Sunday, 29 January 2012. SPL Leaders Celtic take on SFL One side Falkirk in the Scottish league cup Semi – final. With such importance & potential funds ahead for the victory it was incredibly surprising that only 30,000 fans filled the 52,000-seater stadium.
Over the years Scottish football attendances have been a concern. However, as of late (in particular this season) the alarm bells are certainly to start to sound.
Current SPL Attendance 2011/12
So far this season, The Average SPL attendance between all 12 clubs is just under 14,000, including two sold out Old Firm Derbies. For the top division in Scotland, this is nothing short of abysmal. With the biggest capacity of 60,832 (margainely larger than Arsenal) Celtic top the list. However, around 10-11,000 seats are left unoccupied, with an average show up of 49,426.
Even when competing in the Europa League this season Celtic fans have failed to support their side. When Spanish Giants Athletico Madrid came to town, a pitiful 33,257 came to support their side, with no more than 1,000 away fans included.
Rangers’ fans show slightly more loyalty against their fellow Glasgow rivals, with an average attendance of 45,852 in a 52,000 venue. However, with such financial troubles, but could those 6-7,000 empty seats could prove the difference between financial safety & being forced to sell their star striker Nikica Jelavic?
The average attendance then drops significantly to Heart’s 13,441. Hearts are another club in dire straits financially having to prove to The SFA on numerous occasions they’ve met payments to their players. A side capable of Europa League qualification, & closest competition to The Old Firm should surely be in no such position.
What’s The Current Attendance Issue Down To?
1. Current Quality of Football in Scotland:
There’s no doubt that football standards have dropped within the past few years. Rangers’ Europa League Final in 2008 seemed to be the beginning of the end for Scottish football’s conquering in Europe. One conspiracy is fan’s riots in Manchester played a ‘Karma’ role in its demise. Reputation across Europe saw Scottish football fans as ‘thugs’, therefore making The SPL a less attractive prospect for players to move to both financially & quality of football.
In 141 games this season thus far, Scottish football has seen 370 goals, averaging out to around 2.6 goals a game. If you compare this to the English Premier League, we have so far seen almost double this at 646 goals, which averages to about 2.8 goals per game.
Spurs’ emphatic victory against Hearts at Tynecastle last year in the Europa League emphasized the gulf in quality of players between English & Scottish football. Because Spurs’ can provide superior wages, facilities, Premier League & (what looks like regular) European football, not even the likes of the unstable financially Old Firm pair can compete with this on & off the pitch, let alone Hearts & the teams below.
2. Current cost of living:
Since the introduction of a Tory / Lib Dem government, the cost of living has risen considerably. Therefore, people will have to make cut backs on luxuries.
With ticket prices at St. Mirren ranging between £22-27, fans may not see this as value for money (especially when an Adult ticket at Celtic is £26, & Rangers at £20) nor will they shed such expenses for the sake of it. Personally I feel the club simply can’t afford to put up these prices when looking to bring in extra support.
3. Sky Sports / Live Football on television?
When Setanta Sports UK went into administration back in June 2009, Sky Sports took the majority share & expanded on live Scottish football coverage. In fact before becoming Pay Per View, Old Firm Games were usually shown exclusively on BBC Scotland. However, with the new regime from Sky Sports showing more Scottish League & Cup matches than ever, people will choose to save money on tickets, travel & other expenses.
4. Supporting Local Side instead:
I myself have attended lower league Scottish matches in the past, such as my father’s local side Dumbarton. Every time I’ve gone, I’ve usually seen Celtic & Rangers fans watching together in peace. Supporting your local side is both admirable & respectful. There seems to be a sense of ‘community’ at lower league games, which counts for far more than bitter competition at the higher levels. Fans seem to get more of an enjoyment from supporting their local side.
How does The SFA resolve it?
A meeting with all 12 top-flight clubs should happen immediately, discussing ratio’s off support. One idea I admire is West London club Fulham, being the only club in England to have a ‘Neutral’ end, in which both fans sit together with content. Of course, the ‘neutral’ zone would be removed for ‘rival’ matches, but ticket sales would increase, as away fans are eager to attend games.
It frustrates me greatly to see the likes of Wigan Athletic having several rows & stands empty, when they could open them to ‘neutrals’ & increase their third of ticket sales (the other 2/3 of course going to The FA & visiting side). One side I have seen opening ends to extra away fans are Dundee United. Knowing they may not sell out a full house, extra tickets are offered to away support to which Celtic fans will oblige & purchase.
Celtic are marketing towards family crowds. An example of this was last Sunday’s Scottish League Cup Semi – Final at Hampden Park, offering entry to youths for just £5. Under 13’s may also get a season ticket for just £50, working out at just over £2.50 a game. A season ticket at Dumbarton however, will cost you an extra £5 for a young person. Clearly Celtic are looking to appeal to the family market, proving dividends to an extent.
Will the attendance drop ever be resolved?
The only way another Scottish side will break into the Old Firm dominance is if a team are bought by a wealthy business man / woman, who can offer luxury wages. Footballers are demanding astronomical wages (look no further than Gary Cahill & his switch to Chelsea), which not even some of The English Premier League side can compete with. Even Championship sides can afford higher wages than SPL sides which has seen a number of players move from the SPL down to the Championship.
Of course, the same points above could also be applied to the demise in football in England. To this day, established top-flight sides (not fighting relegation) such as Everton, Sunderland & Aston Villa struggle to fill their stadiums. The main cause must be the cost of living, which the wealthy owners may either adapt to, or live in ignorance. Scottish football is starting to sink, & if noting is down to tackle the issue of attendance, then attempting to swim may be too little too late.