As the table below shows attendances have definitely fallen at Elland Road this season, but what is the cause of that drop, and is it consistent with the rest of the Championship as a whole?

It’s a subject that’s sparked significant debate here on The Scratching Shed and on the various other blogs and forums where passionate Leeds United fans debate/argue/hurl-abuse (delete as appropriate).

Some say that having the fifth highest season ticket prices in the country is the reason for the drop, whilst others explain price isn’t an issue for them, they’ve simply had enough of our current ownership. Others would argue that a disappointing summer and seven years outside the Premier League has simply taken it’s toll.

But there’s one constant very few seem to contest – that recession is partly to blame.

The statistics would argue against that school of thought however, and supporters old enough to remember past recessions will tell you – football is recession proof.

You need convincing? The Premier League secured a record breaking TV rights deal in the middle of what the Bank Of England’s Governor has described as the “worst financial crisis in history”, whilst attendances across the board have held steady, as this document from John Dix Consulting confirms.

That may be why Leeds chairman, Ken Bates seems to have avoided the recession argument. A man of his age has lived through enough of them, so he’ll know football is largely unaffected. He may also be wary of admitting we’re in a tough financial climate as Leeds United fans would use it as ammunition for a lower ticket prices campaign – we’re sneaky like that.

His explanation is that attendances are generally lower early in the season due to people being away on holiday, and that the “business end” of the season is where the bandwagoners flood in (not his exact words, but the general jist of his argument).

I can’t argue with his logic there. As our second table shows, attendances across the Championship are down on average, by 6.04%, a figure I’m sure will lessen as the season draws to a close and the excitement of a potential play-off/automatic finish starts to lure more fans through the gates.

But if the only factor affecting Leeds United’s attendances is a phenomena every club must experience (I’m sure the people of Nottingham and Derby go on holiday too) then shouldn’t the percentage drop be similar from club to club? Surely the drop should be closer to 6% than 15%?

The above table does show we’re not the only team suffering a huge drop in attendances. Portsmouth, Hull and Barnsley all fall in the 13-15% drop range. It’s easy to explain Portsmouth and Barnsley as they’ve had a poor start to the season and we know attendances drop when a team is performing poorly. But at the time of writing, Hull City top the Championship form table and are currently in 7th place, only goal difference separating them and the play-off spots.

Hull City do seem to be an exception to the performance based attendances rule however. Take Middlesbrough and Derby County for example, two teams Leeds United find themselves sandwiched between at the moment. They are the only two teams in the entire division whose gates have increased since last season.

Perhaps even more telling are the attendances of Cardiff City, Ipswich Town and Crystal Palace – the three remaining top ten teams that were in the Championship last season. Their attendances fall in the -2% to -6% range; a range I’m happy to accept Bates’ explanation for – that holidays and latecomers reduce the deficit later in the season.

But the facts remain; statistics prove the recession argument is a non-starter and even if we’re generous and accept 7% of the drop has been caused by holidays, then 8% – over 2,000 fans! – is still unaccounted for. We’ve looked at the figures of ourselves and the teams around us, and a drop of 15% at Elland Road can’t be explained away by a phenomena that should affect the entire division equally.

The killer blow is that our average attendance after seven home games last season was 25,450. If this had held steady for the current season, then our attendances would be down only 6.77% putting us roughly on a par with the division average, and confirming Ken Bates’ holiday explanation. But at 15%, that excuse simply doesn’t cut it.

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions for the additional loss, but do let us know what you think by leaving a comment below or giving us a shout on Facebook or Twitter.

Attendance figures sourced from EMFootball, accurate up to and including the 26/10/11. Relegated and promoted teams excluded from research due to variance caused by a change in league status. 

  • Gez

    I don’t buy the holiday explanation. Didn’t people take holidays last year?

