Thursday, 16 March 2017

'CROWDED HOUSES' focuses on Europe but I do realise there's great big wider world out there. Finding information is much more difficult but I've included a chapter on it.

Whilst European league crowds are the highest in the world a number of other countries possess clubs which come close to challenging the continent’s best. North and South America provide the obvious contenders though in recent seasons China, India and Japan have all begun to witness big rises in attendances.

Thirty-one European clubs averaged 40,000 or more in 2015-2016. There were seven clubs elsewhere which hit that number. Argentina’s River Plate drew an estimated 54,000 per match which makes them ninth highest in the world. Kerala Blasters from the Indian Super League averaged 52,008 (11th), Mexico’s Monterrey were on 48,009 (19th), Club América, also from Mexico, drew 45,098 (25th), Guangzhou Evergrande were China’s best with 44,764 (28th), Seattle Sounders were top dogs in the USA on 43,754 (30th) and UANL Tigres, the third Mexican club averaging over 40,000 were 35th with 41,203.

Some countries provide highly accurate attendance figures while others are more confusing, some whose accuracy is questionable and others non-existent. Brazil for example requires a detailed financial bulletin for every match which records not just the numbers attending but for every individual section of the ground, outlining capacity for each, tickets sold, tickets unsold, admission price per ticket, total payment received, club members in attendance and complimentaries issued.

So it can be seen that when Grêmio met Porto Alegre in Série A in 2016 the attendance was 14,101, 5,834 of whom were members (closest equivalent to season book holders). The bulletin also shows that in two sections of the ground there were eighty-seven and sixty-five spectators respectively who paid the top price of R$ (Reals) 100 (approximately £26) for entry, that 817 children paid the bottom rate of R$10 (£2.60), that members also paid R$10, that the cheapest adult entrance otherwise cost R$25 (£6.50) and 1,759 paid that amount.

The bulletin also details taxes paid, both federal and local, on revenue received, expenses incurred for referee and officials both for match fees and hospitality and travel costs, staffing costs, even the amount paid to the anti-doping agency (R$ 4,720 or £1,225).

The bulletins must be signed by officials from both clubs and are posted, free for all the world to see, on the Brazilian federation’s website a couple of days or so after the match. It is by far the most detailed statement of football match attendances anywhere in the world.

Brazil’s honesty is refreshing, particularly as it throws the continuing decline of attendances into the full glare of sunlight. This is a country which in 1963 saw Fluminense and Flamengo create a world record for a club match of 177,656 paying spectators from a total of 194,603 present. In 2015-16 the highest league figure was 54,996 for São Paulo’s 2-2 draw with the tragic Chapecoense, victims of the air disaster in 2016 which killed 71 of the 77 passengers and crew, leaving just three players among the six survivors.

At the other end of the spectrum this once fanatical nation endured the humiliation of watching a pathetic crowd of 796 assemble for América Mineiro’s 2-1 win over Coritiba.

In Uruguay it’s necessary to peruse the small print in the press to find an estimate and even then there’s no guarantee of finding a figure. Argentina records just the total number of tickets sold and (perhaps) an estimate of season ticket holders

Fortunately most South American countries issue end-of-season summaries from which it’s possible to calculate a rough average.

The same vastly differing attitude to publishing crowd figures also exists between neighbouring countries in other continents. Saudi Arabia, whilst not issuing the same financial details as Brazil, does make comprehensive individual match details freely available, in English, on its website while Qatar is highly reluctant (probably because it would embarrass their status as 2022 World Cup hosts) to offer anything at all other than vague outlines.

Africa is worst of all. The most common references to crowd figures is when they are compared (disparagingly) with TV viewing numbers for English and Spanish games.

Sadly, the effects of war, disease and famine which continue to devastate so many countries also renders gathering attendance information almost impossible – and in those circumstances, frankly irrelevant.

There are also countries where the headline figures need to be cited with a health warning. The Indian Super League (ISL) was established as recently as 2014 and immediately proclaimed itself to be the fourth best attended in the world. That was true – in as far as it went. However, the ISL has only eight teams and the season consists of just sixty-one matches, including play-offs, and no two matches ever kick-off on the same day and time. That’s two matches fewer than the World Cup Finals and more exclusive TV scheduling too. The season lasts just eleven weeks. It’s easy to see how their average edged ahead of Italy with 380 games over nine months or Mexico where the season lasted ten months with well over 300 matches. Though Mexico has since reclaimed fourth spot.

