Well, it is according to my latest graph…
What I’ve done here is to take the average attendance figures for a range of European top-flight divisions over a period beginning with the season ending 2007 right up to the latest season, ending 2013. I’ve calculated the rate of percentage growth each season and then divided this to produce an average rate of growth for each country. Doing this eliminates any short term fluctuations which may arise from changes in the composition of each division and so lets us see the underlying trends more clearly. From this three distinct groups have emerged
Growers: 1.0% +
This group is headed by Poland which had an average increase of 9.42% over the period and the Ukraine which saw a slightly lower 6.27% Coming behind them was Switzerland with a rate of 4.5%. All three have one thing in common, they have recently hosted European Championships, with Poland/Ukraine in 2012 and Switzerland/Austria in 2008. As we previously saw with Germany (also part of the group with a figure of 1.12%) and the World Cup of 2010 hosting major tournaments boosts domestic league attendances as it increases investment and focuses attention on the development and refurbishment of stadia. Better facilities and bigger capacities put bums on seats.
One surprising member of this group is Italy, particularly given that from other stats we’ve seen Serie A has been in decline for some time. Italy’s appearance here is something of a statistical quirk. What has happened is that Serie A average attendances in the first season covered by the analysis, 2006/07 was a particularly low 18 473 due to the demotion of one of the leagues biggest clubs Juventus. Rebounding back in Serie A the next season produced an average attendance growth of 25.5% . For the period chosen this skews the overall figure upwards – In fact if we discount this season Serie A’s average rate of growth was a less impressive 0.16, placing it firmly in the next group.
Stagnaters: between 0.99% and -0.99%
The group to which the Premier League, with a rate of 0.78% belongs. I’ve covered some of the reasons for this trend in a WSC magazine article here, but to quickly recap one of the main reasons here is that attendances have been afflicted by a slow-down in new stadium development. A sustained earlier period of increasing attendances has therefore seen demand, in many cases, exceed supply with high stadium occupancy rates and a large number of sell-out games however, rather than leading to renewed construction instead the dynamic has resulted in higher prices.
Decliners: -1.0% and below
Greece’s appearance in this group with a negative growth rate of -3.35% per season, is highly likely to be connected to the countries economic woes. Greek football attendances declined by 15.7% between the 2009/10 and 2010/11 seasons and by an even bigger 23.6% between 2010/11 and 2011/12. Another country strongly affected by the crisis, Portugal, saw an average decline of -1.05%
Scotland’s figure, – 7.12%, is artificially low due to the demotion to the Scottish Third division of Glasgow Rangers which saw a 27.7% decline in average attendances for the top-flight. Unlike Italy this case however, only exasperated an existing decline, ignoring 2012/13’s attendance figure the overall average would still stand at -3.0%.
The bottom group is dominated by Scandinavian countries all of whom have seen fairly sizable declines in football attendances. Along with Scotland this makes Northern Europe a zone of footballing decline, at least in terms of attendances, but why is this?