By Nick Harris
4 January 2010
UPDATE: See also the 2011 story here
The end of the NFL’s 2009 regular season last night brought good news for the sport; even in the worst economic recession in memory, live attendance figures held up for most franchises throughout the season, with 17,282,225 seats sold for the 256 games, or an average of 67,509 per game. These figures mean that the NFL maintains its place by a massive margin as the No1 sport in the world in terms of biggest average attendance.
The next best attended league can be found in another kind of football – the properly global football – in Germany’s Bundesliga, where an average 41,904 fans per game attended during the last full season 2008-09. The No3 spot in the top attendance league goes to Australia’s AFL (Aussie Rules, 2009), followed by English Premier League football (2008-09), American baseball (MLB 2009), Canadian Football (CFL, 2009), Spanish football (2008-09), then Japanese baseball (NPB, 2009), Italian football (Serie A, 2008-09) and IPL cricket, although the inclusion of the IPL might be seen by some as contentious, more of which in a moment.
The task of compiling accurate figures is not as simple as it would seem; we strive to use the most reliable sources, double-sourcing where we can. All our sources are listed at the bottom of this article.
Where figures are hard to find, we have gone back to basics and added up the numbers ourselves, game by game. Even official governing bodies don’t necessarily compile their own figures, or compile them consistently. Official NFL sources have cited different numbers for the same season in the past, for example. Premier League data varies from source to source.
There appears to be no official IPL cricket data dealing with crowds, and despite sportingintelligence.com contacting the IPL and individual franchises for attendance data, none has been forthcoming to date.
Why? We don’t know. Perhaps the information is simply not collated. Maybe the large number of free tickets that have been given away so far (anecdotally, this has been suggested) muddies the waters. Certainly some crowds have been poor despite the hype. Our figures below for the IPL are based on what the crowds would have been if every match were a sellout (which was not the case).
Obviously the IPL tournament that was shifted to South Africa for security reasons in 2009 was less well attended than the inaugural event on home Indian soil in 2008. But the IPL in 2008 was not a sell-out in some places. And it remains to be seen whether the IPL authorities collate and publish accurate attendance figures from now on.
In indoor sports, NBA basketball and NHL hockey lead the way by a mile. In overall attendances, no sport comes anywhere close to matching Major League Baseball’s numbers over a typical season: 73,418,479 through the gates even in recession-hit 2009, and more than 79.5m in the peak season of 2007. Next best in the world in overall seasonal figures is also a baseball league, Japan’s NPB (22.4m in 2009), with the NBA and the NHL then vying for third and fourth sports, then the NFL in fifth.
The English Premier League wins the football battle for most fans over a season, because more games are played in the 20-team division that in Germany’s 18-team Bundesliga.
1: sportingintelligence.com research
1a: sportingintelligence.com research
NB: Separate official NFL statements about crowds from 2007 contradict each other
14: Nikkan Sports, paper edition, 12 October (p.6) & 13 October (p.5) 2009, citing NPB-BIS
17: sportingintelligence.com research