Do new stadiums really bring the crowds flocking?

Author: Mike Aylott

Much has been made of the rocketing attendances experienced by clubs relocating to a new stadium in the modern era. The table below shows the percentage change in average attendance experienced by each club in their home league matches in the season immediately following the move. The increase is striking – the table below highlights that 29 of the 30 relocating clubs experienced an increase in their first year in new surroundings, and 18 of these were over 40%.

But do these increases actually last in the long term? Coventry City and Middlesbrough are two clubs who have recently suggested that the new-stadium novelty wears off after a few years. Worse still, could the lack of history and featureless nature of some of the new stadiums actually result in an eventual decrease in attendances after the initial hike?

Arsenal moved from Highbury Stadium, their home from 1913 to 2006..(Image by Mark Hammond/Wikimedia) the new Emirates Stadium which holds 60,000 spectators. (Image by Cnbrksnr/Wikimedia)

This analysis looks at how long the boom lasts for, by considering all 30 relocating clubs up until 2011, and their average home league attendance for all ten seasons before and after relocation. Clearly, the effect is very difficult to measure over a long period of time, as there are so many other factors that influence crowd fluctuations. But the most important three factors have been accounted for in this analysis: a) the division the club is playing in that season, b) what position in this division the club finishes, and c) the overall average attendance in this division for this season.

The graph below shows the average attendance path from these 30 relocating clubs after adjusting for these three factors (clubs that do not relocate would be expected to follow the pink dotted line). The error bars denote ±2 standard errors. Remember that these figures allow for any promotion or relegation that these teams have experienced.

Average attendance changes for relocating clubs

Average attendance changes for relocating clubs

The average home league attendance was taken for each club for each season since 1970, as a proportion of the divisional average. Then after log-transformation an Analysis of Variance was run, with two factors being Club and League Position. The residual values from the 30 relocating clubs were then investigated, and the means were back-transformed to produce the graph above.

This shows a number of interesting points. Firstly, the club tends to experience below-par attendances in the ten preceding years before relocation, possibly due to inadequate capacity, or the inevitable lack of investment in the old ground. In the final three years, they tail off further, though this trend does reverse in its final season, perhaps due to fans’ nostalgia over the old ground.

Then there is a staggering 29% increase immediately following the move. But this is short-lived. This increase tails off sharply after the first season, before a more gradual decline. However, fears that average attendances return to levels below those at the old stadium appear to be unsubstantiated – this suggests that after around six years in the new stadium, this percentage increase tends to level off at around 6%.

This analysis shows an alarming decrease in attendances once the novelty of the new stadium has worn off. And make no mistake; this decrease has been largely camouflaged by the general increase in league attendances across the country since the mid-1980s.

So is it sensible for clubs to relocate – and in doing so take out 25-year mortgages – after all? Of course some clubs such as Arsenal, Southampton and Derby, had absolutely no choice, as it was impossible to increase their ground capacity on such constrained sites. But whatever their reasons for relocating, a substantial projected long-term increase in attendances should not be one of them.

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Prabin Dahal

Indeed switch seems to be profitable. 

How do you factor in the fact that the new stadiums have much superior capacity compared to the old ones (I am assuming the new stadiums will almost always have large capacity)?

Take Arsenal. Before closure Highbury had the capacity of 38,419 (at closure) whereas Emirates with 60,361 is a 57.11% increase in the crowd capacity. So, %age jump in average attendance can be attributed to the increased stadium capacity too (together with other variables in the model)?. Indeed the first year of the switch is always highly anticipated and there is massive buzz few years leading to the switch.
Very interesting!

I think what would be even more interesting to me is how the fans respond to the new stadium in long run i.e. how much of the stadiums are fully (or %age occupied) changes over time?
Does average %age of stadium occupied shows similar trend too before and after the switch? 

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Tim Aylott

Very interesting article. I guess one thing to consider is that clubs can justify charging more for better facilities, plus they will have more space for the club shop and hospitality suites.

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