London Club Attendances

Next we have a look at attendances over the years for London clubs, an analysis by b+w_geezer. Fascinating stuff…

London Club  Playing Rank (of 96) Attendance Rank (of 96) Average Attendance  Playing Rank Minus Attendance Rank
Arsenal 5.8 4.6 38,776 +1.2
Tottenham 9.5 6.2 35,880 +3.3
Chelsea 12.1 9.2 32,135 +2.9
West Ham 17.9 15.8 25,544 +2.1
Charlton 29.2 33.4 15,994 -4.2
Fulham 33.2; 35.4 15724; -2.2
QPR 33.4 37.4 14,087 -4.0
Palace 40.3 31.2 16,631 +9.1
Millwall 46.7 44.1 10,987 +2.6
Orient 57.5 60.3 7,481 -2.8
Brentford 58.7 54.2 8,514 +5.7

Four London clubs have mostly been in the top division, four have averaged second tier, the others third tier.

It’s striking how similar Attendance Rank is to Playing Rank, with even the greatest variance (Palace) being just 9 places out of 96.

Attendances vary by era, with high averages in the post-war period, then a slump, then a partial revival.
Brentford’s average gate of 12.8k for the first quarter century was 50th best, whereas gates of only 7.1k ranked 50th in the next quarter century.

Credit for these stats is gratefully offered to the resource at European Football Statistics. Pasting into a spreadsheet, it took very little time to compile averages. An hour or two would complete the job for clubs throughout England…..but I have stuck to London..

Including the first post-war season would slightly have boosted Fulham’s averages, but making it 65 seasons allows me to study the 15 since Mohamed Al Fayed took over, preceded by two contrasting quarter centuries. The two most similar clubs are shown for comparison.

Charlton Fulham QPR
Past 15 seasons (to 2011/12)
Average Playing Rank of 96 24.9 18.3 36.4
Average Attendance Rank of 96 23.5 27.5 38.2
The 25 pre-Fayed seasons (1972-96/7)
Average Playing Rank (of 96) 34.5 48.8 15.0
Average Attendance (Rank of 96) 41.8 49.5 24.8
25 seasons from 1947-8 to 71/2
Average Playing Rank of 96 26.5 26.5 50.0
Average Attendance (Rank of 96) 30.9 26.0 49.5

Charlton have fluctuated least, while Fulham’s metrics for the middle period are almost identical to QPR’s for the early period.

All three clubs have generally attracted the attendances you would expect for their league standing. This particularly applies to Fulham for all the pre-Fayed years, to QPR for the first 25 years and to Charlton and QPR for the most recent 15.

In the middle period, Charlton’s attendances suffered from years of exile from The Valley, and QPR couldn’t fill Loftus Road to the extent the team deserved. However, this was an era of low gates nationally — Chelsea averaged 21.8k for the period.

Fulham would need to raise ground capacity by 8k to accommodate crowds matching mid-table Premier rank. A current planning application seeks to do so by 5k.

19 thoughts on “London Club Attendances

  1. Not so fascinating after all then :-)

    With all thanks to Rich, I’d personally call these stats `semi-surprising.’

    The non-surprise is how middling (literally) Fulham are in terms of London clubs. And how we bunch up with Charlton and QPR — for all our different ambiences, peaks and troughs — as three peas in a pod compared to the others. Strong divergence sustained for years will alter that.

    The surprise is how closely attendance matches performance at clubs generally. I’d have expected broad correlation, but not to this extent. (Some hunch-based checks outside London only turned up one club, Sunderland, who diverged more greatly than Palace, and even then only slightly.)

    So most clubs everywhere, over the long term, attract almost precisely the crowds that their performance on the park warrants. And Fulham have until recently been a particularly good example of that. But lately ground capacity is a restraint.

    What these figures suggest is that a 30k Cottage would be filled if we continued as a middling Premier team — but that demand would not usually outstrip capacity by more than 10% or so. However, as home to a middling Championship team, the place would soon be half-empty — as would be the case at most other clubs in the same position.

    For a Cottage expanded to 30k to become significantly too small for Fulham, we’d either need to become a consistently top third side, or attendances in England in general would need to return to more like 1950s levels. Failing that we’d be in what the consultants, Deloitte call the optimum position for a football club: of having demand narrowly outstrip supply.

    1. Do not take the lack of discussion for a lack of “fascinatingness”. Some things are simply interesting and informative without giving rise to debate. This is one. Just the day this was posted I was driving thinking about our attendances and the very low (20k-ish) ones I remember Chelsea getting in the 90s. But I hadn’t realized that there was a general dip in attendance at around this time. This was an incredibly interesting post. I’d love to see more of this kind of stuff.

