The Premier League said yesterday that "it is simply not the case" that England's élite division is on the verge of financial meltdown and pointed to record attendances – approaching a 52-year high – as evidence of prosperity.
The average gate at Premiership matches is on course to top 35,000 per game this season. This will be the first time that crowds in the top division have averaged more than 35,000 since 1950-51. This season's gates are likely to be two per cent up on last season's average of 34,324, as the Independent first forecast last October.
An average Premiership attendance above 35,000 would maintain the league's status as the best attended in Europe. Germany's Bundesliga has the second highest attendance per match, with 33,014 fans per game. This represents an increase of almost 10 per cent on two years ago, slightly ahead of the Premiership's growth. Spain's La Liga has leapfrogged Italy's Serie A into third place in the averages. Top-flight Spanish games attract average gates of 28,811 (up from 24,408 two years ago), while Serie A games now attract an average of 25,667 (down from 29,144 two years ago). The Premiership reached its No 1 spot in the averages at the end of the 1990s.
Three Premiership clubs feature among the 20 with the best average individual attendances in Europe. Manchester United, who attract almost 68,000 fans per game, are in fourth place overall behind Barcelona, Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. Newcastle are 11th overall and Liverpool are 19th. From Scotland, Celtic and Rangers make the top dozen, although the Scottish Premier League's average of 15,827 – buoyed hugely by the Old Firm – indicates precisely how poorly the other major Scottish clubs fare.
The English Premier League's chief executive, Richard Scudamore, said yesterday that the Premiership's figures were "a testament to the quality and excitement of the competition year in year out". He added: "This is the 11th consecutive season where Premier League attendances have grown so we must be doing something right."
The healthy public appetite for the game overall – Nationwide League figures are also on course to rise, to around 15m in total across the three divisions over the season – lends greater irony to many clubs' financial woes. At a time when they should be thriving, many have amassed huge debts and are fighting for survival. But a spokesman for the Premier League begged to differ.
"People talk about a financial meltdown in the game, but speaking for the Premier League this is simply not the case," the spokesman said. "Revenue streams are secure for the future, the competition is more popular than ever before and a new financial realism has led to costs coming under control."
Whether fans at the likes of heavily indebted clubs such as Leeds, Sunderland, Newcastle, Chelsea, Everton and others agree is doubtful. But at least there are a lot them coming through the turnstiles to debate the point.