the real fa cup

FA Cup – Better Than League

… or The Pointlessness Of Average FA Cup Attendance Stats.

Six years ago we started this thing, though it was not really committed to zeroes and ones until a few months later. We noticed that coverage of the early rounds of the cup was minimal, apart from a few tuned-in clubs and some early adopters of DIY ‘journalism’ that were already well-established, and an annual theme about how the FA Cup is on the decline.

Four and a half years ago, here, we wrote about the annual January FA Cup attendance scare. Just google ‘FA Cup attendance’ and you’ll find a story in most national publications about how attendances in the FA Cup in general, but more specifically the 3rd Round, are plumetting (last year’s 34 year high for the 3rd Rnd put them briefly to bed). So, here we take a closer look at whether those stories stack up.

Over the last 5 seasons we had a look at average attendances throughout the qualifying rounds of the FA Cup and discovered that they were all over the place, something not uncommon in the later rounds. There are many factors that affect attendance averages. Are the well-supported clubs home or away? Are well-supported clubs knocked out early? Is a phoenix club drawn at home? How many local derbies are there?

The stats. Last year’s FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round saw the lowest average attendance for five years. Is this a worry or even relevant? On closer inspection, no. Contextually well supported sides like, Luton, Cambridge and Lincoln were drawn away from home, unlike previous years, which dragged the average down a lot. Also, a few more very low ranked sides were drawn at home and got deep into the cup so their meagre attendances did little for the overall average.

As if to add weight to this, the averages for the 3rd and 2nd Qualifying rounds last year were the largest since 2009/10. So, this ‘average per round’ method is not necessarily an accurate way to assess the popularity of the FA Cup? No, it isn’t, which instantly illustrates flaws in all of the aforementioned national newspaper pieces wailing at falling attendances.

However, if you look at the stats a little differently you can see things a little more clearly, it’s all about individual team comparisons.

For last seasons’s FA Cup we looked at the FA Cup attendance of any team who played 3 or more games in the FA Cup qualifying rounds, we calculated an average but also looked at each attendance in isolation – admittedly this method has its’ own issues but is as good a place to start with the time and resources at our disposal.

Until we got bored we found 24 sides who played three or more home games in the Qualifying rounds of last season’s FA Cup. Our headline findings show that all 24 clubs had a higher average attendance in the FA Cup than they did in the league.

This is not entirely a surprise, having played three FA Cup home games in one year you’re on a “Cup Run”, that alone generates interest and, most likely, you will be playing unfamiliar teams from higher up the football pyramid or outside your region. This stat, therefore, is also largely worthless, though does hint that the FA Cup quickly becomes far more interesting to fans than the league. How many clubs triple their average league attendance on the back of three wins? More of that later.

It gets a little more interesting when you look at the individual attendances in the context of league and cup averages and by round. 33.3% of the (24) clubs managed to attract more than their league average number of fans to every single one of their FA Cup games. This surprised us a fair bit given that down in the Preliminary rounds clubs tend to play opponents familiar to them, often from the same league. If the FA Cup is dying on it’s arse this figure would surely be worse, or nil. The sharp eyed among you, though, will notice that this also means that 66.6% of teams did have lower crowds in some games, which does somewhat suggest the opposite.

However, if you look at what those “some games” were, the pattern becomes clear. If you look past the very first game each team played in the FA Cup things change markedly. In their 2nd (home) game of the tournament 63% of teams had a crowd higher than their average in the league. When you move onto the 3rd (home) game then things go nuts, 92% of teams had an FA Cup attendance higher than their league average. In many cases the attendance was significantly higher (between 3 and 14 times the average). Only two teams had attendances in their 3rd FA Cup (home) game lower than their league average and, interestingly, they were both midweek replays.

So, in short, whether you start the FA Cup in the Extra Preliminary Round, 2nd Qualifying Round, 4th Qualifying Round or 3rd Round Proper, your average attendance for that first game is more likely than not going to be below your league average. Beyond that, your FA Cup attendance (pffrt stats) is almost certain to be larger than your average league attendance, which in turn suggests that the FA Cup is actually not only in rood health but is usually significantly more popular than tedious league football – and it only takes one win for the majority of fans to get out their tin foil cups and get on board the fun bus.

From this conclusion you can put into context the annual FA Cup 3rd Round attendance scare. There isn’t one, it is now common for 3rd Round day to be anticlimactic to many fans of Premier League and Championship clubs. This is understandable, especially if you are playing a team from a lower league. Also, it’s difficult to compare because many factors influence the average. Come game two of the FA Cup the same fans who couldn’t be bothered to go to their side’s first game will suddenly be clamouring for tickets.

In short, drawing a conclusion from average FA Cup attendances is largely pointless but doing so provides irrefutable truth that the FA Cup is more interesting to fans than is the league, once you’ve got a win under your belt. If you got to the end of this piece, I hope you enjoyed us wasting five minutes of your precious time [smiley face].

Of course, while the above is all true, we have left one glaring thing out … that is something we shall elaborate on in thext instalment.

Tell your friends.


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