0 out of 40 – significantly lower than the second least financially solvent, Bournemouth, which scored 9.4.
The financial criteria is built on the standard accounting measures of credit ratio, debt ratio, loans and wages, while the fan engagement metric uses data from the Fan Engagement Index and explores how full a club’s stadium is on an average match day.
The Fan Engagement Index scores clubs on dialogue, governance and transparency, with a maximum of 80 points available for each criterion.
The equality standards measure analyses board make-up, while the football leadership diversity code looks at clubs’ recruitment. Good governance has been measured based on data from Responsiball and information from the Sports Positive League website.
The index also highlights the impact of parachute payments on clubs in the second-tier Championship. Fair Game chief executive Niall Couper described the finances of clubs outside the Premier League as “a mess” but cited Luton Town, Millwall and Bristol City as clubs that are building for the future and “refusing to put themselves at risk”.
The top five Premier League clubs are Liverpool, Southampton, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United. In terms of fan engagement, Everton, Brentford, Southampton, Brighton and Hove Albion, Leicester City and Fulham were the highest-ranked clubs in the Premier League.
The top five in the Championship are Norwich City, Burnley, Swansea City, Sheffield United and Luton, while the bottom five are Middlesbrough, Wigan Athletic, Blackburn Rovers, Queens Park Rangers and Birmingham City. Norwich also topped the Championship’s fan engagement table ahead of Reading, Swansea, Luton and Millwall.
Couper said: “For the first time we have a measure that shows which clubs are well run. But equally we’ve shown the challenges clubs face to become sustainable – vital in ensuring the history and traditions of football clubs, so cherished by supporters, are secure for the long term.”
He added: “Football is in crisis. The debacle of the European Super League demonstrated the chasm of feeling between clubs and supporters. The pandemic and cost-of-living crises have stretched finances to the limit. Discrimination remains rife. And it’s questionable whether the ‘Owners and Directors Test’ is fit, or proper.
“Football needs a culture change. It needs to start celebrating and rewarding good behaviour, and we believe the Sustainability Index does that.”