According to official data the World Cup managed to break 3 million spectators, but we argue that attendance data has been inflated. Even by FIFA's count, it was the smallest World Cup since 2002. Why?
We know the winners of possibly the best World Cup of this century so far. Brilliant football, fantastic hosting by the Russians, iconic new stadiums – everything went as it should, except of course for the Germans, Poles and a couple other nations.
We also learned the official attendance, which has been given (and we confirmed it with all 64 match reports) at 3,031,768 people. This means a brilliant occupancy rate of 98.4%.
At the same time Russia's tournament was the smallest by crowd size since 2002, when public interest in Japan and Korea proved far lower than hoped. In Russia this was surely not the case, main cause for lower turnout was simply smaller stadiums having been built.
We should keep in mind that capacities of three stadiums were cut by roughly 10,000 seats during preparation (Luzhniki, Kaliningrad and Yekaterinburg). As a result, the average capacity was 48,126 seats, while in previous tournaments it consistently exceeded 50,000 per game.
At the same time we should keep in mind that FIFA's official data is far from precise. It's inflated and informs of tickets distributed, not those actually used. Meanwhile some ticket holders didn't make it to games for various reasons.
As an example, all 7 games played at the reconstructed Luzhniki were given a stunning crowd size of 78,011, or 100.00%, which is... well, impossible in reality. We analysed these games and there certainly were seats unoccupied from the start until final whistle (and we do exclude premium seating). Hundreds rather than thousands, but still, especially with some games at smaller venues having significantly more empty seats.
By our loose estimate (as precise as we can get with no more precise official data) actual crowds could have been 10% lower than suggested by FIFA. This would mean falling below the magic number of 3 million people, however crowds of almost 90% are surely no reason for shame!