County Ground Attendances: Crowdsourcing…
The County Ground holds 14,700, yet attendances rarely break into five figures despite two successful seasons. Ron Smith looks at the patterns of fans through the turnstiles…
Despite playing at a higher level in League One, Swindon’s average for league matches at the County Ground has increased only marginally from 8,411 in 2011/12 to 8,528 in 2012/13; with the average attendance post Paolo Di Canio standing at 8,600. Town’s 8,528 makes the Robins the six best supported host in the division. Any increase is very welcome, however it was a surprise that the jump was not more than 1.4% considering meaningful progress on the pitch.
So far, the magical five figure barrier has been broken only twice this season versus Portsmouth and Oldham Athletic. Compare this number of ‘bumper gates’ to 2011/12 when this was broken four times in League Two versus Oxford United, Cheltenham, Plymouth Argyll and Port Vale.
Stripping away travelling support to the County Ground, in 2011/12 the home fan gate was an average of 7,928 whereas this has seen an increase to 8,092 in 2012/13. So the real increase in home support between these two seasons was more around the 2% level.
As with any statistics there are two different ways of looking at these averages. The appointment of Di Canio was a shrewd move which effectively provided a season in League Two playing in front of League One crowds. Or alternatively, the club could have failed to really capitalise on winning the League Two championship and more publicity by bringing significantly more through the turnstiles.
Overall attendances at the County Ground have remained largely static for four seasons since a jump into the 8,000s from an average of 7,498 in 2008/09. A healthy 8,389 arrived in 2009/10 during a magnificent campaign, which was boosted by the travelling hordes from Southampton, Norwich and Leeds United that provided five 10,000 plus crowds. The 2010/11 season witnessed renewed optimism, but a play-off hangover continued under Danny Wilson and Paul Hart, yet this dross was still watched by a committed average of 8,458, minus a few season tickets thrown at the dugout.
Above – Obligatory graph showing the highest, lowest and average attendances for League games over the previous eleven seasons
With that context, Swindon’s 8,411 in League Two was a magnificent achievement, eclipsing our average of 7,419 when Town were last at that level in 2006/07, confirming the Di Canio effect did bolster the matchday gate, as well as a fair few local derbies, but surely this season presented a chance for attendances at the County Ground to have grown by substantially more than 1.4 – 2% following promotion to League One and flirting in and around the top six all season…
Given Swindon have spent the majority of our time in the Football League in the third tier the normality of this level of football could be said to provide no greater incentive than what we are used to watching. Perhaps then the greatest achievement in recent years was the increase in gates under Fitton & Co. from the low 7,000s into the mid 8,500s, secured by a fresh approach to slashing the cost of season tickets which had the desired effect.
One area which highlights cause for optimism in 2012/13 has been a significant increase in the lowest attendance – of 7,169 – way above previous years, showing an upward trend in this measure over eleven seasons. The lowest attendance measure provides a better indication of a retention of supporters won over by the successes or otherwise of previous campaigns. Both 2010/11 and 2012/13 have provided 11 and 12% increases respectively in supporter numbers, which are more likely home fans as the lowest attendance games are typically played on a Tuesday night against unfancied opposition – Tranmere and Crewe in these cases.
Interestingly… the lowest attendance of 7,169 at the County Ground against Crewe means that 2012/13 is the first season since 1993/94 that the lowest league fixture gate did not drop below the 7,000 mark during the campaign.
A further importance of the rising minimum attendance level is consistency that the average attendance is likely to be experienced week in week out. Fluctuation, such as 5,000 one week followed by 12,000 the next is all well and good, however consistency is the key for any business, particularly a football club, providing solid projections for income, programme print runs and catering supplies. It is also indicative of a solid core group of supporters transferring from one season to the next, as what appears through this retention of numbers through the successes a year ago in League Two.
Early signs for next season are very encouraging. As reported in Saturday’s programme, so far 4,671 season tickets have been sold which is apparently an 8% increase above this time last season. Supporters are eagerly hoping their outlay – at no increase in cost above the 2012/13 prices – will be a prudent investment if Championship football is won through the end-of-season play-off lottery.
The new Board should be praised for their pricing strategy for 2013/14, including the ability to spread payments at no additional cost to purchases in March, which appears to have had an instant impact, including around 400-500 new season ticket holders. The opening up of the Stratton Bank against Oldham Athletic – thanks to a generous sponsor purchasing tickets to allow kids in for free – and against Stevenage with a further ‘kid for a quid’ deal have seen a noticeable impact on attendances and hopefully encourages supporters of the future back through the turnstiles.
With the Board soon to be setting down to agree their business plan for the years ahead, the challenge will be to raise the average attendance further, to say 9,000 for 2013/14 no matter which division Swindon will be playing in. While this would be easier to achieve in the Championship given the travelling numbers, adding an extra thousand Swindon fans will be key.
There are welcome signs within these statistics to show that a fan base has been slowly growing since the turn of the century. Perhaps this could as a result of second or third generation Swindonians no longer holding the footballing allegiances of their family, particularly to London clubs, which were a remnant of the 1950s and 60s overspill…
Supporter numbers will need to rise significantly further should redevelopment be on the cards. In the eleven years surveyed the average attendance hasn’t yet exceeded 60% of capacity (37% in 2002/03 to 58% in 2012/13) which doesn’t suggest that Town have outgrown their 14,700 capacity stadium. A 20,000 plus capacity County Ground sounds fantastic and the spin off commercial elements are essential to provide the income streams to run a sustainable business, however planning now to avoid empty red seats and a lack of atmosphere will be equally important objectives as the board start work to secure the future of our club.