    Whatever the reason, Ken will refuse to acknowledge any culpability

  • Colin

    I believe that if the board want to understand the reasons behind the 15% drop in attendance, they should look at what they have done differently since last season and what has come out publicly from the board/Mr Chairman since the end of last season. Here’s a few things:

    Increase in Season ticket prices (during a recession)
    LUTV yearly subscription rises by 30% (during a recession)
    New white kit £40
    New away kit £40
    New sponsor on shirt, meaning previous blue and yellow NetFlights.com away shirt is now out of date
    Investment of £7m (during a recession) on new Exec boxes and facilities that will take 10 years to break even and repay the £7m investment.
    Investment of £150,000 on new players
    Leeds United fans are:
    – Morons
    – Dissidents
    – Sickpots
    Charge extortionate fees (£36-38) to season ticket holders to sit in their own seat against Man. United (during a recession)
    And here’s another big difference to last season. This season, Ken Bates is officially the owner of the club.

    There’s your 15% right there.

    Even fans from other teams are refusing to come to Elland Road because of the pricing and the heavy handed way they’re treated.

    If there’s one positive that will come out of this, it is that the Board/Mr Chairman will be fully aware of it because, it will be hitting their bank balance, hard. Not only are there 15% less bums on seats, those 15% aren’t buying programmes, drinks, food, merchandise.

    • Chris

      Hit the absolute nail on the head there Colin. Not just one factor, but a whole variety.

  • Andy (Rotherham)

    I guess I am one of the 15%, so am probably in a good position to comment.
    Well, the first thing are the ticket prices, far too many A rated games, and with a child to pay for as well, far too expensive.
    Wheras last season, I was happy to find the money and attend a fair few games, I have yet to grace Elland Road yet this year – why ? well a part of me wants to go, but I feel Bates has treated us all so badly with his juvenile comments, that I find the idea of ‘supporting’ the club hard to justify.
    Everywhere you turn, I feel no longer a supporter, just a ‘customer’ who can be fleeced, you only have to look at the programme cost to realise this.
    I will return, of course I will, it’s in my blood, but at the moment, I’m struggling to find the desire to attend games when all I feel is that I am being ripped off

  • Stuart L

    There’s absolutely no doubt that the attitude of the club alongside the pricing play their part, but have you done an analysis which strips out away fans?

    Bristol City last year bought over 2,000. This year 500. Portsmouth, too, brought less than last year. That will be made worse by the club decision to put them in the West, but even so for a true comparison it should be the attendance minus the away fans that is used as a comparator. Our away following at Oakwell last season boosted the overall average for the whole year by 300.

    By the time we’ve played Blackpool we’ll have had only 4 of 8 games on a Saturday. It will be three Tuesdays and one Sunday. Every league game played at ER that’s not at Saturday 3pm strips away at least 3,000 fans on average.

    And then there’s the clustering of games. When it’s so expensive people struggle to watch two games in a few days (or a week when it came to Crystal palace and Bristol City).

    And yes, recession is a factor. Those increased figures for Midddlesbrough follow a dreadful season for them crowd-wise last year, and they’ve been doing really well this time around. Not much of a bounce.

    I’d say 50% Bates, 50% other factors. But the bottom line is that 4,000 is a lot of fans to lose.

  • Joe

    I love the tables, especially the second one, but this needs to be done at the end of the season. All clubs see a big boost in attendances over the festive period, and the promotion seeking clubs also get a second boost at the end of the season, especially when in the playoffs. For this reason alone we can’t really draw any firm conclusions.

    • LeedsForLife

      Certainly a comparison with the situation at the same time last season would be somewhat more accurate. I suspect it wouldn’t yield much nicer figures than what TSS’s analysis shows, though.

  • oldschoolbaby

    Don`t you follow the news ? The Arabs, Chinese and Germans may be solvent but pretty much the rest of the world is flirting with the bankruptcy courts. Football may do o.k through economic blips but only pawnbrokers will sail through this recession.

    I would suggest that both yours and the John Dix statistics confirm that the trend is firmly downwards. And how many of those clubs faring better than Leeds have fairly priced season tickets and ongoing ticket promotions

    Bates` reference point is a wealthy part of London. Leeds would have looked attractive to him as it was widely perceived to be one of the wealthier areas of the country beyond the M25

    Businesses generally charge what they think people are willing / able to pay. Bates has miscalculated by setting ticket prices too high. I`m fortunate in that I still have a reasonable disposable income but I`m sure I`m in a minority and I can definitely feel it being squeezed.

