Is European football really on the crest of a wave?

ACCORDING to UEFA, attendances in European football are at their highest since [their] records began. Certainly, in the UK, English football has not had as people going through the turnstiles since 1949, when the gates averaged 38,792 in the top flight. The current average in the Premier in 2018-19 is 37,967 which is around 1% lower than 2017-18’s figures.

UEFA reported that attendances across Europe totalled more than 100 million for the seventh time, with 15 clubs totalling more than one million. The busiest automated entrances were found at Manchester United, with 1.4 million people visiting Old Trafford in 2017-18.  Second highest was Borussia Dortmund at 1.35 million and third was Tottenham with 1.29 million spectators. Six of the 15 clubs drawing over a million fans are from the Premier League, three from Germany, three from Spain, two are Italian and one comes from France.

Tottenham enjoyed a major boost to their average gates due to their temporary relocation to Wembley. They saw an extra 36,000 people watch their “home” games in 2017-18, the highest increase across Europe. Two other clubs who moved to new grounds also experienced similar boosts to their home support – Atletico Madrid (almost 11,000) and Zenit St. Petersburg (25,000-plus). In total, nine clubs added 10,000 or more to their average attendance – notable among that list are the two Milan clubs, Lazio,  Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe.

The top club by average attendance in 2017-18 was Borussia Dortmund, with a normal crowd of 79,496 for Bundesliga games. Bayern Munich were next with 75,000 and Manchester United third in the list with 74,976.

While UEFA can look at the big picture and claim that attendances are buoyant, much depends on the top end of the game – the statistics are dominated by the usual suspects. When you scratch the surface, attendances in some domestic leagues are woeful compared to the past, although they have bottomed out in many countries. “Attendance trends are fairly stable across member associations, with 15 reporting year-on-year changes of less than 5%,” said UEFA.

Yet there are big imbalances within the top leagues. For example, in England Manchester United’s 74,976 was more than seven times the average at AFC Bournemouth (10,641). This is by means the worst example – Barcelona’s 66,603 was more than 12 times the average at Eibar (5,338). In Spain, there were 11 teams with sub-20,000 average attendances in 2017-18 and just seven drawing more than the league average of 27,068. Hardly an even playing field, is it?

UEFA calculates that between 2016-17 and 2017-18, attendances have increased by more than 15% in seven leagues, a figure that seems hard to substantiate, although there were some impressive increases in some leagues – Russia (23.3%), Turkey (24.8%), Romania (20.9%) and Slovakia (17.8%). UEFA said ticket sales in almost half of all top divisions enjoyed an increase.

Germany’s Bundesliga is top of the league averages, with 44,511 per game and the Premier League is next with 38,310. These are the only two leagues with 30,000-plus averages. Tenth placed Portugal has an average (11,945) little over a quarter of the Bundesliga’s gates.

Photo: PA



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