Freedom of information (Fo) requests to local authorities and police forces across the country have highlighted a significant gap between the actual and reported attendances in the Premier League.
Led by BBC Sport's Alistair Magowan, sent FoI requests to 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.
They received eight responses covering seven Premier League clubs – and most show a significant disparity between clubs’ published figures and the actual attendance.
The figures – what the BBC found:
- West Ham United: Newham Council says the average attendance at West Ham was 42,779 based on the 12 games it attended - which is 12,530 fans fewer than the club's season average figure of 55,309.
- Manchester City: Greater Manchester Police's average figures were 7,482 lower than club figures, again based on 12 games.
- Southampton: Hampshire Police figures were an average of 4,246 fans lower than figures issued by the club.
- Tottenham Hotspur: Brent Council says crowds at Wembley Stadium were on average 3,740 less than the club's stated numbers.
- Chelsea: Hammersmith and Fulham Council says its average was 3,505 fans lower than club numbers, based on six games.
- Watford: Hertfordshire Police says its average was 2,602 fans fewer than club figures, based on four games.
- Manchester United: Trafford Council and Greater Manchester Police both said United's published attendance figures matched its own, based on 12 games.
Over-reporting of attendances has been a bugbear for many supporters in recent years, with published numbers often appearing jarring to match-going fans at games with swathes of empty seats – and these figures reveal a lack of transparency that could well be replicated across the Premier League. As Arsenal Supporters’ Trust's (AST) Tim Payton told the BBC every empty seat is "a tragedy for those who want to watch but can't get in".
At Emirates Stadium, where there is a long waiting list for one of 48,000 season tickets, AST says publishing attendance figures would "highlight the scale of empty seats and perhaps put more emphasis on it being addressed".
What does the FSF think?
The Football Supporters' Federation is simply calling for greater transparency.
"Quite often clubs or the authorities will refer to 'occupancy rates' in their arguments," we told the BBC. "But they are often misleading according to the BBC's research and don't highlight how many fans stay away when matches are rescheduled for TV.
"If clubs know the actual number of fans through the turnstile, rather than the number of tickets sold or given away, then there's no reason they shouldn't publish that figure."
Thanks to PA Images for the image used in this article.