    Now I`m not doubting, for a second, that there are people staying away as they find Bates unpalatable but football, with Leeds at the forefront, is NOT recession proof and IS very definitely responding to the current economic picture.

    Over to you Mr Bates. Imaginative ticket pricing plan B required

  • Mark

    These figures are all relative to the teams played. With exception of boro Leeds haven’t played a big club with away support ie forest derby Leicester w ham. Also the lge position and opposition counts for a percentage of fans who decide a day or so before games to go. If Leeds stay around top 6 all season i bet the gates will be on par with last season give or take a 1000. but a drop in pricing would help

  • Matt

    Last season was our first season back in the Championship after the drudgery of League One. We were flying high.

    This year we’re all miserable and don’t want to go to the games. It’s simple.

    • TSS

      Could be part of it actually, although other teams should also be suffering if that was the case. Would go some way to explaining Hull City’s drop though – first season out of the Prem, they perhaps expected an immediate return, but have now gave up all hope and accepted it was a one off fluke.

  • I’m not going to argue with the fact that prices and Bates being a . They are factors.

    However I disagree with a few points. Yes football is ‘recession-proof’. At the start of all the current mess, Ronaldo went to Madrid for £80M, Ibrahimovic to Barca for £35M + Eto’o (Eto’o worth £20M + IMO). The people who watch it are not.

    Yes, the PL has got it’s biggest TV deal but if you incorporate inflation the figure is TV deal is actually worth less in real-terms. Possibly TV companies also envisaged less people going to see their club live and actually watching on TV, obviously the more people who watch, the more they can charge for advertising. All contracts are penned years in advance, showing the long term thinking of corporations.

    As for the people I doubt many plan 5 years ahead with finances, especially in the current climate. I suspect most will be working on a weekly/monthly basis taking nothing for granted.

    Obviously this is true for all fans so doesn’t explain why Leeds has dropped the most.

    Leeds are on the TV more than probably all Championship clubs and half of of the Premiership clubs. In a recession people will be more inclined to watch for free at home than pay £30 to watch it in the stadium. TV games see a clear dip in attendances whatever the club. I’m not claiming the whole 8% is due to this but due to the ratio of TV/non-TV I reckon it explains some of it. As we have more non-TV games this % will be diluted and the overall % will fall accordingly.

    The financial sector has been badly affected by the crisis. Jobs are being lost everywhere but figures show that West Yorkshire has a higher than average unemployment rate and financial services has a higher than average unemployment rate. Leeds is the 2nd biggest financial hub in the UK (behind London). I think this explains some of the drop, although probably only a %.

    Boro finished last season well, that surely encouraged more season ticket sales. Started this season well, again encouraging more ticket sales. Derby have started the season well compared to a few seasons of mid-table/relegation scrap football.

    Whereas Leeds are where they were last season for all of the season. I’m not saying people are bored, but possibly just used to it. If for 23 games last season people walked into Elland Road knowing 3 points could push us into automatic promotion, a loss could put us in 10th, it’s all a bit same-y. It’s like with a movie – the majority of people will go the cinema, watch a movie, maybe buy the DVD 3 months down the line. Only nutcases would go see it 23 times during it’s run. I know football is different, every match is different but I still think saying Leeds United has been like a 30-film series over the past 15 months isn’t that unfair. Largely you know what you are going to get, play-off football.

    The 15% is shocking, Bates is a factor in that but I think if someone took the time to deconstruct it fully, he’d be much less of a factor than it seems on the surface.

    • TSS

      I don’t know who told you the TV deal is worth less in real terms due to inflation mate, but that’s an absolute nonsense. Inflation does not double the cost of things in four years! If I remember correctly, inflation last time round was roughly 5%.

      • Unless I’ve misunderstood the article. The old TV deal was worth £1932M. It says in the contract is in the middle of 3 years (article dated June 09) meaning that it was worth £1932M June 08. The June 08 value of the £2B new 11 deal is (at a discount factor of 2%, the BofE target inflation rate) is £1884M.

        That’s the way I worked it out, not saying I am right thought!

  • chareose

    To be honest I think given the current climate, football world wide is completely out of touch and in danger of pissing its customer base off. So yes the down turn in attendances is connected to the recession.

    As someone mentioned above, we are still getting 80 million pound transfers….its a bit sickening….

