We’ve just had the FA Cup 3rd Round so there must be a plethora of pieces about the magic of the cup and lots of hand wringing over the poor attendances at certain games.
I think there are some myths and misconceptions about this apparent dimming of the FA Cup light. Fact – There are a couple of recent constants that have dummed down the FA Cup: there was obviously the Manchester United fiasco and there is the prioritisation of money over glory that results in managers fielding weakened teams. But I am not so sure that reduced attendances is much more than a red herring because there has certainly not been a decline in the thirst for FA Cup information or coverage.
This article in the Daily Scrote was yet another hatchet job on football which shouted “WHERE HAVE ALL THE FANS GONE?”. Their simplistic graphic showed FA Cup attendances were down by “126,948” or an average of 1,283, although this did not include the games on Sunday that featured five of the best supported teams in the country. If you include those games and the ones from Monday and Tuesday the picture is significantly different, the decline was 118,399 and, more significantly, a much lower average than the 1,283 they indicated. What they also failed to mention was that 66% (18 of those 27) of those home teams actually have an average attendance down on last season anyway. They also fail to note whether the average decline is more or less than that overall decline? It’s actually quite close.
Declines in attendances can be a sign of lower disposable income for fans, tighter season ticket restrictions with no cup tickets included or even a disillusionment with the game itself. The latter point being why I am talking to you about this at all. Were the well supported big teams all at home/away thus skewing the average? Were there lots of teams at home who have good support when they are doing well, or low when doing badly? Did a lot of less well supported teams happen to get further than those with big attendances? How far is the travelling distance between home and away teams? Is attendance in general down?
If you get a lower league side drawn at home to any side from a higher league, the attendance is almost always an increase on the season’s average and, in many instances, a season’s best attendance. If the lower side is drawn away (lots of that in this round), the home fans do sometimes stay away but the away fans turn up in droves. It’s all relative. It’s not necessarily different within league competitions either. In the Premier League, for example, Birmingham’s home attendance against Manchester United was 25% higher than against Wigan, Everton’s scouse-derby attendance was around 20% higher than some of the games against more lowly Premier League teams, Villas attendance against the big teams is 15% higher than against some lower sides, although not all.
All of these factors play a part in attendance and yet still there are anomalies. Has anyone actually worked out a method, taking these factors into consideration, that can accurately reflect whether FA Cup attendances are going up, or down? The answer to that, as far as I can ascertain, is, no.
Shall we have a go? No, we shan’t, because there are those anomalies that would make the method more complex. Such as? Wigan’s attendances against some smaller teams are bigger than against better and more local teams. Does this mean Wigan fans are turning up more when there is a better chance of winning, rather than when playing superstars? Until tomorrows Tyne Wear derby, presumably, Sunderland’s biggest attendance of the season has been against Blackpool, despite the fact they’ve faced United and Arsenal at the Stadium of Light.
So, what happened this weekend? Well, of the clubs who had a significant drop in attendance Watford, Huddersfield, Swansea, Norwich, Burnley, Bristol City, Sunderland, Stoke, Fulham, Bolton and Blackburn were all playing at home to teams at least one league below them so, as we’ve seen above, a drop in attendance is hardly unusual. There were, however, five other games that saw the home side’s attendance drop. Those were games that featured Championship sides at home to Premier League sides and, you know what, the drop in those five games accounted for nearly 1/5th of the overall drop. We could also add that six of the seven worst drops involved Premier League sides against lower league sides and those six games account for about 60% of the overall drop.
So, what can we deduce from all this? FA Cup attendances down? Yes. General attendances down? Yes. Are there mitigating factors for the FA Cup drop? Yes. The obvious thing is that the popularity of (at least certain) Premier League sides is not all that, which casts further doubt on the veracity of the Daily Mail’s FA Cup death knell. In summary, the Mail’s analysis is incomplete and their conclusion is deeply fIawed (quelle surprise). And the only conclusions we can draw, having seen booming attendances at lower league and non-league grounds with our own eyes, that the only competition that has lost its lustre is the Premier League and it is dragging down the FA Cup more than general dwindling attendances. The FA Cup is, at least anecdotally, alive and well and that (incomplete) statistics can prove anything. At least ours are more complete than the Daily Mail’s.
And finally … there is one game that we haven’t mentioned. Coventry against Crystal Palace, Championship against Championship. This game attracted just 50% of the fans at an average Coventry home game, which was the worst percentage drop in attendance in all FA Cup games. Two things. 1) This is the exception that proves our rule. 2) Why would you want to go and watch Coventry anyway, they are the most tedious team of the last 20 years. One relegation and 19 seasons of mid table mediocrity. Utterly pointless waste of your life.