FA CUP: crowds pip league attendances as tournament reaches business end

By Brian Sears

21 February 2013

The FA Cup attracted crowds last weekend that were five per higher collectively than the clubs involved have been attracting to league matches this season.

The fifth round of the Cup is the first time that this phenomenon has happened this season, and is indicative that the closer the tournament gets to the “business end”, the more important it becomes to fans.

As Sportingintelligence reported last month (link here), crowds for the third round were down more than 20 per cent overall for the Cup, compared to league gates. It should be stressed that some clubs experience big ‘ups’, some have big ‘downs’ and others are steady. But the overall third-round picture was down.

In our graphic below, we can see that by the fourth round, there had been an improvement so that the total gates were just five per cent down on league gates, overall. (Again with large “ups” for some clubs including Macclesfield, Oldham and Brentford and “downs” for Reading, Derby, Hull and others).

But by the fifth round, there is an overall boost of five per cent in crowds across the games, compared to league games.

Oldham’s gate against Everton was 137 per cent up on their average league gate, the MK Dons attracted 67 per cent more people than normal, Luton saw a leap of 59 per cent, and there were no significant changes to the normal attendance levels at Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United for the respective visits of Blackburn, Leeds and Reading.

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Only at Huddersfield for the visit of Wigan was there a significant drop-off in attendance.

For the seven fifth-round games played (with Middlesbrough v Chelsea to come), we might have expected total home gate numbers (in a set of league games) of 227,965 people. In fact, 216,805 attended, up five per cent.

If it can be demonstrated consistently that the crowds become bigger as the event becomes more important, maybe the FA should consider awarding a Champions League berth to the winners – as is within their power to do so.

Every round would be massively more important – and surely the crowds would reflect it, not least because managers would always be picking their strongest teams.

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