The evolution of Manchester United attendance and what needs to happen next

More fans will watch football at Old Trafford this season than any other in Manchester United’s history. More than 2.3 million tickets have been sold and there are several reasons.

The main one is that United continue to be drawn at home in cup competitions – 10 straight home draws, including Fulham in the FA Cup on Sunday. The odds of that happening are 1.024/1.

Add in the unexpected Europa League playoff against Barcelona, ​​when more than 100,000 fans waited in line for tickets home, and you can see why United’s 9,000 executive seat holders are especially delighted, as They do not pay extra for cup matches.

By contrast, regular season ticket holders grumble as more money is withdrawn from their bank accounts, the price of following a winning team. Fans had the option to opt out of that automatic cup scheme to save money, but those who did missed out on tickets to the League Cup final last month.

Then there’s the demand for tickets, which has never consistently been higher. The club is now selling out all first team home games, including Carabao Cup and Europa League games. This was previously unheard of. Take the 2016-17 Europa League run, for example, with the group stage games against Feyenoord and Zorya Luhansk not coming close to selling out, nor the knockout games against Saint-Etienne (who probably brought the best European support away from home at Old Trafford in recent years) or Rostov. This season? Five consecutive Europa League entries at home, including against Sheriff Tiraspol, which drew just 150 fans. That attendance set crowd records for the Europa League group stage.

Visitor crowds at Old Trafford are also on the rise. Domestic allocations are depleted in 95 per cent of cases: that’s 3,000 for Premier League matches, 7,500 in the League Cup and 9,000 in the FA Cup. Southampton, Crystal Palace, Brighton and Bournemouth have not used up their league allocation this season. When that happens, United moves the segregation line and sells more home tickets.

Real Betis drew 4,500 fans to Old Trafford, twice as many as Barcelona. Once again, the fact that Barcelona did not take over their full rights meant that United could sell more tickets to their own fans. United fans pointed out that those extra tickets put up for sale are high-priced executive tickets, but the club insists no tickets were redesignated as executive for the Barcelona game.

Real Betis fans at Old Trafford earlier this month (Photo: Michael Regan via Getty Images)

Most tickets are taken by season ticket holders, but whenever they’re available online to members, they sell out in minutes. United closed its membership scheme in January with 360,000 paying members, the most members of any club in the world. Bayern Munich is second with 290,000.

United now has members in 167 countries and has a club record 275 official supporter clubs in 94 countries. A United supporters club must have a minimum of 50 official members. It has 15 supporters clubs in India, where the club was scheduled to play in 2020 before COVID-19, and in the US United will start claiming the Carabao Cup trophy for supporters clubs next week.

No United tickets for the men’s matches have gone on sale overall this season, but the women’s matches have. For the women’s team attendance is rising to over 5000 for home games at Leigh Sports Village and is much higher when they play at Old Trafford. United hope to set an English women’s club crowd record this month at the home of West Ham.

While televised games proliferate, often to the inconvenience of fans attending the matches, the growing demand for United tickets echoes the growing crowds in English soccer after the pandemic. The current Premier League average this season is 40,405, a record for top-tier English football, but clubs at all levels are seeing a surge in crowds.

United remain the best supported team in the Premier League with an average attendance of 73,960 at Old Trafford, although their capacity was reduced pre-COVID-19 by 2,000 to reconfigure and provide space for disabled fans and executive areas. The executive area at Stretford End, long a fan’s nightmare, will be given over to normal seating from 2024. This is one of several fan-friendly measures taken by a club that has hardly communicated with followers after the Glazer acquisition.

Now? Tickets are priced according to the age of the fans (16 and over used to be an adult) and fans can purchase season tickets for drinks only. They can also donate the cost of a ticket to the club’s charity if they can’t make it. More than £500,000 will go to the foundation this season for its work with young people across Greater Manchester.

Rival clubs have closed the gap on United’s huge home crowd. West Ham United are now averaging 62,453, Spurs 61,628 and Arsenal 60,191. They all sell out every week. Liverpool could easily sell more tickets than the 53,276 that fill Anfield and so a new section is being built on the Anfield Road stand, bringing capacity to 61,000. Manchester City are also planning a new tier of seats behind one end to increase the Etihad’s capacity to 61,000.

Newcastle United, which enjoyed the second largest average audience in the 2000s, fell to seventh under the ownership of Mike Ashley. They still plan to expand St James Park beyond its 52,000 capacity, possibly by building behind Gallowgate End. Aston Villa will build a new north stand and Chelsea’s development of Stamford Bridge to increase capacity from 42,000 to 60,000 was a stipulation of their sale last year. Everton’s new home of 55,000 is rising on the banks of the River Mersey and Leicester City will significantly expand their home.

Manchester United need to expand Old Trafford and one of the reasons is to address the increasing age of fans, which has dragged on for decades. The average age of a Stretford Ender was 17 in 1970. She is now 45 and over 50 in the Main Stand for season ticket holders. The Red Army’s vocal section has a much younger age profile, but more needs to be done. A larger capacity will help.

There are plans to build and the club announced last year that Populous, who was behind Spurs’ stadium, will work on the development, but details are scant and uncertainty abounds as we don’t know who will own United in six months.

Expand Old Trafford, as United should have done years ago, and the club will enjoy the highest average home attendance in the world: currently, it’s 82,492 at Barcelona, ​​who beat Real Madrid in front of around 95,000 on Sunday. . The Real Madrid Bernabéu will reach its new capacity of 85,000 spectators next season.

The average La Liga crowd is 29,213 this season, while Serie A in Italy is similar, at 29,049. Both Milan clubs have enjoyed a surge in crowds and average 72,000 at the San Siro, while league leaders Napoli have 44,000 and Roma 61,000.

Sevilla, United’s next rival in the Europa League, averages 36,402. You can be sure that Old Trafford will be packed when they visit next month, regardless of the number of supporters they bring.

(Top photo: Michael Regan via Getty Images)


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