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League attendances have stopped rising in England

Revenue more important than crowd size

icon fanstats16 January ~ The continued rise of English league football is something we take for granted. With the Premier League concluding another record broadcasting deal we would be forgiven for thinking that this growth shows no signs of ending. However, data from the European Football Statistics website point to an inconvenient truth; recently attendances for English football have been stagnating. The figure for average League attendance post-war peaked in the 1948-49 season at 22,318 before embarking on a long decline, reaching a low of 8,130 in 1985-86.

Attendances then entered the period of sustained growth, rising throughout the 1990s and the subsequent decade before slowing dramatically in the past few years. Just how dramatically can be seen by looking at two periods; between 1995-96 and 2003-04 the overall average attendance for the football league increased by a third but between 2003-04 and 2011-12 the total grew by a barely noticeable 0.8 per cent.

Att League
One factor behind this may be social change: fragmentation of popular culture, a wider range of leisure options, changes to working patterns and the alternative of watching games on television means that football attendances may never realistically reach the heights of the late 1940s. The Bundesliga, however, defies the suggestion that attendances have reached a new equilibrium. Over the 2011-12 season, with the same distractions, it recorded a league average attendance 10,000 higher than the Premier League. It seems that English attendances still have room to grow.

The most obvious explanation would be to blame the recession, along with high ticket prices, for dampening demand. While this may have had some impact the flat-lining of average attendance figures pre-dates the economic troubles by several years, so recession is unlikely to be a cause of the trend. High prices also do not appear to have been an impediment to growth in the past. The inflation-busting rises that have accompanied attendance growth suggest football possesses a certain price-elasticity and in the most expensive league, the Premier League, capacity utilisation has remained consistently above 90 per cent. Still, it would be counter-intuitive to suggest that lower prices would not get more fans through the turnstiles – this is the experience in the Bundesliga.

Att Change

There is also the ending of the stadium boom. According to the Deloitte 2012 Annual Review of Football Finance, clubs collectively invested around £3 billion in grounds and facilities, including the construction of over 30 new stadiums, over the previous 20 years. After decades of neglect this spending served to drive up attendances – the report mentions that Brighton's recent move to Falmer resulted in attendances increasing by 172 per cent, referring to this as the "new stadium effect".  However, the report adds that in recent years the builders have been markedly less busy, with 2010-11 being "the fifth successive year in which no new stadium projects were underway in the Premier League".

This last detail reveals the economics behind stagnating attendances. If clubs, particularly those in the Premier League, were to maximise spectator numbers then capacities would be increased and prices reduced – much like the Bundesliga. Instead clubs are seeking to maximise revenue by pricing in-demand tickets as high as the market will bear: watching football has become a premium product, for a limited audience as opposed to the mass market product for a mass audience it was in the late 1940s. Neil Cotton

On the subject...

Comment on 16-01-2013 12:50:05 by geobra #751540
It costs considerably more to watch Conference National football than I pay to watch Atalanta in Serie A, but the stadium here is never full despite the fan-friendly ticket prices. This suggests, perhaps, that fear of violence, imagined or real, is more of a deterrent than high admission prices. It also says that when every game in Serie A can be seen live on TV, more and more fans are choosing this as the way in which they 'support' their team, especially now that obtaining a ticket if you do not have a season ticket is so difficult and time-consuming. It is a trend that now seems irreversible, and as the match-fixing scandal drags on interminably, with more revelations almost every day, it is likely to accelerate. Not being sure that what you are going to watch will be real is hardly an incentive for going to a match.
Comment on 16-01-2013 13:15:50 by Paul S #751556
Average attendances will never rival those of the late 40's / 50's as ground capacity is now reduced. Many more people want to watch Tottenham than the ground is able to hold. Perhaps a better indicator is in the 3rd and 4th divisions where crowds are usually well within limits.
Comment on 16-01-2013 14:23:58 by geobra #751591
Another difference is that when there were standing areas that were almost exclusively pay-on-the-day with season tickets only sold for seating areas, attendances fluctuated wildly depending on the attractiveness of the visitors, or how many fans they would bring. Now, at least in the top two divisions, they are boringly uniform, week in week out. Except when the Cup comes round....

In Italy, though, they still fluctuate, except in the Juventus Stadium, which is invariably almost full.
Comment on 16-01-2013 14:41:14 by Coral #751598
My view on this is TV is what done it. Friends of mine who could go and watch their local club for £18 decide not to because they can quite easily watch the game on telly. I have recently found myself more inclined to watch on TV rather than go to a game as change in circumstances (getting a mortgage) mean my disposable income has dropped and going to a game is a treat. It is also warmer, free drinks, Alcoholic drinks in view of the game, and I can turn off and watch Africa on the other side if it is (as ususal) pap. I turned the Arsenal game off at 10 minutes saying that was that, Arsenal fans at the game had no such option.

What is worrying from the point of view of attendance is that for many people, football is something you watch on TV. There has never been so much footy on the box is something we hear a lot when talking about the World Cup not being the chance to see rare foreign players. The culture of football is about seeing the game on the tv. France refer to us as a nation of fans watching the game in the pub. When my conference team were going to be on tv against a prem side I shunned going to the game because I could go to the pub and watch it with my premiership supporting mates and have a beer and indulge in "banter" about the game as a novelty that they enjoy every week. I have good friends here in London who are passionate fans of their club, but have never once been to a live home game. They have however changed our plans for the weekend to fit watching "the" match.

