I’ve had this article planned since the weekend but I’ve just got round to writing so bear with me if anyone feels that it’s “out of date” or has passed it’s most relevant period.
I happen to think otherwise and believe that it’s a very important thing, and I hope you agree. Anyway, here goes.
In a nutshell it’s about attendances. The figures show that just 46,894 turned up at St James’ Park for the opening fixture of the Premier League season. It was still the biggest crowd in England over the weekend, but it’s some 5,400ish short of what we can achieve. Is it a sign of the times? What could cause this sudden drop in attendances?
Obviously the place where most people will point the finger is towards Mike Ashley. I’ve read a few comments now asking why people should bother going if the owner of the club can’t be bothered to invest in players. This is of course up to the person in question, although it’s worth pointing out now my belief that the only way to get rid of Ashley should you desire to do so is not give him a penny of your hard-earned cash. It will hurt, but if people really feel that strongly then perhaps actions would speak louder than words?
There is undoubtedly an element of unrest within the fanbase, but is that the only reason? In my opinion, no. We were riding on the crest of a wave last season having just earned promotion back to the Premier League, yet in the first home game of last season we only managed to get 43,546 through the gate for our 6-0 win over Aston Villa. If you look it comparatively, attendances are up.
Not that it replaces the missing 5,000 or so souls that are usually at St James’ Park of course. There has to be more reasons for it.
How about personal finances? Look at any financial newspaper or website, look at the recent decline in the stock market and the price of oil, inflation is high, unemployment figures are high, people are on pay freezes, bills are going up. The economy is not a pretty place at the moment.
Naturally when this happens people tend to look at their own scenario and think that they are alright so everybody else must be alright. Wrong. People are struggling out there and when you have bills to pay, mouths to feed, homes to heat and so on you need to re-adjust your priorities. Would you spend £40 on a match ticket? Or keep it aside in case something happens or to help with a bill? Confidence is shot at the moment and to me that is another factor behind the drop in attendances.
For those who are feeling flush it’s worth pointing out that this is peak holiday time so a proportion of the missing fans will be in various places around the globe sunning themselves. Off the top of my head I know of seven season ticket holders who are away on their jollies at the moment which will affect attendances. Yes it’s only seven, but if I know a few and you know a few and so on it soon mounts up. Thanks to those fancy card reader things on the turnstiles at St James’ Park, NUFC count actual attendances on the day and not tickets sold.
This new seating plan also has something to do with it in my opinion. We heard stories over the weekend how some of those that have been displaced from Level 7 caused problems for stewards and other fellow fans around the ground at the weekend, but there will also be fans who are so pissed off with having to move that they just haven’t bothered going back. The new extended away end is said to be 4,000 seats but not even Arsenal filled that so I reckon other clubs may struggle aswell.
In conclusion I believe that all of these reasons combined are playing a part in our drop in attendances. It’s worth remembering that crowds are down everywhere at the moment and even teams like Manchester United are struggling to shift all of their season tickets. In fact last season was the first season in something like 20 years that they had failed to sell out their season tickets.
It’s all too early to tell to be honest. I mean we still nearly hit a 50,000 average last season despite the first game having nearly 10,000 empty seats. I expect that we’ll see steady growth throughout the season in terms of attendances as that is how it’s happened over the last few years – even in the relegation season.
If that doesn’t happen then we may a problem.