    I see disenchantment with the game from a lot of fans now. Football was always been a business but its swung too far over towards money now. You see it with the players “The England team failed in the world cup due to fear” Complete bollocks…..these guys play in front of massive crowds for high stakes, they live eat and breathe media preassure.

    Truth is they couldnt be assed….. Fans are paying what little cash they have to see a bunch of idiotic premadonnas play (who wouldnt get out of bed for less than 40000 a week).

    In reality FIFA need to limit WAGES and TRANSFER fees accross the world game but they will not because they are all bent money laundering assholes…..

    Meanwhile old Ken will use this subject material as an excuse for nor funding our team and for not bothering to compete on wages. KEN : “Honestly guys by making a stand and spending fuck all on the team im actually making a moral stand, in years to come you will thank me” Said Ken as he walked away with a bag o’ cash laughing to himself

  • Some good comments and interesting insight.  To be completely fair though you have to look at what was going on last season too. Eg. Middlesbourough were down at the bottom o the table after spending loads so needless to say attendances dropped. Another eg. Leeds were fresh out of league 1 and our fans were desperate to watch improved football so attendances remained high as we were all excited to be in a new league.

    That said 15% is a massive drop!!!!

  • Idlewhite

    Opposition must also play a part, as an example, playing Hull midweek compared to a Saturday must knock 6/7,000 off the attendance. And if you look at our fixture list, the teams where you know there will be a larger than average crowd and potential for unrest seem to be played midweek nowadays.

    Personally I attend as a carer for my wheelchair bound friend, so fortunately don’t have the massive outlay for tickets which I’ve had previously, if that wasn’t the case I’d only be attending 20/25% of games. The whole experience seems to cost an arm and a leg nowadays.

  • Mike

    I cant be arsed to go simply because Elland road is like a Library. Too many women,children and middle class people.
    I cant even stand up and sing for my team because someone behind me will shout’sit down’even before the stewards threaten to throw me out.
    Its a really boring place to go and a total non event and waste of 30 quid.
    I used to go to away games instead and now its all women and kids there too!

  • Gryff

    They’re all (genuinely) very interesting opinions. But we’re overlooking the fact that Leeds still have the 2nd highest average attendence of the 18 clubs compiled.

    Even after missing out on the playoffs from a New Year that saw us second; after losing half of our midfield, losing Gradel in a deadline-day shocker and lacking particularly any big-name signings, our attendence is still in the top5 (at least) in the Championship.

    That says a lot about Leeds. I’d say it shows we have a floor we’re not going to drop below that is significantly above teh vast majority of other clubs.

  • Chris russell

    I find the comparable difficult to digest!! Leeds were flying high in league one and just scrapped through for automatic promotion, due to their position stadium infill was high.
    Last season we had just come up, a new excitement gripped the club, could Leeds do the double and gain promotion back into the premiership!! The squad was on fire, and this also encouraged a healthy turn out to the games.
    This season we have seen a large amount of players leaving the club, Gradel,Johnson , killkenny, kasper to name a few, and due to the lack of new and better players coming in has caused a refex action to many people who cannot see the club progressing due to the lack of player investment.
    On top of this lack of investment, ticket prices have gone through the roof, the recession has tightened more people are out of work! Bates calls fans morons and he invests heavily into infrastructure, bates hotel, corporate boxes and a museum are not what the fans want, promotion back to the premiership is all that matters to fans who spend their hard earned money at Elland Road, this is where and why there is such a drop in attendance figures, just my opinion but I think a valid one……. MOT

  • What about the Leeds attendences away from home? 3102 at Brum, 4236 at Peterborough, 4209 at Doncaster, I think this is a League record…so, how can we get the best support away & dropped 15% at Elland Road? The way we love & support Leeds, its far beyond any doubt, but Ken Bates prices? just ridiculous!

  • sillytuna

    Interesting mix of opinions on why attendances have gone down there. On the subject of ticket prices, some of you may be interested in Take Back The Game (http://www.takebackthegame.org/).

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  • Harpo

    Ticket prices £36 when it’s live on sky someone didn’t do there home work
    We pay the highest prices in the league and away support down again because of £36 tkts
    £27 is about right