There is nothing like a big crowd to create atmosphere at a football match. Whether its an international competition or a local match in a nearby park, when the crowd gets behind their team the atmosphere can be electric.
For any Irish football fan, sitting on front of a television screen watching the English Premier League or the Champions League, its easy to assume that a 40,000 seater stadium filled with adoring fans is a sign of a successful team playing attractive football. Although there is no doubt that people are attracted to success and want to be part of it, there is no definite correlation between attendance at football games and success.
Here in Ireland our highest average attendance for leagues games last season was held by Shamrock Rovers FC with an average of 2787 supporters at a game. Last season Bristol Rovers FC, playing the fourth tier of English football had an average attendance of more than double that of Shamrock Rovers at 6309. Why is it that a football club that finished 14th in the lowest league in the English football league has more support than a football club that is winning silverware and competing in European competitions? Surely it can’t be due to success. In a previous article I argued that Irish football was the victim of a complete lack of marketing and promotion. If this was put right would we be sitting in 40,000 seater stadiums cheering on our home teams? The answer is no, and this is the reason why.
According to The European Club Licensing Benchmarking Report Financial Year 2011“Nearly half of all top division clubs (48%) attract an average of less than 3000 spectators (p61, FY2011). This number is probably exaggerated to some extent by the fact that UEFA have licensed leagues in the Football Associations of countries such as Andorra, San Marino, and Lichtenstein etc. (there are nine European countries with a population smaller than that of Dublin). That, is the single most important factor in attendances at football games, population.
The four biggest leagues in Europe are also have some of the biggest populations in Europe. What this means is that these countries will have a bigger pool of players available to them, a bigger local fan base, more sponsorship opportunities, and a bigger economy in general.
Interestingly, if you look at the average attendance at a top league game (source: http://www.european-football-statistics.co.uk) as a percentage of population you see some similarities. The average attendance at a top league game across the four countries is 0.055%.
Now, if you look at the average attendance at a top league game as a percentage of population for countries with a similar population to Ireland, plus or minus a million people, to see a similar scenario.
Again the average attendance at a top league game across the countries above is 0.055%.
So, although the attendance in the Airtricity League Premier Division are not a big as in the Barclay’s Premier League, we are not far off the average. This does not mean the FAI doesn’t need to do a lot of work to improve things. If they were to invest money in the game for marketing and infrastructure and the crowds were to follow, the best we could hope for would be to attract crowd at the levels of Denmark or Norway. Norway’s Rosenborg and Denmark’s FC Copenhagen have had good European runs even though they are operating at a similar level to us. Both leagues are sustainable and supply players to their respective national squads.
Speaking of population and success, every team that ever won the European Champions Cup (or Champions League as it is now known) comes from a country with a population of over ten million. Judging by that statistic, Ireland would probably have to treble its population before it could compete at a European level. I would like to think that the FAI would have started to promote the game before we got to that stage!
There is one country that bucks all the trends in terms of both the average attendance at their league and for European success. This, by default, makes it the football centre of the universe. Most of its clubs are unknown globally but with 0.19% of its population attending games it is by far the most football crazy country I could find, Scotland.
If we could attract this sort of level of support it would be nothing short of miraculous, but growing to a 6000 average is a bit more realistic.