By Peter Smurthwaite, the Bridlington Town AFC chairman, from www.thenonleague.com/blog
The Barclays Premier League continues to flourish with most games sold out every weekend, whilst non-League football attendances continue to decline making it harder to finance the running of clubs at our level. I was really disappointed when the attendance for our home game with Brigg Town on 20 February 2016 was only 97, the first time I can remember being lower than 100 for a Saturday League match.
When you take out the committee passes for both clubs and a few complimentary tickets we had about 70 people paying, which just about covers the cost of paying three officials and your electric and gas bills for the day. I have tried all the usual initiatives in recent years, the most recent one being the free entry for kids if they buy the replica shirt, I still have half the shirts left and very few kids attend the games. We have given tickets away at schools, no real uptake, I honestly believe if I offered free entry for games I don't think we would get more than 200.
We have a catchment area of 35,000 people so it is really poor, our gates are down by 10% again this season and perhaps down by 100% over the last ten years. This despite the fact we have lost only one game in the last fifteen games, so it is not the product on the pitch which is the problem. Despite the mild winter, the attendances in the NCEL Premier League are down by 7.7% compared with last season, and if it was not for the attendances at Worksop Town (average 481) and Tadcaster (average 349), plus the away support these teams have and helps increase the average for the other clubs, the overall decrease would be even worse.
Will the attendances increase for Worksop Town and Tadcaster if they get promoted and are only mid-table in the League above, I doubt it? Look at Scarborough Athletic, their attendances have dropped from 500 to 300 over the last two seasons. North Ferriby United, who are third in the National League North Division, could only get 353 for their home game against Curzon Ashton last Saturday, even though Hull City were away, leaving a potential of a really good crowd from a 200,000 population catchment area. Look at Hull City, top of the League, their average attendances are not even in the top six averages in their League, no doubt their crowds will go back up again when the "Holy Grail" of the Barclays Premier League is achieved again.
The main reason for the demise is televised football especially by Sky and BT and the special offers by pubs when games are on, we had next-to-no fans watching the Arsenal v Hull City game last Saturday lunchtime. I bet Wetherspoons in Bridlington was busy for that game with their cheap beer and food offers, why come to watch Town afterwards and pay GBP6 to get in?
I saw that a pub in Hull along with a few others around the country were each fined GBP10,000 last week for "illegally" showing live Barclays Premier League games by the satellite companies. Yet those companies have been taking fans away from non-League football now for several years and not even put a penny back into the lower levels of the non-League pyramid. You can switch your television on seven nights a week now and see live games from all over the world, why go to Queensgate?
I also think fans have become bored now with a lot of football due to the saturation by television. I came from the days when televised football consisted of "Match of the Day", the FA Cup games and England international games and this wetted your appetite to want to go to a live game on a Saturday afternoon or a Tuesday evening, not any more.
I believe the Step 4 and 5 Leagues tried to arrange a deal with Sky television for a reduced subscription for Sky Sports being shown in non-League football clubs but this failed, because Sky still wanted too much money. The last time we had Sky in our club it was GBP600 per month, which was too much, yet in the bigger picture how much would it cost Sky to half that subscription for all Football clubs at Steps 4, 5 and 6 in this country?
I personally don't think social media is helping attendances at non-League clubs; you don't have to go to games to find out what is happening during that two-hour period whilst the games are on. You only need to look at the NCEL Twitter feed in the comfort of your armchair with a few cans of lager, and you can see the team sheets before kick-off, the teams shaking hands and get a visual commentary of games with photographs attached for the next two hours.
I have been guilty of watching the site, when in recent years, if we did not have a mid-week game, I would have gone to watch another live game in our League if relatively local, now I just stay at home and look at the Twitter feed. You are then also able to watch your Sky televised game at the same time, with your cheap supermarket bottle of "Peroni" lager. I think the League should put a ban on their Twitter feed for two hours on a Saturday and evenings during the games.
The Football Association have started a new initiative called "Grow Your Club" and we have registered to be part of this and very shortly I will be attending their first seminar to hear what they have to say about the future. This could be the "last throw of the dice" or it could be the change that is needed to bring back "The Missing Fans".
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