I’ve been doing quite a bit of research into attendance figures this week and thought I’d share a couple of findings which may surprise some. There has been a lot of talk in recent years about certain clubs having ‘empty seats’ and I think many Manchester City fans will remember the Manchester Evening News feature where a young journalist used a red highlighter to circle every empty seat he saw at a particular game. This was challenged by fans, including myself, who questioned the time the image he utilised had been taken and the purpose of the article.
Since then fans of rival clubs have often pointed their finger at City and accused the club of having ‘empty seats’ at every game and so I’ve decided to look at the last 30 years and compare each top flight team. Obviously, I could compare average attendances and leave it at that, but as so many people talk about ‘empty seats’ I’ve decided to take a different approach and look at the difference between the highest crowd for each club in a season and that club’s average attendance. I’ve taken the highest attendance as this gets over any potential issue with the reported capacity of a ground.
The average attendance for each club is inevitably lower than the highest crowd and with away support typically being about 3,000, any difference of a few hundred between the figures could simply be additional segregation for high profile games or maybe away allocations not selling out. Once we get into the thousands then that would suggest the home allocations have not sold out.
Comparing the highest crowd with the average may not necessarily be the best way to compare clubs but it does give an indication of how full a stadium is or not, so it fits with those who obsess about ‘empty seats’.
As well as comparing those figures I’ve also compared the highest crowd with the lowest crowd for each club. The difference between these attendances shows how many ‘empty seats’ (to use that awful phrase) a club has for certain games each season.
Okay, so what does all this show? Well, I’ll be explaining more in another article soon but a few headlines to include here that may surprise some fans are:
- Manchester City have generally had one of the ‘fuller’ stadia over the last 30 years since the Premier League was established, even during seasons when the Blues were out of the top division.
- In 2000-01 (a relegation season for City) the difference between City’s highest crowd and average attendance was 571 and the difference between their highest and lowest crowds was 2576. At Liverpool the equivalent differences were 1,107 and 6,332, meaning that typically there were about twice as many ‘empty seats’ at Anfield than at City and that the worst attended League fixture at Anfield had 6,332 less people at it than their best. At Everton the differences were even greater: 6,130 between highest and average with 12,590 the difference between the highest and lowest attended games. Aston Villa’s figures were even more extreme.
- In 1998-99 (City’s only season in the third tier) some games were, quite frankly, poorly attended when compared with the best in the Premier League but remember this was the 3rd tier. Those crowds were extraordinary for that league. City fans often believe the ground sold out every week but sadly it didn’t and the difference between City’s best crowd and worst attendance was 8,180, which seems excessive. However, comparing this to the Premier League clubs of the era or today’s giants shows that some had even greater differences. For example, Aston Villa (9,682 difference), Everton (9,828), Leeds (10,243), Liverpool (8,833), Wolves (9,109) and so on. Ultimately, City’s figures in the third tier were absolutely astounding compared to some of those clubs who were in the Premier League or 2nd tier.
- In 2004-05 the difference between City’s highest and lowest attendances was 4,768. Aston Villa’s was 11,281; Everton’s was 8,146; Leeds’ was 9,911; Leicester was 8,982; Liverpool’s was 9,160 etc.
These are just a few examples of attendance analysis I’m currently performing and there is so much more to say. Often fans of some clubs will say that the capacity of their stadium limits attendances and there is obviously truth in that, but if a club’s lowest attendance is almost 9,000 lower than their best (as with Liverpool in 2004-05) then the capacity of the stadium is not an issue on that day. A few hundred and it’s an issue, but almost 9,000?
Watch this space for more information over the coming months. The whole ‘empty seats’ accusations are ridiculous and statistics show that all clubs have experienced this phenomenon on occasion during the Premier League era.
Thanks for this Gary, very interesting. I’d take issue with this wording: “In 1998-99 (City’s only season in the third tier) some games were, quite frankly, poorly attended.”
From memory (so please correct me), wasn’t our lowest attendance in the league that season around 23,000?
By way of comparison, the lowest home league attendance of every club bar one in the SECOND tier that season was less (according to the European Football Statistics site).
Yes – you’re right. In comparison with PL giants the lowest appears poor at first glance but hopefully my wording now spells out what I meant. Thanks.
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Our average attendance in 1998-99 in the 3rd tier was just under 29-000 for 23 home league games when Maine Road only held around 32-000, this was phenomenal considering the state of the team and the club at that time. I feel we held a siege mentality, we were the laughing stock, but the more stick we took, the more the brilliant fans dug our heels in. The support that season was magnificent, especially away from home. Going through such adversity and hardship in those dark times is what makes what we have now all that more special. MCFC Loyal 1973.
Our support was great, especially away. I went to more away games that season than any other – it was an actual novelty looking back. Wycombe doing double over us is a badge of honour to me now.
Had Royle not turned us around, there is no doubt the loyalty would have been tested spending 2 or 3 seasons in that league.
Though I do remember an article in MEN at the time, when we was closer on points to relegation to 4th tier than promotion. And the trend of the article was that the worse City got (ie dropping down the leagues), the more loyal the fans seemed to be.
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