Sunderland averaged a pretty impressive 41,286 when they were relegated last season.
Not quite as impressive as Newcastle of course – who’s average attendance in 15/16 was a world record for a relegated club (er, probably!) – but impressive none the less.
Despite a 4% reduction in attendances from the previous season (no doubt as a result of missing out on their annual cup final), it would be churlish for us at TF not to acknowledge the figures.
But was the support as impressive as the headline figures initially suggest?
What if those attendances were artificially inflated for vanity purposes? What if the turnstile clicks were not reflected by gate receipts? What if the attendance figures were boosted by free and cut price tickets? Would we be so quick to applaud the SAFC support?
This article will attempt to get beneath the attendance figures to establish how impressive those headline figures actually are.
So let’s first of all look at the average attendances for last season.
Whilst there’s been some ridicule (mainly from us) over the number of empty seats at the SoL (the table above shows they have more empty seats than any other club in the Premier), it can’t be denied that this is a healthy average attendance for a club battling against relegation.
And this isn’t just a one off for the mackems. Sunderland have consistently averaged over 40k over the last ten years.
The averages are all the more impressive when considered against SAFC’s historical averages. From 1982 to 1996, they managed to top 20k only once. The low point being a 13,601 average in 1986/7.
So it’s boom time for SAFC.
Like so many other clubs, they’ve enjoyed the boost in attendances as a result of Premier League football, Sky TV and the rather sanitised atmosphere of new all seater stadia.
So Sunderland are consistently amongst the top clubs in the country for support. But attendance figures are meaningless unless they translate into income for the club.
It’s pretty simple for a club to generate big attendances. Just give the tickets away! But what’s the point? There’s little benefit to the club except for vanity purposes.
So what are Sunderland’s gate receipts?
A couple of things to note here. Firstly, the receipts are impacted by cup runs. In 2012 and 2014, Sunderland reached the FA Cup quarter finals. And in 2014, they reached the Capital One Cup Final.
Removing those cup runs, the trend for gate receipts is very much downwards. This is surprising as you’d expect gate receipts to generally rise as season ticket prices are increased. However the £10.4m received in 15/16 was the lowest gate receipts in ten years (16/17 are not yet available).
So how does that compare with clubs in the Premier?
So why do Sunderland get such poor match day income in comparison to other clubs?
Firstly, SAFC’s ability to attract and earn from corporate hospitality is far lower than most other major clubs. As former CEO Margaret Byrne noted, “You have to look at the area. A restaurant in London is more expensive than a restaurant in Sunderland.”
Secondly, ticket pricing. Season ticket prices were cut for the 2014/15 season, frozen for the 2015/16 season and reduced again for 2016/17 with adult season tickets starting at £350 (which averages £18 a game) and the most expensive just £475. This is amongst the cheapest in the Premier League.
Sunderland have frozen their season ticket prices for next season in the Championship so it’s unlikely that they will be getting higher match day receipts any time soon (despite an additional four home fixtures).
In addition, there are concessions for families, OAPs, students, forces etc. Season tickets for children at an incredible £25.
Byrne explained, “Keeping the cost of watching football at a realistic level is something that is very topical at present, but for us it has always been top of our agenda. We know that the fans are what make this football club great and we hope that as many fans as possible will continue to have the opportunity to come to games and support the team.”
Finally, there are the free ticket giveaways. This is anecdotal but stories of free tickets to universities and schools are legion. Apparently every kid in the region has been offered them (as an alternative to detention).
So it’s no surprise that SAFC have one of the lowest match day receipts of any club in the Premier. But let’s compare them with match day receipts in the Championship. Incredibly, there are several clubs who have match day receipts only marginally less than Sunderland’s.
But it gets worse. If you compare the match day receipts per average attendance, there are actually several clubs in the Championship where it is more expensive per person to watch than it is at the SoL!
So to conclude, after careful consideration and analysis using all empiric evidence, it’s clear that SAFC’s support is shite