      1. Ta. That general dip in attendances coincided with our long spell averaging in the 4,000s, which I mentioned to you today on TIFF. For example, in 1988, which was the 3rd of those 11 consecutive seasons, we had a playing rank of 53 and a closely similar Attendance Rank of 55, with an average gate of 4921. However, the modern equivalent of that Attendance Rank would be 7k.

        So (given our track record) I reckon 7k would also be our modern baseline if we’d been in League One for a couple of seasons and were upper middling in it. Add some more once the Cottage possessed those extra bars with river views we were discussing on TIFF — but not mega more in my view…and as for the number of visitors to London attracted by our home fixture with Crewe, add another extra quotient of your choice to account for that second special factor. Maybe we’d be up into the 8,000s.

        1. I’m not sure that’s accurate. For League 2 maybe but not League 1 if we were subject to a straight drop, not a long-term erosion like we saw in the 80s and 90s. Those figures in the late 80s-90s were as a result of a large number of years in the wilderness, huge fan dissatisfaction and a general dying out of our support. In those times it always seemed to my (admittedly teenage) eyes that the vast majority of our support was well over 50. The ground was in a state with weeds growing all over, facilities awful, and the club always looking on the brink of utter collapse. It is no wonder our attendances looked so low.

          I cannot agree, however, that those statistics would apply now, particularly after our sustained period of top-flight success, our major efforts to bring kids into Fulham, the renovation of the Riverside and the general upping of the standards of the Cottage. Even taking the attendance figures of 1998 and 1999 in League One, where none of those factors were present, and applying an inflation amount to today you get attendance figures between 11k and 13k.

          And I think those are too low, at least for the first season or two that we would be in League One. You have compared us to Charlton. Well, look at their League One attendances the last three years: 17.5k, 15.5k, 17.5k. Look at QPR’s (a significantly smaller club in my opinion — see how they have under-performed their league placing attendance wise at every stage — and one with a terrible ground) in their three years in League One in 2002-2004: 11.7k, 13.2k, 14.7k.

          Things have changed markedly at Fulham and in the types of people going to football and I simply do not think those figures from the dark days of the 80s and 90s apply any more. A well-run club with a sustained period of top-flight success, a unique character well-suited to maintaining attendance (i.e. a reputation as a wholesome place to take the whole family to watch football), and with a unique ground with great facilities that makes the whole match-day experience a great one, should be able to continue to get great attendances with the right marketing and pricing even if we spend 2-3 seasons in League One. Attendances in the 20k range are not unheard of for brief stays in League One these days (see e.g. Southampton) and I think, if we stay at the Cottage, that is where we could end up. If we leave the Cottage, maybe at best in the 15k range.

          1. You make a good case and maybe we would for the first time be a club that significantly outperformed our playing rank because of the added value aspects to which you allude. We never have before, but then we’ve never been so well run before.

            Having seen how close the two sets of ranking are for clubs in general (variances below 5/96 places in most cases over extended periods — seriously close!) I’ll take a look when time permits at the position for one or two recent seasons. Shouldn’t actually take long. This will then give a feel for how common larger variances are on at least a short-term basis and what factors might be contributing thereto. Depending on whether Rich finds the results interesting, they may then appear here.

  2. Good work, b+w.

    I would guess that Wimbledon would show a greater variance than Palace. They came into the Football League in the late seventies, rose rapidly to the top division, stayed there for fourteen years, then sank even more quickly.

    Their old ground at Plough Lane was tiny, so from 1991 they shared Selhurst Park, neither situation being suitable for building a decent fan base.

    I was aware that QPR had been punching above their weight during the 1972-97 period, but their playing rank of 15.0 still surprised me.

    1. It was 3 better than Chelsea’s in the same period. They had a terrific team for quite a while, but still couldn’t fill the place. Presumably their new owners are aware of that…..

  3. No, it is fascinating, thank you. Especially your little extra essay in the comments!

    There’s a chicken/egg quality to the numbers which intrigues me too.

    Clearly performance –> attendance to quite a strong extent.

    I wonder what sort of time frame you have to look at before:

    Attendance –> performance (for economic reasons)?

    1. Interesting question there. I suppose it would vary greatly between clubs with average Playing Ranks 1-26-ish and the other 70. That’s because clubs who always or often find themselves in the premier league enjoy broadcasting monies far outstripping matchday income (mostly)…..whereas attendance yields a far more significant slice of turnover for clubs outside the prem.

  4. Starting a new reply as its all getting rather narrow:

    I ran the numbers and knocked together a chart on this for the post-war period for Fulham based on attendance numbers adjusted to the 2012 league average. Wish I could post it or otherwise get it to you as it is interesting.

