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Falling Crowds











Back at the beginning of September we pointed out the stupidity of a midweek fixture list in December. Unsurprisingly, crowds for these matches have been disappointing. Even the Old Firm games suffered with both of the Glasgow giants playing in front of around 2,000 fewer specatators than would be expected on a weekend.

But it's the rest who have really felt the effects of this strange decision. The four non-Old Firm SPL matches pulled in a not-so-grand total of 22,679 fans. Biggest gate was at Aberdeen and even there it was under 9,000. You might argue that this was more a result of the Dons poor performances this season than anything else but there appears to be no evidence to back that up. Dunfermline - third in the table and on their best run for years - drew just 4,342 for the visit of Dundee United.

And the sheer madness of sending the southernmost team in the SPL to the most northerly on a Tuesday night in December was hammered home by the presence of around only 100 Kilmarnock supporters at Aberdeen. Eleven Killie supporters clubs that ran buses to Firhill the previous Saturday failed to do so for Pittodrie.

Perhaps the only note of cheer was that live TV coverage appeared to have little effect on crowds other than the fixture being televised. But what appears to have taken clubs by surprise - even if glaringly obvious to anyone in possession of half a brain cell - is that their gates are down when the cameras come to visit and TV cash, instead of being additional money, is merely replacing lost revenue for every team bar two.

According to Craig Levein, Hearts lose around £60,000 at the turnstiles when they're live on TV. That just happens to be the sum they get from the BBC. £40,000 goes to the opposing club and nine times out of ten, that's Rangers or Celtic. So the net outcome of the TV deal is the status quo for ten teams and a couple of players weekly wages for the Big Two!

Here's how crowds so far compare to last season's average. Some words of warning: Killie, Thistle and Motherwell have only played one of the Big Two at home thus far, while all the rest have played both, so their figures will improve. Most - though not all - of the drop at Rugby Park and Fir Park will vanish and Thistle will gain by around 300. Also, these are based on last season's averages. There is a tendency for crowds to drop as winter bites and as end-of-season contests become meaningless so this season's figures will get worse.

Aberdeen -1110
Celtic - 1079
Dundee -515
Dun Utd - 25
Dunfermline -151
Hearts -270
Hibs - 782
Kilmarnock - 592
Livingston - 98
Motherwell - 497
Partick + 1319
Rangers + 405

It's not all doom though. Crowds are declining from historically high levels. Scottish football, although losing supporters, is nowhere near the lows of the mid-1980s. But the pattern of decline is constant and needs to be addresed now.

The other worrying aspect is if clubs have budgeted for the same level of support as in previous years or assumed improved performance will bring increased gates. two cases in point here are Kilmarnock and Dunfermline. Killie have lost on average 1,000 fans per match per season for the past four years. Dunfermline are now paying top three wages on bottom three crowds. Their Chairman John Yorkston may well believe his club would prosper if the Old Firm departed but these figures appear to suggest otherwise. The Pars are having their best season for many years. European football is on course to return to East End park after an absence of more than 30 years but fewer people are watching them than last season. Yorkston can moan all he likes about the TV deal he happily signed up to just a few months ago but the fact remains that Dunfermline have played seven SPL home games other than against the Old Firm. In only one of these matches were there more than 6,000 fans in the ground. And that was thanks to a large travelling support from Hibernian.

Most concerned by these losses will be club bosses at Aberdeen, Hibs and Dundee. In the case of the latter pair, they've already played a home derby fixture as well. Though even Celtic aren't immune to a falling-off in support.

On the other hand, Dundee United, Livingston and Hearts will be happy that their drops have been so low. In particular, Livingston must be pleased. There was a fear that the West Lothian club's failure to replicate the success of last term might have led to a severe fall in support. It simply hasn't happened and Livvy's crowd figures suggest they have a fair chance of establishing themselves as a permanent fixture in the SPL.

This, in turn, should be a spur to comparable First Division clubs such as Clyde and Inverness CT. At the moment these teams would be ruled out of promotion as their grounds are too small. They are also worried they may not be able to compete at the higher level. Livvy's example shows it can be done. As the man said in the movie, "if you build it, they will come."


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