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Arsenal’s sell-out Emirates crowd highlights Chelsea’s attendance troubles

While the Lionesses spearhead the rise of women’s football in the UK, why is the team arguably hoarding the most talent and success, struggling to put bottoms on seats? Chelsea are not attracting large crowds – so what’s the problem with the four-time consecutive WSL champions?

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November saw a month of disappointing attendances at the 38,350 seater, Stamford Bridge. Chelsea hosted Liverpool on the 18th November, however a crowd of only 12,802 watched Lauren James’  hat-trick that steered the Blues to a 5-1 victory.

Curiously, a peak audience of 955,000 tuned in to BBC iPlayer, with an average of 796,000 viewers. There does not perhaps appear to be an issue with gathering an audience itself, it is specifically filling the stadium that currently bemuses the club.

Several days later, Chelsea, the only remaining English team in the Women’s Champions League, welcomed Paris FC to an empty, flat Stamford Bridge with under 3,500 in attendance.

As Aggie Beever-Jones became the first female Chelsea academy graduate to score at the historic home, she knee-slid to a gaping 28,000 empty seats. The applause and shrieks after Sam Kerr’s Champions League hat-trick were a tenth quieter than they ought to have been.

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The mid-table champions

Chelsea’s average attendance last season, according to data from their 11 home games, was 5,804, with the WSL average being 5600. Their home, Kingsmeadow has a total capacity of around 4850, with around 2265 seats available.

Compared to averages across the league, they sit fourth, considerably behind their main league rivals, Manchester United and Arsenal who came second and third in the WSL last season, with the Blues crowned champions once again.

However, it is worth picking apart this data and acknowledging that this overall figure of 5804 is skewed by a single match.

 

As shown above, the 20th November 2022 saw the Blues produce a near sell-out when hosting London rivals, Tottenham, attracting a record crowd of 38,350 fans. If you remove this figure, the average becomes half of what it was at 2550. Chelsea seemingly demonstrated building on the 24,564 fans that watched them play Spurs in 2019.

This increase appears positive at first. However, Chelsea opened their campaign of the 23/24 WSL season, in which they would be gunning for a fifth consecutive crown, against Tottenham at Stamford Bridge once again. This time, however, only 14,776 attended the match.

Is it poor fixture selection that fails to drum up crowds?

Chelsea’s previous selection of teams to face at Stamford Bridge, such as West Ham, Tottenham, and Liverpool, has felt poorly judged at the best of times, since they simply are not league rivals.

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The theory that Kingsmeadow acts as a more intimidating atmosphere for visiting sides certainly holds water. However, surely a rocking, 40,000 strong crowd assembled at the West London ground is a far more daunting prospect and is the type of ambitious statement move the club fail to make.

Chelsea’s serial winning ability is clearly not enough to see thousands flood through the turnstiles. Some hold the whispered opinion that their expected success detracts from the excitement.

Arsenal – leading the way!

The red part of North London are undoubtedly the best at filling seats. With a WSL record attendance for their opening day defeat to Liverpool of over 54,000, Arsenal are expected to surpass this record when they host league rivals Chelsea this Sunday. The graphic below lays out the last three WSL games hosted at the Emirates, along with last season’s semi-final clash against Wolfsburg.

Arsenal’s attention is keenly focussed on growing, and importantly, maintaining a fanbase. The Gunners repeatedly update their fans on the progress of ticket sales, inspiring fans to buy tickets while they can.

The numbers combine to make 196,888 filled seats out of a possible 242,816, meaning Arsenal’s last four games at the Emirates have seen them fill 81% of the stadium.

A similar graphic shown below paints a more inconsistent, disappointing picture. While the attendance for Chelsea’s Champions League clash was not uniquely low for a group stage fixture, it still represents a remarkably poor showing.

Out of a possible 161,724 seats, Chelsea filled just 69,378 of them – an overall average attendance of just below 43%. Even when removing the poorly attended Paris FC game, the average is still below 55% attendance. The data in fact shows that they are on a concerning downwards trajectory.

Is it too pricey?

For the 23/24 season, Chelsea raised their season ticket prices considerably for their women’s team despite the sustained freeze of the price of the men’s season ticket.

The price for the 11 home games, including access to cup games in the 22/23 season, was priced at £49 for an adult and £5 for a child. The 23/24 season ticket now only offers access to seven games at Kingsmeadow and sees a parent forking out close to £200 for themself and their child to attend the home fixtures.

Chelsea’s season ticket offer the fewest games, and for the second highest price, meaning the average price per game sits at £12.80, comparatively higher than most. Tickets on the gate or bought individually are also considerably pricier, with Stamford Bridge tickets costing up to £50.

Previous strategies have not borne much fruit either, with the gifting of 40,000 free tickets to fans, resulting in countless no-shows.

A club statement in May 2022 regarding the freeze of the men’s season ticket prices read: “Adult general admission (GA) season tickets have been frozen since 2011/12, meaning since 2005, season ticket prices have fallen in real terms by 32%.

“Like many industries, our costs have also risen significantly. Operating Stamford Bridge and delivering matchdays have been particularly subjected to inflationary pressures – up 31% since 2018.

“Equally, we are acutely aware of the rise in cost of living and the impact that has on our supporters. Looking at all of these factors, the board has decided to freeze GA season tickets for the 2023/24 season.”

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What do fans think?

Chester Bates, a member of the Chelsea Women’s Supporters Group, and a season ticket holder for both the men and women’s teams is keen to see the expansion of crowds and expressed his frustrations at the new pricing.

“It was obviously a bit ridiculous that the former price was so cheap but hiking it up so much in one go wasn’t a good idea. A gradual increase would’ve made more sense.

“A parent and their child now have to pay close to £200 for a season ticket, whereas last season they could both go for just over £50. It’s close to a 300% increase in price, and people just cannot always afford that.”

The Supporters group previously aired their own grievances with the price-hike, releasing a statement together with Chelsea Pride.

Bates went on to explain how his visit to Australia for last summer’s World Cup saw him attend seven games. The combined ticket cost for these matches came to less than a 23/24 Chelsea season ticket.

“The season ticket only allows you to attend seven home games this season. It doesn’t even include cup games or matches at Stamford Bridge.”

“A lot of people would probably rather the matches be at Kingsmeadow. There is such a great atmosphere there and you can really connect with the players on the pitch. At Stamford Bridge, at least at the moment, it’s not like that.”

No quick fix

Chelsea must own up to the various shortcomings, and capitalise on the chance to join trailblazing clubs, like Arsenal. Innovation, persistence, and ambition is required for the club to start moving forward.

As Emma Hayes’ side prepare to travel the short distance up to North London, the 4000 fans who have bought out the allocated tickets, will duly follow. A potential noisy, packed-out derby – as it should be.

Author

  • Sam France

    Sam France is an avid tennis watcher and player, frequently found passionately raving about the WTA tour. A lifelong Chelsea fan, who is currently, albeit with significant reservation, trusting an alleged process.