Is Match Day dying? – #MatchDayInsight
- EFL introduce live streaming service
- Over a quarter of seats remain empty across the season
- 5 Championship clubs see a decrease in stadium occupancy from 2015-16
- Relegated Premier League clubs boost figures
The English Football League recently announced that they will provide live streaming of every non-televised game to overseas supporters from the 2017-18 season onwards. The digital platform, called iFollow, will cost £110 for full access.
The EFL hope that the service will open-up a significant new revenue stream for clubs and provide a platform for enhanced engagement for overseas fans. In the context of the fragmentation of traditional media and falling linear TV football ratings, does this signal a wider trend of the diminishing role and importance of match-attending fan; is traditional match day under threat?
At first glance, a review of the attendance data for the Championship this season paints a picture of strong growth. The total attendance for season 2016-17 was 11.10 million, up 1.37 million on the 2015-16 season, or growth of 14.13%. The average stadium was 71.20% full, up 5.74% on 2015-16’s mark of 65.46%. The average attendance was also up 14.13% from 17,583 to 20.067.
However, it’s clear that the divisional average figures have been inflated by the strong support of the three Premier League clubs relegated into the Championship at the end of 2015-16. Newcastle Utd had a great season on and off the pitch. Clinching both the Championship and the top of the table spot in our league table of stadium occupancy.
As well as having the highest stadium occupancy at 97.52%, Newcastle Utd contributed 1.175 million to the total attendance figures. They registered 436,978 more visitors than Aston Villa who were next highest with 738,464. Newcastle also boasted the highest average attendance 51,106, Aston Villa were again next up with 32,107.
Villa registered the second highest average attendance but only the tenth highest average occupancy with 75.04%, perhaps reflecting their disappointing performance on the pitch as Steve Bruce rebuilds.
The other relegated club, Norwich City, also posted an impressive stadium occupancy of 96.73% with the sixth highest average attendance of 26,354. To put this into context and demonstrate the uplift driven by the three relegated teams, in 2015-16 Derby County had the best stadium occupancy in the division with 88.29%, followed by QPR on 87.11%.
The divisional average occupancy last season was 65.46% with 5.74% growth to achieve this season’s figure of 71.20%. The impact of the three former well-supported Premier League sides can be seen.
Of the twenty-four teams in the Championship in 2016-17, eighteen remained in the division from the previous season. Of those eighteen teams, in 2015-16 Derby County boasted both the highest stadium occupancy 88.29% and an average attendance of 29,663.
Derby saw a 2.14% drop in average attendance this season with Pride Park on average 86.44% full, 1.85% down on the previous season. Five clubs saw both their average attendance and stadium occupancy drop this past season while a further twelve saw an uplift.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given their remarkable ascent to the top of the table early in the season and the sustained success of the campaign that ultimately resulted in Play-Off glory, Huddersfield Town recorded a great season off the pitch. Across the season, they saw a mighty 31.47% increase in stadium occupancy from 51.56% to 83.03% and a 37.91% increase in average attendance from 12,631 to 20,343.
Promoted alongside Newcastle Utd and Huddersfield Town after a tremendous season, Brighton and Hove Albion also enjoyed success off the pitch at the American Express Stadium. Brighton’s stadium occupancy was up 7.84% from 83.20% to 91.04% with 8.62% growth in average attendance from 25,583 to 27,996.
Leeds Utd’s rejuvenation under Garry Monk saw the club fighting once again for promotion to the Premier League. Elland Road’s occupancy grew 13.06% to 68.89% with the average attendance up 18.96% to 27,698.
Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday, who also enjoyed a good season on the pitch, saw growth of 11.16% in stadium occupancy to 68.14%. Both Leeds and Wednesday have relatively large stadiums of approximately 40,000 and boast large and loyal supports.
Leeds Utd and Sheffield Wednesday have the fourth and fifth largest average attendances in the Championship, but both have large stadiums to fill thanks to their top-flight heritage and ambition. In many ways, clubs like Leeds and Wednesday encapsulate the performance and commercial challenge for clubs in the Championship.
Championship clubs are under pressure to stretch to compete for promotion and the promised riches of the Premier League. However, resources are limited, and fan-bases appear finite and ageing. Live TV viewing of Championship matches is the privilege of those that can afford a Sky subscription, which impacts on the amount of exposure that these clubs can generate, and that may ultimately be self-defeating.
Clubs must continue to develop new and existing income streams to compete, but it’s clear there are significant strides that need to be made to drive incremental commercial and match-day revenue.
There is obvious capacity across the league; more than a quarter of seats are vacant, and that surely is something of a concern for all commercial and marketing executives involved.