Yet it was India’s I-League, now effectively the second tier, which produced the biggest attendance anywhere in the world in the past thirty years when 131,000 attended the Kolkata derby between East Bengal (Kolkata itself is in West Bengal!) and Mohun Bagan in 1997. In cricket-mad India that is the biggest attendance for ANY sporting event in the country’s history.

Just twenty years later the I-League can’t draw 20,000 to a single match, sees crowds of a little over 300 at some games and averages around 5,500 per season.

All told there were are least 180 clubs from thirty countries in the rest of the world which averaged at least 10,000, around sixty of which hit 20,000, a dozen made 30,000 and the seven above over 40,000. Five countries had second tiers with clubs with five-figure averages – Argentina (before the ridiculous expansion to thirty top tier clubs), Brazil, China, Japan and the USA. Both Brazil and the USA have seen 10,000+ averages in their third tiers in the past three years.

Competition formats vary greatly too. Brazil has a ‘European-style’ league. Twenty teams play each other twice. The top sides take the continental competition places and the bottom ones are relegated. There are no play-offs. It is absolutely identical to Italy and Spain. Mexico has two championships, apertura and clausura, with play-offs in both to determine the respective champions. Argentina now has a bloated thirty clubs in its top flight, playing each other once and their most local rivals a second time to bring the total up to thirty matches per club. Major League Soccer (MLS) in the USA and Canada splits into two ‘conferences’ but some matches are inter-conference affairs. The season culminates with play-offs involving the top eight sides. But it also has a final table with both conferences combined. Play-off winners Seattle Sounders only come seventh here yet they qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League while fourth-placed New York City ended the season empty-handed.

It’s a system totally unfamiliar to Europeans but it works. Highest attendance in the regular season in 2016 was 60,147 for Orlando City’s 2-2 draw with Real Salt Lake and 61,004 turned up in the play-offs for Montreal Impact’s 3-2 Conference Final first leg win over Toronto (they lost the second leg 5-2 after extra time). This being North America the Conference Final was what Europeans would call a semi-final with Toronto going on to lose on penalties to Seattle Sounders in the ‘real’ final for the MLS Cup.

Iran operates a traditional European season and closely resembles pre-war Scotland’s attendance patterns with huge crowds for the Teheran derby between Esteghlal and Persepolis which can attract 100,000. Yet run-of-the-mill league games are often played in front of 10,000 or so. The Cairo derby between Al-Ahly and Zamalek was the much the same – six-figure gates were the norm. Riots which killed 74 fans after El Masry supporters attacked Al-Ahly fans in Port Said in 2012 led to a spectator ban in Egypt, lifted only to be re-imposed after a week following the deaths of 22 Zamalek fans, some shot (for which Zamalek supporters laid the blame at the door of the police) in a crush at a match v ENPPI. It has since been eased partially only for internationals and continental competitions, but is still in effect domestically five years after the riots which sparked the initial ban.

Figures for the rest of the world have been compiled from the most recent seasons available. The unavailability of the Salt Lake stadium in 2016 meant Atlético de Kolkata had to move to a much smaller ground. Their average dropped from 46,082 in 2015 to 16,674 which had the knock-on effect of reducing the ISL average by over 3,500 per match.

As with Europe, averages are taken from all league matches, including play-offs. All figures 2015-16 or 2016 seasons unless stated.

27,174   Mexico
24,328   China
21,954   USA
20,914   India
18,447   Argentina (2015)
18,141   Japan
15,736   Brazil
12,706   Australia
12,088   Algeria (2014)
10,219   Malaysia
9,368     Indonesia
9,131     Colombia
8,048     Iran
7,890     Vietnam
7,873     South Korea
6,931     Morocco (2014)
6,906     Saudi Arabia
6,520     South Africa
6,230     Ecuador
5,428     Thailand
5,314     DR Congo (2014)
5,303     Bolivia
4,876     Chile
4,820     Uzbekistan
3,992     Peru
3,885     Uruguay (2014)
3,186     Tunisia (2014)
3,090     Costa Rica
2,557     United Arab Emirates
2,537     Venezuela
2,097     Kenya (2014)
1,737     Paraguay

482       New Zealand (2015)

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