Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Decline in EPL crowds a 'blip' or major warning?

David Gold, the Birmingham City chairman, regards this season's drop in English Premier League attendances as a correction rather than a cause for concern but he says that ticket prices may have to be reduced. Empty seats have provided a strange backdrop to many Premiership matches this season and Gold does not welcome the decline - "our crowds are a touch lower", he said, but he remains convinced that the Premiership is the best in the world and continues to attract interest.

"It's a levelling out, that's all," Gold told the Birmingham Post. "Premiership attendances will find their own level, as they always have. I speak to the chairmen of some clubs where attendances are actually up. I've learnt one thing that you cannot have everything in life. Besides, part of the reason for the decline is that the coverage of Premiership football on television is so good. "It could be that prices will have to drop. It is all about supply and demand.

In the Observer, Paul Wilson earlier argued that empty seats suggest "a game that has its sums wrong". He noted that it costs more to watch a Conference game in Surrey than it does to watch the World Cup winning Frenchman at the Stadio delle Alpi: "Woking £14 a seat, Juventus £13.80. Explain that. Here are some other prices: Real Madrid €20, Valencia €18, Roma is €15, Juventus €20 for league games and €30 for the Champions League - less than half of what it cost to watch Chelsea v West Brom reserves last month.

"In Germany, long the home of decent football at reasonable prices, a mere €12 will get you into Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund next week, and tickets for Bayern's next Champions League game are €25. Children can watch most German games for €6 (£4.30). Everton, the people's club, will be charging kids £17 next week to watch Wigan. Chelsea want the full £45 for any seat, any age, any game. Plus booking fee.

"Premiership clubs are not uniformly avaricious - Blackburn and Aston Villa have adult tickets for £15 and West Brom and Wigan have schemes where children can watch for a fiver - but taken as a whole English football is far too expensive. It is not easy to take English football as a whole - price fluctuations even within the Premiership are enormous - but when it costs more to watch Woking or Accrington Stanley than it does to see Roma or Bayern Munich, there is probably something wrong," he wrote.

Richard Caborn, the British sports minister blames both high ticket prices and the spread of television coverage for declining attendances: "One ... has to question how much football there is on television and whether it's undermining attendances. I believe there is clear evidence that is the case."

While in The Guardian, Simon Hattenstone uncovered another culprit: "in the first month of the Premiership there have been less goals scored than in the previous 10 seasons. Fergie and Rafa agreed that United and Liverpool's deadly 0-0 draw provided nothing for the fans but saw no reason to apologise. "They showed good spirit, good attitude, that's always a bonus," Fergie said by way of compensation. Brilliant! Footballers on £5m a year and good attitude is an unexpected bonus."

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