Several Premier League clubs have been found to be publishing ticket sales as official stadium attendance figures, rather than the actual number of people through the gate on the day.
BBC Sport sent Freedom of Information requests to the relevant police forces and local councils for all 20 Premier League teams, asking whether they had figures for the actual number of people in the stadium for each game last season.
The response they received from most was that they did not hold that information, and instead directed the BBC to figures published by the club. However, out of the eight responses received, relating to seven clubs, police and/or council figures differed from the official published attendances for six of the Premier League clubs.
For example, West Ham published its average attendance figure for the season as 55,309, whereas Newham council found that the average attendance, based on the 12 games it attended, was 12,530 supporters fewer at 42,779.
Manchester City published a stadium attendance figure that was 7,482 higher than the Greater Manchester Police’s average figure.
The differences occur because clubs are choosing to publicise the number of tickets sold for a game, rather than the number of people actually in attendance on the day. This means that season ticket holders not in attendance and complimentary tickets that are not used are included in the figures.
Clubs are legally required to know the exact number of people attending each game for safety reasons and to plan in advance for expected attendances, according to the Sports Ground Safety Authority. However, they do not need to release this information. According to the BBC, authorities generally accept there is sometimes a difference between publicised attendance figures and those obtained by BBC Sport.
Some clubs said they publish ‘tickets sold’ because the data is more consistent and provides a simpler auditing process, the BBC reports.
However, football finance expert Rob Wilson said he believes publicising ‘tickets sold’ attendance figures is done for commercial reasons, according to the BBC.
He said publishing higher attendance figures could “potentially bring in better sponsors” and generate more interest in season ticket sales by making them appear a “scarce resource”.
The full report can be found here.