    Fulham’s correlation coefficient between league placing and attendance is 0.88 (actually -0.88, but as league placing is more valuable at a lower number it is more accurate to state the positive coefficient). There is, obviously, very close, though not perfect, correlation between league position and attendance. And I think the remaining variance can genuinely be put down to how well the club is run.

    When you chart it (separate axes for adjusted attendance and league position, bu on the same scale) you can see something interesting happening. In the period between 1947-69 the scaled difference between performance and attendance is negligible. Descriptively, the lines are so close together as to essentially touch one another. Then from 1970 to very recently attendances were always significantly lower (using the scaled view) than our performances should have indicated. There is a big gap between the line for performance (usually at the top) and the one for attendance (usually at the bottom). And in the really dark days 1986-1996 our attendances barely moved at all despite us going from Div II to the bottom of Div IV in that time. Since Al-Fayed took over, the scaled difference between our attendance and position has been gradually creeping closer, to the point where it looks a lot like the pre-1970 period, with the two lines not only running in the same direction but gradually getting closer.

    That seems to track the history of Fulham as a well run club. We seemed to be quite well run in the post war period from what I have read. Then the wheels began coming off in 1970, and in the 80s and 90s the club was a shambles, always about to go out of business, be merged, selling off its best players etc. Since Fayed has come in, the club as gradually been better run.

    Putting all this together, you can (I believe very convincingly) argue that the difference between the scaled lines for adjusted attendance and league position represents the lost opportunity that would have been available had the club been run better. Fans respond to a better run club (they are optimistic about the future), and a better run club is better at getting fans in (marketing, facilities, etc.). Since Fayed came in, we have been playing catch-up to get us to basically where we were before things started going bad in 1970. We have reached that point, more or less, now. Improvements in the Cottage, better marketing, etc. could push us beyond that and allow us to outperform out league position attendance/demand-wise.

    1. Sorry to go on but I just remembered that 1970 also corresponded with the end of Johnny Haynes’ time at the club. So it is possible that he alone was keeping attendances up towards the end of the golden age. That indicates that clubs with something special can outperform league placing. And, to follow on more directly from the discussion on TiFF, I think no that it is so unique and we’re all a bit more bourgeois these days, the Cottage can provide the same kind of boost that Haynes used to.

      1. It’s my method again, but here are the variances (Playing minus Attendance) for seasons commencing with Fulham’s first year in the top division: 1959-60.

        -1, -3, +5, -4, -6,-5,+1,-1,0 (in the relegation year)
        then +7 (another relegation year), then +1, +4 (a promotion year. Haynes has gone by now incidentally),
        then (back in the second tier)….-3, -7, -5, -10 (Cup Final year!!), -8, +8 (Best/Marsh), -5, -6, -4….etc.

    2. I’d love to see that and really appreciate having more than one of us worrying away at this. Rich may wish to put us in touch directly.

      Sticking to my own method, of not adjusting for 2012 figures, but just taking each season as a snapshot of the times, I find that Playing Rank minus Attendance rank for what you call “the really dark days” of 1986-96, were: in sequence….-4, +5, -2, -10, +4, 0, -6, -7, +4, +12, +19.

      Remembering that plus figures mean you are attracting larger crowds than your league position would imply, then the impression remains that we were mainly close to what was to be expected **judged by the standards of that year, not any other** (which is where our methods differ).

      The biggest minus variance (10 out of a maximum 95) was a season when we narrowly missed promotion, but crowds failed to show appropriate stimulus….so that’s the year that most closely matches your diagnosis. However, the upturns at the end of the period, certainly didn’t relate to improvements in stadium facilities, so what was going on? In the final year — a promotion-winning team and in the penultimate one, not so clearcut — the Branfoot effect? (Team wasn’t brilliant, but a general feeling the club was no longer quite such a shambles…maybe). But really, mostly close to what was to be expected in that era — probably because so many other grounds at that time were unkempt and so many other clubs were badly run and had failed fully to attract a new generation.

      1. Have forwarded the spreadsheet and chart to Rich. Hopefully he’ll send it along to you. Your post created an interesting debate after all!

        My sense from the 1986-96 period was that we had bottomed out. It didn’t matter if we were at the bottom of Div II or the bottom of Div IV. Much of our fanbase was done with the club and done with football at it was then (we are a genteel lot), so we were left with a hardcore of support that would have been there no matter what.

        1. Correct about that. Some of us were genteel *and* hardcore, mind!

          I continue to think you slightly misread some aspects of the past, but the big Q. is to what extent the rules will be different in future, for reasons such as you offer — at any rate in London. And maybe they will. Look forward to receipt via Rich.

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