Furthering the figures I had for Oldham and Brentford the other week, I wanted to extend the figures out to cover a larger number of teams. After a lot of weighing up either way and looking at the numbers, I elected to avoid teams that had been in Tier 2 in my timespan (because the figures would end up being skewed by the visits of ‘bigger’ teams – there’s already an element of that with Leeds, Norwich and Southampton having toured League One, but it would really fill out the spaces if I included Championship teams*).
Which left me with 13 extra teams to work with; incidentally, I used 01/02 as my starting season, just because it was easier to gather the figures together.
Right. I’ll start now as if completely afresh.
Getting into the Champions League is the reward a small number of teams seek at the beginning of the calendar. It is an award that has fallen on very few English teams this millennium – Manchester Utd and City, Arsenal, Newcastle Utd, Tottenham Hotspur and the current champions, Chelsea. Everton nearly made it in 2005, but they fell to Villarreal in qualifying.
That’s all well and good, and congratulations to them for it. Each of those teams will play, generally, at least six games per season – all of which are televised, be it by Sky or ITV. While those games are going on, however, there are other games taking place within the country. In order to make up their 8 league game deficit (Football League teams play 46 v. 38 Premier League games) as well as Johnstone’s Paint Trophy games, and even fill in FA Cup Replays, or postponements, which are far more common in the lower leagues than the higher ones, there is generally a fair smattering of league games on the same day as those Champions League games – particularly the Tuesdays.
I am trying to find out how much of a knock-on effect a Champions League game being televised has on the gate of a normal weeknight attendance at a lower league game. It won’t be an exact science – but we should be able to get a vague picture from it, simply by comparing the gates of the games when there is no televised Champions League competition to the gates of those games when there is.
I have taken the league attendances for all Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday games (JPT games, and league cup games are famously poorly attended) that didn’t take place on bank holidays (kickoffs tend to be afternoons), and tallied them against English teams’ Champions League exploits. For every team I covered, that gives me a two-bar graph, which is purely the numbers for one v. the other – the Champions League nights are in green positioned against the non Champions League nights in purple. This is a total attendance graph, so that’s why there’s the variety in the numbers – I’m mildly surprised Rochdale get slightly bigger crowds than Bury, but they’re at the lower end of a chart that sees, unsurprisingly, Bristol Rovers and Swindon at the top.
That graph demonstrates some interesting points, and poses some tricky questions. Of the 15 teams featured, all but three show a dip in attendances, and eight show a dip of more than 5% when there’s Champions League football on as well as their game. I can explain Leyton Orient and, to a certain extent, Brentford’s small dip as being easy to travel to by London Transport means, but Bournemouth’s increase is a little more difficult to explain. The Football League do seem to have planned ‘big’ visitors to them in the week a number of times; Forest, Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday bulk up their midweek figures a little – but so do Blackpool, Exeter and Yeovil. Meanwhile, Port Vale, who show a slight increase, are undoubtedly influenced by 2 major games; Shrewsbury (8,443 – 28/09/10) and Nottingham Forest (7,388 – 26/09/06), both pulling in more than 2,000 more than any other Champions League day game – indeed, 1,000 more than any other game – thus Port Vale’s figures are explicably anomalous.
I’d be interested to balance these against possible capacity – to do that we’d need figures for away fans, and their allocations, as well as the amount of home fans that could get in that day, too. There’s games at certain grounds where the visits of Leeds and Southampton took crowds above 10,000 when the clubs didn’t get above 8,000 any other time – all of those occurrences skew the results slightly.
If I represent those bars together, as percentages, we get a clearer picture of the rise or fall of attendances according to whether Champions League games are taking place simultaneously. This graph worries me a little. When you see the bars together, they don’t look to have a big gap between them, but when you see it as percentages of a small attendance (If, say, Bury have 2,500 people in, 200 is a far bigger number than it is as part of Swindon’s 6,000), there’s a real difference at a lot of grounds.
Those numbers, though, tell us a little more than that, and what’s more. Knowing how attendance figures are generated and, it may well be that season ticket holders whose presence is counted within those figures were not actually at the games – their ticket money is paid, but any sundries they would usually buy (pie, pint, programme?) are not that evening. Those figures give us a difference in those who would pay for that individual game – it is a direct loss (or gain) of revenue for each specific game. Put another way, if 500 people who would usually pay £20¹ to watch Hartlepool Utd don’t turn up because Arsenal are on, Hartlepool miss out on £10,000 (Hartlepool’s average attendance actually dips 632). If that happens thrice a season (and it tends to be about that) that’s £30,000 a season that they’re missing out on because of Champions League football being televised. Doesn’t sound a lot? Its £577 per week – that’s enough for a youth players wages at the very least – it also makes it £300,000 since the graph begins in 2001. That’s a lot of money, by anyone’s standard, that Hartlepool are missing out on.
I don’t know enough about Hartlepool and Bournemouth (except that they couldn’t be much further apart) to draw conclusions about their crowds; I do wonder whether an element of the increase or decrease is due to the ease or desirability of a trip to the towns; though Tuesday evenings in Bournemouth are a far cry from that popular footballing holiday ‘Bank Holiday in Blackpool’, its still easier to get to than the extreme north east of England. What we have got is a trend. Champions League teams are not only awarded money for their appearance in the tournament, but every game they play, they take supporters away from domestic football – around 5% each game on average.
I discussed similar problems to these on Twitter with somebody who works at a lower league football club (it was nothing formal), and he lamented the amount of televised games and the way those games bit into the crowds – particularly in the JPT and League Cup – you don’t need to look far in the early rounds of those competitions to see attendances at Football League grounds lower than 1,000. That’s the challenge for the Football League, I guess. I know teams like Hartlepool Utd and Scunthorpe often play league games on a Friday night; but I do wonder whether we’ll start to see more league games on Mondays, or on Thursdays, when its Champions League week. There’s would be a logic to it if you clubs could guarantee £10,000 extra by doing it – in Italy, Serie B games are the day before Serie A; presumably the decision being that Serie A is the ‘big show’ and people would be far less likely to attend, say, Vicenza v. Virtus Lanciano if they could stay in and watch Lazio v. Roma. English football has never really gone down that path, but if league clubs can gain any benefit by doing it, I would expect them to do so.
There’s a second thread to this – a more light-hearted one, but one that might be worth a look. I’ve balanced the attendances of the lower league clubs against which specific teams were involved in the Champions League to see which club is the most popular – of the clubs I looked at. This isn’t something you can take too seriously, but I had the figures, it made sense to work them out – the big bars are related to the right axis; it makes it a little confusing, but keeps the point. Strange, I thought, that Liverpool and Manchester Utd are more popular than Chelsea and Arsenal, though – particularly since a number of Liverpool’s games were qualifiers, too.
If you’re interested in any other clubs’ figures, let me know, and I can add in graphs for them, too.
¹And its been around £20 to watch lower league football for a long time now – I’ve been doing it, and seldom feeling I get value for money, I hasten to add.
*Addendum. The point being that these stadia are generally 50% full and below, so to include a season where not only would more home fans turn up, but a fair chunk of the away teams (not just Leeds, but Wolves, Birmingham, Southampton, Norwich, Cardiff…and so on… would bring sizable crowds, seemed counter intuitive.