With the 2018/19 EFL Sky Bet League Two season on the horizon, the Gates Committee have reflected on the attendance figures from last season.
St James Park only having two sides provided many challenges for everyone involved at the club. Although we have the largest standing terrace in the EFL, we only had total capacity issues for two games, West Bromwich Albion in the Emirates FA Cup and the play-off match agains Lincoln City.
Seats were at a premium for almost all our games while the better supported opponents had the frustration of not being able to bring as many of their fans as they and we would have wished.
Given the uncertainties over how the unavailability of the Old Grandstand and away end would impact, the Gates Committee took a somewhat conservative view of likely turnout. In the event, over the whole of the 23 game home League 2 season, attendances held up much better than we had estimated. The IP Office Main Stand was at or close to capacity for almost every game and the terraces of the Thatchers' Big Bank were also generally well populated.
Cumulatively, the strong turnouts in the last two games helped us reach a total attendance at SJP of 92,089 and just tipped the average over the 4,000 mark to 4,004 (3,780 home and 224 away supporters).
This was some 162 fewer than the average for the previous season, mostly from the lower away fan numbers (down by 137 on average), affected both by the capacity limit and the mix of clubs in League 2 last season (Argyle and Portsmouth had brought over 1,500 and 1,100 respectively in 2016-17).
Home support was down only 25 on average, which given the limited seating capacity was a great tribute to the loyalty and tolerance of our supporters. Even for the weather-affected games the home number never dipped below 3,200, and there were seven games with lower home attendances in 2016/17.
We will be doing the same forecasting exercise again in the coming season, and will report on actuals compared to prediction in the matchday programme at intervals over the season. There are of course still uncertainties over the date the new Stagecoach Stand and away terrace will be available, which will affect our forecasting. Also the first couple of games when both are in use will be restricted as part of health and safety evaluation, but we expect that by the end of October SJP will be up to maximum capacity of over 8,500 once again.
In addition to the 23 league matches there were eight other major games at SJP during the season. The Carabao Cup fixture with Charlton, the Checkatrade Trophy games with Yeovil and Chelsea, three Emirates FA Cup games with Heybridge, Forest Green and West Brom, the abandoned League game with FGR and the play off semi-final with Lincoln.
These brought another 26,821 through the gates, at an average of 3,353, for a grand total of 118,910 individual attendances for the season.