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.