How high will crowds be in 2016-17?

Sport, Football, London, England, 14th February 1972, Fans crowd the roof of a block of flats overlooking West Ham's Upton Park pitch as the Hammers win their FA Cup replay v Hereford 3-1  (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

WITH the opening of West Ham United’s Olympic Stadium this coming season, the English Premier League may see a slight increase in attendances. The Hammers will undoubtedly average 50,000 for the first time in their long history, but the change in composition in the Premier will see clubs with smaller crowd potential coming to the top division. According to Football Benchmark’s latest study on stadium use and capacity, the promoted clubs could have a slightly negative impact on overall attendance figures.

Aston Villa, Newcastle United and Norwich City all went down, to be replaced by Hull City, Middlesbrough and Burnley. The Premier new boys have a capacity some 33% lower than the relegated clubs. The Premier, at 36,452 had the second highest average attendance across Europe. The Premier’s utilisation rate was 96.1% but the average Premier League capacity is relatively low at 38,000. Nevertheless, these figures show that demand is very strong for Premier football and with West Ham’s new home and some capacity increases elsewhere, English football could edge towards its first 40,000 average.

Football Benchmark also questions if Bundesliga crowds might fall slightly this season given that promoted clubs such as Freiburg and RB Leipzig may have lower gate potential than relegated Stuttgart and Hannover. Leipzig are still a relatively unknown quantity, however, as they are clearly a club in the ascendancy. Attendances in Germany’s boom town have been rising impressively in each of the last half dozen seasons, so there are realistic hopes that this trajectory will continue. The Bundesliga is the only football league worldwide to generate an average attendance of 40,000.

  Average Av.Capacity Stadium Utilisation Top average Bottom average
Germany 43,193 (-0.5%) 46,924 92% Borussia Dortmund 81,178 Ingolstadt 14,834
England 36,452 (+0.8%) 37,918 96.1% Manchester United 75,286 Bournemouth


La Liga 28,168 (+6.5%) 38,883 72.4% Barcelona 79,724 Eibar 5,216
Serie A 22,644 (+0.5%) 41,513 54.5% Inter Milan 45,538 Frosinone 7,288
Ligue 1 20,894 (-6.1%) 29,969 69.7% Paris St. Germain  46,160 Ajaccio 3,719

The Bundesliga and Premier are way ahead of the other big five leagues in terms of gates and stadium usage. La Liga, for example, has an average of 28,000-plus that is dramatically swelled by the presence of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. These three clubs accounted for around 35% of La Liga’s overall attendance in 2015-16. This confirms what we already know, that Spain’s football has huge, unhealthy imbalances. For the past decade, Spain’s clubs have been the most successful in Europe, but the country’s football may be reaching something of an inflection point as its two figureheads, Lionel Messi of Barcelona and Ronaldo of Real Madrid, draw their careers to a close.

Spain’s era in the limelight may be threatened by the decline of Ronaldo and Messi, coupled with a national team that may be in transition. But both Barca and Real are extremely wealthy and it is reasonable to expect them to replace these two iconic players with marque signings in the next couple of years. Barca and Real will always be able to attract large crowds, but there has to be question marks about the rest of La Liga. If you take the enormous pulling power of the big two away from La Liga, the average drops to barely 23,000.

Italy’s crowd potential has been eroding for the past decade. In 2015-16, Serie A crowds averaged 22,644 which represented a 0.5% rise on the previous season. Italy has suffered from having stadiums that are too big for demand, hence the utilisation figure of 54.5%, the lowest among the top five leagues. Italian football people are more than aware of this and whenever new stadium plans are discussed, they are for smaller, for multi-use sites. Juventus, with a capacity of 36,000 is a case in point. They have a utilisation rating of more than 93% – the message being that small is best in Italian football. There were encouraging signs at Inter Milan, though, in 2015-16 with an average gate of 45,538, 22% up on 2014-15.

Italy could well benefit from more models like Juventus or look at what France has achieved with new stadium design. Ligue 1 may have the lowest average of the top five leagues (20,894), but they may see a rise in 2016-17 as the promoted clubs – Nancy, Dijon and Metz – will bring slightly bigger gate potential than the clubs relegated from the top division. On a more worrying note, some people may have second thoughts about attending football matches against a backdrop of continued terrorist activity in France.

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