If the headline figures are to be believed, English football attendances are in fine health. These graphs, based on data from the European Football Statistics website, though should worry English football clubs (and fans) a lot.
Despite the Premier League reaching average attendance levels on a par with the late 1940s peak, growth has effectively tailed off. This is also the case for the Championship and League One and League Two which have seen attendances continue to stagnate for much of the past decade.
There are two key issues. For Premier League clubs the issue is one of capacity. This has been around 95% for some time and for some clubs and some games demand is much, much higher than capacity. This has effectively slowed the attendance growth which coincided with the ambitious post-Taylor report stadia building programmes of the 90s and 00s. For clubs this is, in the short term, no problem. The supply-demand mismatch means they simply charge more for tickets for the most popular games.
It is however, bad for the fans who are priced out and in the long-term it is also more of an issue. Eventually a maximum point will be reached at which prices can no longer be raised and clubs will need to invest in stadia expansion to boost matchday income (that is if demand continues to rise). There is some relief around the corner though; QPR, Tottenham, Liverpool and West Ham are all clubs with plans to carry out large scale stadia programmes in the forthcoming years.
For the bottom two divisions League One and League Two, the issue is not so much one of limited capacity, but one of limited demand. It is therefore a surprise to see that in the BBC price of football survey the average cost of the cheapest matchday tickets have risen by 31.7% in League One and 19% in League Two. This begs the question: Are these clubs banking on the resilience of their core supporters to put up with these increases? If so then it suggests that clubs are here are equally focused on the short term target of squeezing revenue out of existing supporters than the more long term aim of expanding their supporter base.