Fans are returning to Premier League matches in higher numbers than ever before, proving that their passion remains undimmed by the pandemic and providing a much needed revenue boost for English football’s top teams.
Average attendance at the first 204 league games of the 2021/22 season hit 39,597 a match, according to analysis by sports marketing agency Two Circles.
Premier League games are set to reach a cumulative attendance of almost 15m people over the rest of the year, the agency said. The figure exceeds the average of 38,495 in 2017/18, when a record 14.6m people attended the competition’s matches.
Record attendances for the world’s most-watched football league show how it has bounced back from the pandemic, which caused its clubs to lose out on £1.3bn of broadcast and match-day revenues across the 2019/20 and 20/21 seasons.
The league has estimated that a rebound in attendance to pre-pandemic levels would boost match-day revenues by about £1.8m a game, equating to £675m for the season.
The Premier League’s main source of revenue is its lucrative broadcasting contracts, which generate billions of pounds a year thanks to a global television audience of roughly 3.2bn people, according to an EY report citing Nielsen figures. In 2019/20, the league’s 20 clubs made €2.7bn in broadcasting revenue, ahead of rivals in Germany, Spain, Italy and France.
The swelling numbers at games so far this season come as several clubs are planning moves to bigger stadiums or to expand their existing grounds. Kieran Maguire, a lecturer in football finance at the University of Liverpool, said many stadiums had been operating at close to full capacity for some time.
“Selling more seats, especially at premium prices, makes sense,” he said.
Manchester United is considering whether to expand Old Trafford, the biggest of any club stadium in the league, as part of a wider modernisation of its home ground. Other teams, including Leicester City and Crystal Palace, have plans to add seats, while Everton is building a new stadium that will increase its capacity from just under 40,000 to almost 53,000.
In total, 472 Premier League matches have been played without fans in attendance or with limited spectators during the pandemic. The average price of a ticket in 2019/20 was £32 but clubs also charge hundreds of pounds for hospitality packages.
“Following more than a year of restricted movement, the UK public has turned back to its most loved live experiences — even despite Omicron and rising Covid infections this winter,” said George Foster, UK managing director at Two Circles.
“The onus is now on sports event-owners to ensure this bounce back is a long-term fan engagement opportunity, rather than a short-term fad,” he added.