The Premier League’s unrivalled global appeal has seen sold-out stadiums across the world this summer – with fans spread across various continents getting to see their heroes in real life.
After two years of Covid-restricted travel, most clubs in the English top flight chose to play matches overseas on money-spinning tours, while some opted for more low-key training camps abroad.
But after calls for sport to use the pandemic as a chance to reset around its role in climate impact, the return to vast amounts of plane travel has raised questions on the cost to the environment.
Villa top of CO2 emissions
This table displays a BBC Sport estimate of each club’s emissions in order of who has generated the most CO2 from air travel.
BBC Sport has not included emissions from domestic fixtures for the purposes of this comparison, given air travel – mile for mile – is the most damaging way to travel for the environment.
Premier League teams Air miles travelled in pre-season C02 emissions per passenger (in Kg) Carbon emissions per football team in Metric Tons
Aston Villa 22419 2921 87.63
Leeds United 21858 2736 82.08
Manchester United 21507 2642 79.29
Crystal Palace 22819 2583 77.49
Liverpool 14160 1804 54.12
Tottenham Hotspur 15330 1770 53.1
Chelsea 13421 1639 49.17
Arsenal 9808 1247 37.41
Manchester City 9505 1123 33.69
Everton 8297 980 29.4
Nottingham Forest 3258 534 16.02
Newcastle United 3253 460 13.8
Wolverhampton Wanderers 2503 392 11.76
Fulham 2174 349 10.47
AFC Bournemouth 1994 302 9.06
Brighton & Hove Albion 1916 296 8.88
West Ham United 1206 278 8.34
Brentford 1318 269 8.07
Southampton 1548 264 7.92
Leicester City 564 134 4.02
Grand Total 178858 22721 681.6
BBC Sport calculations are based on an estimated average of 30 people – players and staff – travelling per club
The club to produce the most CO2 during their pre-season tour was Aston Villa.
Their Australia tour included fixtures against Leeds United, Brisbane Roar and Manchester United, while Steven Gerrard’s side also flew to France to play Rennes today.
In total, Villa have emitted 87.63 metric tonnes of CO2, equating to 2,921kg per passenger, from five flights this summer – with the longest journey from the UK to Brisbane.
Villa’s total squad carbon emissions figure is the equivalent of driving from London to Manchester 790 times; or one person flying from London to Los Angeles 136 times; or 17 times the average UK citizen’s annual emissions (pre-pandemic).
Leeds, who travelled to Australia to play Brisbane Roar, Villa and Crystal Palace, were second highest. Their tour resulted in the Yorkshire club emitting 82.08 metric tonnes over four flights, which is the equivalent of 15.8 times the average UK citizen’s annual emissions.
Forest Green Rovers owner Dale Vince told the BBC that his League One club had an annual footprint of just 70 tonnes last year, meaning it would take them almost a decade to generate the equivalent total emissions of the Premier League club’s pre-season tours.
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Some clubs appearing at the bottom of our table, such as Brighton and Bournemouth, flew to Europe for training camps and low-key friendlies.
Brighton’s chief operating officer Paul Mullen told BBC Sport that sustainability was “not a major consideration” in their pre-season plans, but added the club was in the “very early stages” of developing a strategy “to be a sustainable business”.
Mullen told BBC Sport that many clubs will have overseas tours built into commercial agreements designed to “further extend the brand” in global markets.
He said: “I think there’s an expectation to be a good citizen, to be a leader in this and show good practice where we can but, at the same time, recognising our business does also pose certain challenges.
“We realise it’s a collective responsibility. The Premier League is developing its own sustainability strategy and I suspect from that will come a strategy whereby clubs entering the Premier League have certain minimum commitments that they have to adhere as part of that obligation.
“I think the football is always going to be the driving force in terms of the business and we have to realise that and the environment that we’re operating in, but I think we can align and integrate, improving our sustainability and green credentials through that.”
BBC Sport contacted several clubs for comment as they plan and deliver their own pre-season tours, rather than the Premier League.
The league – which is signed up to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework – has a sustainability strategy which includes sharing best practice with its clubs.
‘Clubs’ climate claims judged on behaviour’
Dr Russell Seymour, chief executive of Basis – the British Association for Sustainable Sport:
“Flying to distant countries for pre-season friendly matches surely isn’t about preparation for the upcoming season, but is about extending the reach of the brand and increasing the fan base, and hence revenue, in these countries.
“It is interesting that just six clubs made up two-thirds of the total CO2 emissions. Two of these clubs were tied as equal top of the Sport Positive Sustainability League in 2021 and so recognised for the good work they are doing at their own venues.
“Air travel is often demonised; its impacts are significant and we, as a society, should fly less. It is more complex than simply condemning all flying, but clubs should understand that the credibility of their sustainability claims will be judged on their most visible behaviours and actions.
“Football, in particular, has significant influence over which behaviours are accepted and which are not.