Are You Watching Club Chairmen?
It would not take long to find on any supporters website grumbles about the price of watching Premiership football today. Blackburn Rovers have even been forced to cut admission prices in a bid to lure fans back to Ewood Park.
You may be forgiven for thinking that Arsenal and Manchester United supporters would not be included in those rumblings of discontent, given that they are enjoying increased attendances in their new, or enlarged, stadia. You would be wrong.
The average Premiership attendance fell from 35,464 in 2002-03 to 33,875 last season. The figure has risen back up to 34,084 this season, but this is misleading as it is based predominantly on Arsenal`s capacity at their new Emirates Stadium home going up by 22,000 and an approximate 8,000 increase in Manchester United`s capacity.
For how long will the two biggest grounds continue to hide the issues felt by all clubs? Arsenal, as a club, may be benefiting from their palatial new home, but their supporters could certainly provide you with all the reasons for a growing disenchantment with top-flight football.
The average ticket price is in the region of thirty pounds. Arsenal prices start at £32, and climb as high as £94 for Grade A games. For me as an individual, I will pay what it takes to see my team play, but I cringe when I think of a father who wants to take his kid(s) today. With travel, refreshments, programme etc. thrown in it has become a three figure sum. Not many can afford to do that every other week for nine months without foregoing the family holiday.
Is the game even going to be played when it was originally scheduled? How many times have you got your tickets two months in advance, only to find the match moved to a television slot on a Sunday, or even a Monday night?
Once you are in the ground what can you look forward to? Arsenal fans will tell you they pray for the Gunners to produce one of their quality performances, otherwise you are in for ninety minutes of the opposition throwing a human barrier across the centre of the park and throttling the entertainment value to zero. I suppose you can`t blame them for that. Let Arsenal play and you will get stuffed.
Which leads me on to the make up of Premiership crowds these days. The grounds are no longer packed with working class men looking for a release from the drudgery of their working life. The middle-class have moved into the bigger clubs en-masse and demand a degree of entertainment for their disposable income. Sterile football will drive them away as they do not have the blind loyalty to the clubs that long-time followers of the game have inherited from their ancestors.
The most vocal supporters of the clubs are being driven out by what they see as ever increasing interference and control from stewards and the authorities, arguing if we lose the atmosphere at Premiership grounds then part of the initial attraction will have gone.
The clubs face many challenges as they bid to reverse the worrying trend. Most do not appear to be taking the warning signs seriously enough. Am I worried? In all honesty, no. But then I will get the benefit when my club cannot fill its ground with prawn sarnie munchers, and they realise they have to drop the prices to attract my peers back to the game.
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