I wasn’t surprised to see that a Freedom of Information request has revealed that West Ham are likely over-inflating the attendance figures at our somehow still controversial and opinion-splitting new home, the London Stadium. According to the report, West Ham have claimed to have a season average attendance figure of 55,309 – but Newham Council claim the number is closer to 42,779 fans per game, giving a discrepancy of 12,530 seats potentially unfilled.
It’s not just the Hammers who’ve recorded seemingly inaccurate figures – in fact, it’s perfectly normal practice and one employed by a number of other clubs. All of these clubs count the number of tickets sold, including the season ticket holders who don’t attend an individual match, rather than the number of people physically through the turnstiles – but it does raise an uncomfortable problem.
It suggests we sold our physical and spiritual home and caused incredible, continual turmoil among the Irons faithful, just to let another 8,000 people attend home games. It’s not the best news – but equally, is it the worst thing in the world that another 8,000 people want to come experience the highs and lows (and let’s be honest, there’s more lows than not) of watching West Ham?
A lot has been made of football tourists visiting the ground this season and, of course, don’t even think about being a visitor and eating popcorn in the ground – even though the vegetarian snacking options in the ‘world class stadium’ are limited at best.
There’s a general grumbling about foreign visitors taking up seats in the former Olympic Stadium – but it’s a xenophobic and unhelpful view at best. Foreign visitors bring in foreign money – and lots of it. They buy the kit and the scarf and the programme, and, I’m told, this wonderful fanzine. They get interested in and attached to a club, and want to continue watching them from abroad, which brings in foreign TV money – and then all that foreign money gets spent on good foreign players.
Furthermore, it’s not all people visiting from across the sea. One of the main benefits of those extra seats at the London Stadium is the potential for them to be filled by the next generation of local Hammers – and at a price point which is fair to families living in the ‘catchment’ area of the club.
The London Stadium boasts a Band 5 seat for £320 – and yes, it’s in the gods, but it’s a lot closer than your settee. Given the large number of seats in the new ground, West Ham can also afford to provide an U-16s season ticket for £99, irrespective of Band.
This is crucial in opening up attendance to the younger generation, and ensuring they have the opportunity to become Hammers for life, even if they don’t have their Grandad’s seat handed down to them throughout the years. It’s an investment in the future, and should be valued as such whether it’s applied to one person or to the 8,000 more attendees that we moved for.
It also should be noted that if we’re fudging the numbers at the London Stadium, we were probably doing it at Upton Park too – so it’s likely that we weren’t quite as full there either – especially when we were terrible. And yes, I know it’s tough to remember that with our rosey-tinted glasses on, but we were also terrible at times at Upton Park.
West Ham had to go through with a dire second leg of the League Cup against Manchester City when we were already 6-0 down. We lost 9-0 on aggregate to a home crowd of just 14,390 – a game so bad that it’s not even mentioned in the 2013-14 ‘fixtures and results’ on our own website.
So can we reduce our move to the stadium as being only ‘for an extra 8,000 people?’ After all, that wasn’t the only motivation – and, I mention begrudgingly, it was meant to be a lot more extra people than that. We also moved ground for the new ground, with the theory it would attract world class players – something which it has started to do.
Felipe Anderson and Andriy Yarmolenko look at home playing in the London Stadium and, after the Everton game, have started to validate their respective signing fees. It’s a world-class stadium, and once we get those world class performances, we could be looking at a big future.
We’re letting more people into the fold to enjoy the game we love – and with time that brings new generations of supporters and a greater global reach and appreciation, which will certainly bring needed funds to the club.
We love this club – we’re passionate about it, defensive of it, protective of it, and enabling more people to feel that way and share that love for the club will only ever be a good thing.