The game is changing, you watch the game on tv, you phone the radio to complain about the ref if your team lost, and you read the paper that backs your view up. Everything now is about naratives, Arsenal in crisis and mentally weak, Man united always do better in the second half and come from behind, AVB is one loss away from being a mug, 'Arry gets most out of players etc. Football is a soap played out on TV with new stories to fill 24 hour news. The actual attendance of a game is for the rich and tourists from around the globe, or the saddo who knows all the stats. I am mocked, in a joking way, as having a penchant for shit football. This is because I will go and watch Barnet v Aldershot live because I enjoy live footy when I can afford it. For most, anything less than seeing the top clubs in Europe or their club and they are not interested.

Spleen vented, rant end
Comment on 16-01-2013 14:49:33 by Gangster Octopus #751600
Bloody Barnet and Aldershot. Barstards, the pair of 'em...
Comment on 16-01-2013 17:57:42 by geobra #751685
Coral, you are a fan after my own heart. But we are a dying breed, I fear.

Mind you, I was expecting to be at a Serie D game as I write this, but the weather is foul and cold and, being carless, I faced being out of the house for anything up to 6 hours on a dark and dismal January evening.

It wouldn't have put me off when I was younger, though. But when you get to a certain age you realise that putting yourself through all that just to tick off another probably nondescript game of football risks making you look more than faintly ridiculous.
Comment on 17-01-2013 03:37:33 by madmickyf #751890
"Many more people want to watch Tottenham than the ground is able to hold." Maybe a study could be done into why there is such a high demand to watch a team who haven't won an FA Cup for over 20 years and a league title for 50 years!
Comment on 17-01-2013 03:50:42 by alyxandr #751891
As one useless Yank neutral data point, Tottenham (and Everton, and, increasingly, Swansea) are my favorite EPL teams to watch -- relatively-attractive styles, good enough to have a reasonable chance of winning something (if only a CL berth), and few or no insanely-annoying players -- the only one i can think of off the top of my head, Wm. Gallas, being only (roughly) 0.3 of a Nani. So, there's that (unless you were just having some fun with Spurs fans.)
Comment on 17-01-2013 08:06:10 by geobra #751904
Why do so many people want to watch Tottenham? Some teams are defined by what they did generations ago. Tottenham by the early 60s, starting with the double year. West Ham by the Moore, Hurst and Peters years. As for Liverpool, it's almost a quarter of a century since they last won the title and yet they're still seen as potential title challengers almost every season when the reality is that they are no more likely to be champions than..... Everton. On this basis we can assume that if Manchester United enter a less successful era, the aura that surrounds them will not fade for a very long time, if ever.

Should have gone to the match yesterday (see above). It finished 3-3. Murphy's Law, or some such.
Comment on 17-01-2013 14:00:32 by g!lly #752027
madmickyf simialrly Newcastle United Last Title 1927 last domestic trophy F.A Cup 1955 last major trophy of any sort Fairs Cup 1969. avg attendance just below 50,000.
Comment on 18-01-2013 02:48:14 by madmickyf #752270
alyxandr, not trying to wind up Spurs fans just wondering why some teams remain popular despite having no real success. I support Luton and it always used to bug me to see Luton station full of Arsenal, Chelsea & Tottenham shirts on a Saturday. I remain perplexed as to why someone living in Luton would choose to support Spurs over the Hatters. Yes they're a big name club but they've won nothing for years - Luton have won 3 league titles since Tottenham won their last one. At least Newcastle fans are supporting their local club.
Comment on 18-01-2013 03:46:03 by willie1foot #752271
madmickyf wrote:
"Many more people want to watch Tottenham than the ground is able to hold." Maybe a study could be done into why there is such a high demand to watch a team who haven't won an FA Cup for over 20 years and a league title for 50 years!


Surely if everyone only watched clubs that have recently won something, the crowd numbers for most EPL (for example) sides would be miniscule?
Comment on 18-01-2013 23:06:26 by Velvet Android #752706
Fascinating stats just from looking at the graphs, especially to see the peak in the third tier's attendance growth (outstripping the second's) a couple of years ago, presumably when Norwich, Leeds and Charlton were all in League One. I'm a Canary who hasn't gone to the ground in donkey's years, although I have the excuse of always having lived hundreds if not thousands of miles away; Norwich though is, like Tottenham, seemingly somewhere where a considerably larger stadium could be filled judging by the fact Carrow Road is nearly always packed to practically its 27,000-odd capacity, which to the season-ticketholders' eternal credit was the case even in the third tier in 2009-10.

Love alyxandr's definition of Gallas as "0.3 of a Nani" on the Annoyingly Footballer Scale – a 'nani' even sounds like a unit of measurement, which is a plus point, although I fear he could not be the foundation of an absolute system since we must surely agree that the pint-size Portuguese himself is surely only approximately 0.3 suarez on the irritometer, and lovely Luis in turn probably equates to no more than 0.7 cristianoronaldos...?
Comment on 19-01-2013 01:02:10 by alyxandr #752724
(I figured that a Suarez, or especially, a CR7, would, as a unit, be too large to be practical, much as the rem has been deprecated as a unit of radiation dosage.)
Comment on 25-01-2013 10:13:30 by Velvet Android #755060
Point taken -- when a small nuclear device detonating next to you, say, registers only 0.6 of a CR7 of annoyance, you know the unit is functionally unuseable I guess...

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