Build it and they will come: The impact on domestic attendances of hosting a major tournament

World Cups and continental level championships represent one of the few times large amounts of – mainly public – money is invested into new stadia projects. In Brazil it was reported that a large part of the $11.5bn on the world cup was on stadia whilst Russia is reportedly on course to spend $20 billion.

Left to clubs alone it is hard to see how this scale of investement would be matched. Even with money rushing through the game much of this is spent on wages, with very little on long-term infrastructure projects.

For a while I’ve had a theory that large increases in attendance are driven by the hosting of tournaments; These present an opportunity and impetus to renew and expand stadia along with the upgrading of transport links. New stadia are also proven to attract greater numbers of supporters – what business consultancy firm Deloitte call the ‘new stadium effect.’ But just what is the scale of the impact hosting tournament has on attendances, and how long does it last?

Using data on average attendances from the European Football Statistics website I looked at top-flight domestic attendances in the years leading up to and after a tournament. Due to data availability I have only included European based tournaments beginning with Euro 88 and have omitted Euro 2000 (Belgium).

Firstly I have compared the average attendance across the three seasons before and the three seasons following a tournament. In almost all cases average attendances show an increase for the period after a tournament.

tournament bar graph

Next I decided to look at the pattern of attendances over a twelve season period, taking six seasons before each tournament as a starting point:

Euros Index

In all the cases above the average attendance was higher in the sixth season after the tournament than in the sixth season before the tournament. Looking at the period immediately after hosting a tournament however, Austria appears to have experienced a rapid contraction in league attendances which very nearly mirrors the rapid increase it experienced in the build-up to joint hosting Euro 2008 with Switzerland – and quite coincidentally leads to the graph resembling an alpine mountain range.

Index sui Aus


Looking at World Cup Tournaments however, Italia 90 presents an exception where, despite a £2 billion investment in stadia, league attendances were actually lower in the sixth season following the tournament than in the sixth season before. There was however, a sharp rise in attendances in the first season after the tournament and a slower rise in the second, suggesting that the  investment did have some limited short term impact. Similarly for France 98, although Ligue 1 attendances rose sharply immediately before and after the tournament, by three seasons after the tournament growth had slowed and by five seasons had begun to retract.

World Cup index av att


The most recent data is available from Euro 2012 hosted by Poland and the Ukraine. Although it is too early to compare the longer-term trend it appears that both experienced rapid increases in average attendance immediately ahead of the tournament; For Poland this was two seasons before, whilst for the Ukraine experienced an increase from three seasons before the tournament. In both cases too growth appears to have stalled, with both experiencing a decline in the second season following the tournament.


Euro 2012


Combining the data for a number of tournaments I’ve produced the next graph to show the overall pattern. It bears a small resemblance to a worm with a very slight ‘s’s shape  and shows that, on average attendance growth is strongest in the period from two seasons before a tournament to three seasons following it. After which point attendances stabilise.

Index combined


Of course none of this proves anything; There are many, many factors which can influence attendances over both the short-term – such as promotion and relegation, or economic recession – whilst in the long-term there may be underlying trends driven by social change such as the long-term decline in English attendances from the 1950s to the 1980s and the subsequent recovery which lasted well into the noughties. It is impossible to disentangle these factors from the hosting of major tournaments in terms of their share of the effect. What we can say however is that for the tournaments shown – in Europe going back to 1988 – these do not appear to have any adverse effect on attendance, and although in a limited number of cases attendances may decline in the period following the tournament in the vast majority six seasons on from hosting a major tournament domestic attendances are higher than they were before the tournament. This suggests that in most increases in attendance, whether deriving from investment related to the tournament, or for some other reason appear to be sustainable over this period. Build it and they will come.







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