The 44th Monthly Report of the CIES Football Observatory analyses match attendances in 51 national football leagues situated in 42 different countries. For 26 leagues, the crossing of different sources available online has allowed us to go back to 2003 (15 seasons). For 25 supplementary competitions, the data refers to the past five years.
The first part of the Report focuses on the sample of 26 championships. It retraces the evolution in attendance figures over the last three lustres. The second part studies comparatively the average attendances recorded over the last five seasons for all of the 51 leagues included in the analysis.
2. Historical analysis of 26 leagues (2003-2018)
The average attendance per match in the 26 championships studied since 2003 was just over 15,000 spectators. This average has only slightly increased between the first and last five seasons studied: +4%. The level of popularity of football in the 22 countries hosting the 26 leagues included in this analysis remains therefore relatively stable.
Figure 1: average attendances, 26 leagues (2003-2018)
The trends per league are much more marked. Between 2003-2008 and 2013-2018, the greatest relative increase was observed in the Polish top division: +47%. The co-organisation of the final phase of the European Championships in 2012 certainly had a positive impact in this regard. The popularity of the Major League Soccer (MLS) in the United States and Canada also increased strongly: +34%.
Conversely, professional football in Scandinavia is on the decline. The average attendances have fallen throughout: between -11% in Sweden (with, however, some signs of recovery) and -29% in Norway. The greatest relative decrease between the first and last lustre studied was recorded in Greece. The frequent scandals and incidents marring matches had a very unfavourable impact on the interest of spectators.
3. Contemporary analysis of 51 leagues (2013-2018)
The analysis of the average attendances over the past five years highlights the incredible passion surrounding professional football clubs in Germany. The Erste Bundesliga is the most followed competition in absolute terms (+18% in comparison to the English Premier League), while the Zweite Bundesliga is the second division championship with the greatest average number of spectators (just ahead of the English championship).
The Mexican top division is the most popular competition outside of the non-European leagues covered by the study. In the top ten championships with the most spectators are two other competitions taking place outside of Europe: the Chinese top division (6th) and the MLS (8th). The Japanese J-League is 12th, just ahead of the Brazilian Serie A.
Figure 2: average attendances, per league (2013-2018)
With over 80,000 spectators per match, Borussia Dortmund is top of the rankings for attendance by club. The Ruhr team is ahead of four football giants: Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. Five German clubs are in the top ten rankings (the two already cited, Schalke 04, Hamburg and Stuttgart). Atlanta United is the most popular non-European club (10th in total).
Figure 3: highest average attendances, by club (2013-2018)* Only seasons in the domestic top division
During the five seasons between 2013/14 and 2017/18, Celtic FC attracted more than a third of spectators having attended Scottish premier division games. This percentage was also over 30% for Hajduk Split in Croatia, Crvena Zvezda in Serbia and NK Maribor in Slovenia. Cerro Porteño (Paraguay) and Persopolis (Iran) were the non-European clubs that contributed most to the attendance figures for their leagues.
Figure 4: highest contributions to total league attendances, by club (2013-2018)* Number of seasons considered
By taking into account the three most popular clubs by league, the concentration of attendances in certain championships stands out more clearly. Given the number of teams involved, the value measured for the Portuguese top division is particularly impressive. The three teams having drawn the biggest crowds per season accounted for 63.9% of the total number of spectators, as opposed to 36.1% for the fifteen remaining clubs.
Figure 5: contribution by the three most popular clubs to total attendance, by league (2013-2018)
The comparative analysis of attendances shows substantial disparities according to league. Germany appears as the footballing country par excellence. Although also very popular, English and Spanish clubs have considerably less spectators than German teams. Outside of Europe, Mexican clubs attract the biggest crowds.
The study of the changes since 2003 reveals the growing enthusiasm for football in the United States and Canada. Despite the increase in the number of teams participating in the MLS, average attendances have consistently increased to break the 20,000-spectator threshold over the past five years. This limit has also been broken in China, where football’s popularity is henceforth well established too.
Monthly Report n°44 - April 2019 - Attendances in football stadia (2003-2018)