There's nothing more exciting in European football right now than the race for second place…
This week the SPFL released their annual report on the total attendances of fans at Scottish football games throughout the four divisions and numerous cup competitions for the 2017/18 season. And on the whole it was positive news.
This season saw a staggering 4,870,753 fans attend no less than 938 games, offering an average attendance of just over 5,000 per game. Naturally, that’s a far cry from the actual breakdown of how and where fans watch their football but it’s still a remarkable achievement for Scottish football.
What’s even more encouraging is the fact that such a number is an increase on the year before, with the league body reporting a 5% increase from the 4,698,942 fans that attended games the previous season.
However, what’s perhaps most intriguing is just how much of that figure comes from fans attending Scottish Premiership games. As we can see in the graph above, the attendances of the top division’s clubs have skyrocketed from 1,970,640 to 3,631,982 in just five seasons.
Of course, there are some pretty obvious reasons for this. Hearts rejoined the top division in 2015/16, and were then followed by Rangers and then Hibs in the following two campaigns. Which, when we look at the huge rise since then to this season’s campaign, is hardly just a coincidence.
That now means that the vast majority of fans across the country are once again clumped together within the Premiership. This seasons’ figures state that no less than 81.7% of the total SPFL-attending fans went to Premiership games. Which is a notable jump from 74.6% from the season before and an even bigger jump from the 57.9% the year before that.
Indeed, the downside to this is well documented when we look at the Championship’s average attendances over the past five years. As we can see in the graph above it almost mirrors exactly with the Premiership one above.
Again, this is obviously largely manipulated by the three, big clubs in the division with the league’s average game attendance reaching as high as 7,352 in 2014/15 and then steadily back down to where it is now at around 2,800 fans per game.
Eagle-eyed readers will note that this season’s figures are in fact about 1,000 fans higher than the 2013/14 season – which didn’t have Rangers, Hearts or Hibs – and one could argue that the return of Partick Thistle and Ross County to the division should only bolster that with both clubs enjoying around 4,500 fans at most home games this season.
However, that still means a continued fall in revenue from travelling fans throughout the division and could trouble a number of clubs in the division that are already struggling to keep their head above water. Even the best-run clubs can struggle to adapt to three years of back-to-back falls in an important source of revenue.
Add to that the notable financial disparity between what Premiership clubs get from the current TV deal ( £1.07 million for 12th in the top division compared to £533,000 for finishing first in the Championship) and it paints a rather bleak picture of the issues facing most clubs in the second tier.
Although no clubs have yet stated any grave concerns, the gap between the top division and the Championship will only grow larger if the best 12 teams in the land are enjoying bumper crowds as well as a larger share of the TV deal, while clubs lower down the leagues are having to make do with shrinking margins across the board.