The End Of Live Football As We Know It?
In just over 3 seasons in our new home, The City of Manchester Stadium or the COMS as it is known, the crowds have been steadily dropping and this season we’re averaging just over 39,000. As we all know every season ticket holder is counted in the attendance figure whether they attend or not, almost certainly our average attendance would be lower if it counted actual people in the stadium!
Below is a summary of the average attendance at home for the last 5 seasons and it paints a rather bleak picture but publicly the club aren’t admitting we have a problem retaining paying customers as we are sometimes referred to;
2002/03 – 34,565 (last season at Maine Road)
2003/04 – 46,834
2004/05 – 44,915
2005/06 – 42,856
2006/07 – 39,067
From the figures above you can see how the average attendances are edging ever closer to the average we had in our last season at Maine Road and if things don’t change then there is a real risk that the average will be at the 34,000 mark by the 2008/09 season.
Since we first moved into the stadium in 2003/04 we have lost nearly 8,000 fans that’s nearly 1 in 6 fans that have stopped going for one reason or another. In any other business this would be seen as a crisis and something would have been done to arrest this alarming slide.
Why is this? If you take supermarkets for example, if they had a 17% fall in customers, like we have had, then they would have slashed prices or something similar to attract back the customer but in football the normal punter like you and me are no longer king! Television and Corporate fans come before us now in the accounts, so really the clubs aren’t too bothered if we don’t come through the turnstiles, as they still received the large income streams from the TV money, conferences held at the club midweek and the prawn sandwich brigade that treat a day out at the match just like they would attending the theatre or opera!
Now I’m not naive enough to realise that today football is big business and to survive a club needs to utilise every spare square foot of the stadium 24/7 but the heart of football, the fans, are being ripped out in the process. Its not just City, its just a symptom of modern day football and the English Premiership is fast turning into the way Baseball is in the USA. In the USA every game is shown live on TV, subscription TV, so attending a game has become a rarity rather than the norm and this is the way our game is going and an indication of this is PremPlus on SKY Television and the way American business men are buying into clubs like Man United and Villa.
Why do you think the Glaziers and Randy Lerner’s of this world are buying our clubs? It’s not because they're secret United and Villa fans it's simple because they see the future and they want a slice of the TV money they’ll get when they can access every one of the thousands of fans they have via every game being pay per view.
Lets take United for example, at the moment there attendances are around 70,000 for every home game but if they could show every home game live via their in-house TV channel (what was the first thing Roman Abramovich did when he bought Chelsea – he created Chelsea TV!) they could sell the match to probably half a million United fans around the world!
Getting back to our own clubs plight, why are attendances down? Is it the price or is there a more deep-rooted problem?
To be fair to City the pricing at the club is one of the lowest in the Premiership and if you renew early (2 or 3 months before the current season ends!) then you’ve not seen a price rise in the last few years. However, even though prices are relatively low compared to clubs around us, in reality the price of the modern day game has and is pricing the average working man out of the game. If you wanted to take your two kids to the game nowadays, with refreshments and a programme you wouldn’t get much change out of £80 and for much less you could go and see a film at your local cinema and eat out afterwards! To back this up the price of going to the cinema has risen by only 15% over the past 10 years whilst the cost of going to the game has gone by at least 100% and much more at some clubs!
Another credit for City is the way they are treating the younger fans and although it’s probably a case of bolting the barn door after the horse has bolted it should still be recognised. Most games this season a concession ticket can be bought for £5 and my son’s season ticket this year only cost £90! To me this shows that although publicly the club won’t admit they have a problem, privately they are doing things behind the scenes to try to arrest this slide in attendances as they give out thousand of free tickets each game to local schools which might generate future fans and are canvassing ex-season ticket holders to find out why they haven’t renewed.
One thing I must add is that it cannot be helpful to the players to be playing at home in a stadium that is low in number and low in atmosphere and to think this is probably the best run we’ve had at home since we’ve moved to the COMS, yet there’s lots of empty seats. If you can, get to the game and cheer the lads on!
Keep the Faith