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.

1 Manchester Utd Average att 75,289 Lowest 75,245 Highest 75,397 Total 1,430,502 Capacity 75,731 % full 99.4% 2 Arsenal Average att 59,956 Lowest 59,510 Highest 60,055 Total 1,139,177 Capacity 60,355 % full 99.3% 3 West Ham Utd Average att 56,970 Lowest 56,864 Highest 56,996 Total 1,082,434 Capacity 57,000 % full 99.9% 4 Manchester City Average att 54,018 Lowest 51,527 highest 54,512 Total 1,026,358 Capacity 55,097 % full 98.0% 5 Liverpool Average att 53,039 Lowest 51,232 Highest 53,292 Total 1,007,754 Capacity 54,074 % full 98.1% 6 Chelsea Average att 41,507 Lowest 41,168 Highest 41,622 Total 788,645 Capacity 41,841 %full 99.2% 7 Sunderland Average att 41,286 Lowest 38,394 highest 46,494 Total 784,450 Capacity 49,000 % full 84.3% 8 Everton Average att 39,310 lowest 38,550 highest 39,595 total 746,890 Capacity 39,600 % full 99.3% 9 Leicester City Average att 31,893 Lowest 31,351 Highest 32,072 Total 605,968 Capacity 32,500 % full 98.1% 10 Tottenham Average att 31,639 Lowest 31,211 Highest 31,962 Total 601,143 Capacity 32,000 % full 98.9% 11 Southampton Average att 30,936 Lowest 28,976 highest 31,891 Total 587,787 Capacity 32,689 % full 94.6% 12 Middlesbrough Average att 30,449 Lowest 27,316 Highest 32,704 Total 578,539 Capacity 33,746 % full 90.2% 13 Stoke City Average att 27,117 Lowest 21,617 Highest 27,815 Total 515,235 Capacity 27,902 % full 97.2% 14 Crystal Palace Average att 25,160 Lowest 23,503 Highest 25,648 Total 478,052 Capacity 25,648 % full 98.1% 15 West Bromwich Average att 23,876 Lowest 21,467 Highest 26,308 Total 453,646 Capacity 26,768 % full 89.2% 16 Hull City Average att 20,761 Lowest 17,403 Highest 24,822 Total 394,466 Capacity 25,586 % full 81.1% 17 Swansea City Average att 20,619 Lowest 20,024 Highest 20,938 Total 391,766 Capacity 20,938 % full 98.5% 18 Watford Average att 20,571 Lowest 20,022 Highest 21,118 Total 390,849 Capacity 21,577 % full 95.3% 19 Burnley Average att 20,558 Lowest 18,519 Highest 21,870 Total 390,609 Capacity 22,546 % full 91.2% 20 Bournemouth Average att 11,182 Lowest 10,890 Highest 11,388 Total 212,464 Capacity 11,464 5 full 97.5%

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.

2017 Average 41,286 2016 Average 43,071 2015 Average 43,157 2014 Average 41,090 2013 Average 40,544 2012 Average 39,095 2011 Average 40,011 2010 Average 40,355 2009 Average 40,168 2008 Average 43,344

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?

Season 2017 Av. 41,286 receipts (£m) N/A £ per person N/A 2016 Av. 43,071 receipts (£m) 10.4 per person 241 2015 43,157 10.8 250 2014 41,090 14.6 355 2013 40,544 12.6 311 2012 39,095 14.1 361 2011 40,011 12.4 310 2010 40,355 12.6 312 2009 40,168 13.9 346 2008 43,344 13.6 314

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

Tom McMenemy