SBJ/June 18 - 24, 2001/International

French soccer continues its boom

France, holder of both the world and European championship titles, confirmed its position as the No. 1 soccer country with a 1-0 victory over host nation Japan in the Confederations Cup final June 10. Success on the field, meanwhile, continues to translate into success at the turnstiles. Attendance for Division One games in the French League (LNF) hit a record high this season.

Division One attendance first went above the 6 million mark in the 1998-99 season, after France's victory in the World Cup. In the season just ended, attendance broke the 7 million barrier.

Total attendance for the 18-team league was 7,025,910, up 2.9 percent from 6,831,023 in 1999-2000. The increase is smaller than last season, when it jumped 12.7 percent over the previous year.

The average crowd this season was 22,960, up from 22,324 last season and more than 3,000 spectators larger than two seasons ago (see chart). Teams play a 34-game schedule.

Stadiums were filled to 75 percent capacity this season (it was 95.5 percent for England's Premier League this season). Lens led the league by filling 91 percent of its capacity for the season. Lens also set a home attendance record with a crowd of 40,651 for the game against Nantes, eventual winner of the league championship. Two small teams also set new home crowd standards, Sedan (16,951) and Troyes (17,756).

Olympique Marseille drew the best attendance, averaging 50,755 a game, including the biggest crowd, 56,806 for the home game against Paris St. Germain.

OM, which finished the season in 15th place, is appealing the LNF's decision to demote the club to Division Two on financial grounds. OM was similarly sent down in 1994.

Toulouse also is facing demotion on financial grounds, as well as playing performance. Because that team finished the Division One season in 16th place and would be going down to Division Two anyway (the bottom three are relegated), it has been sentenced to Division Three instead. Toulouse also is appealing the ruling. Final decisions on these cases are scheduled to be made Wednesday.

St. Etienne is going down from Division One to Division Two under unusual circumstances. The team was penalized seven points for using foreign players with fake passports (two Brazilians and a Ukrainian). The deduction of points means St. Etienne has finished in 17th place. A French court ruled that the deduction of points should be suspended, but the LNF released official final standings showing the team next to last. Although there have been press reports that St. Etienne might be spared relegation if OM and Toulouse lose their appeals, the LNF's chief spokesman said last Tuesday that St. Etienne's fate is sealed.

French League Division One attendance
Season Total Average
2000-01 7,025,910 22,960
1999-2000 6,831,023 22,324
1998-99 6,061,010 19,807
Source: Ligue Nationale de Football

Jay Stuart is editorial director for SporTVision magazine and Sports TV Report and Sports Investor newsletters.

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