By Tony Attwood
I have often wondered just how much people know about their football clubs. Or indeed how much some people know about football. And whether the number of people going to games is going up or down.
It is not often that such ramblings within my brain can all be answered at once, but today I sort of brought them together.
If I may explain….
To me, the whole thing about football and why we watch it, is complex. I know I don’t know a lot about football, since I was never able to play it well, but still I am trying to learn all the time. Tactics endlessly surprise me, as does the development of certain players. I certainly never saw Bellerin as a truly great full back in the making, although I did spot Coquelin as a potential first teamer from the off. But I didn’t think much of Henry during his first few games, and though Pires was very average for his first half season. But then I was at Viriera’s first game and said to my pal Roger, “That guy is amazing – he’s just come on in his first match, and he’s taken absolute control. Who the **** is he?”
So just how much do people know about footie? The guys around me have an incredible knowledge of past players from opposition teams – and their conversation tends to bypass me. They talk about “that fellow who played for Watford, and then went to Birmingham, central midfield, got sent off against Tottenham…” and each of them know what the other is talking about. With such chatter I am lost, although I’m quite good on the development of progress of Arsenal in the 1930s these days, mostly because I’m writing the history of the club in the 30s on the Arsenal History site.
But my point is, some people have a lot of knowledge about different bits of football, and then I saw this set of facts from a new survey from Uefa, that has just been released.
First Arsenal and Manchester United’s websites have more visitors than any other sports club in the world. Wow. That is amazing.
But second, visitors spent longer on Chelsea’s website, on average, than any other Premier League club – around three-and-a-half minutes.
Now that seemed a bit short to me. I mean, it takes the average person about four and a half to five minutes to read the average Untold Arsenal article – which is longer than the average time people spend on the Arsenal web site it seems. So I guess most people are looking for ticket details.
I then had a naughty thought. Maybe people spend longer on Chelsea’s site because it is harder to navigate for the getting of tickets. Of course I have no idea because I don’t buy tickets for Chelsea, but I do know that a few years back it used to take forever on Arsenal’s site to buy tickets using a silver membership card. Now it seems much faster. Perhaps that figure is not so much a judge of how much Chelsea fans are “engaged” with their club as the Telegraph claimed.
But on the other hand seven English clubs (including Arsenal obviously) got more than one million visits per month on their site, which is really good going. Eintracht Frankfurt kept people on its site the longest (six minutes) but as I say, you can stay on a site for all sorts of reasons, and engagement with the content is only one of them. Arsenal and Man U have gained monthly visitor highs of 8.7 million visitors in a month, although I suspect that if I go onto their website five times a week I will be counted as five of those 8.7 millions, but the explanation does not make this clear. But either way it is a big number and way ahead of the rest.
These figures come from a Uefa report – and there is lots of it to read, but if you can find a bit that interests you it is worth it. For example, Sweden and Israel had the highest growth in attendance figures this past year (both up over 40%). I still don’t know why.
The only problem is that the designer Uefa used to present the report doesn’t know anything about the psychology of perception – which is really the fundamental study that designers of any quality work with, because it tells the designer how the audience will react to whatever has been designed. I suspect that they probably gave Infantino’s son-in-law a few million euros to handle the job. If not how else do you explain having part of the report presented in white text on a yellow background, just about the most unreadable combination of colours there is (although the black markings on a black background with the lights turned out comes close). Mind you it comes at a point where the report is telling us that a decline in a team’s performance on the pitch equates to lower crowds, so I guess it doesn’t matter if no one reads that.
One of the most interesting graphs comes quite late on (page 66 if you are interested) and it shows club revenue growth in Europe from 1996 to 2015, and it is pretty much a straight line going up. From 2.8 billion euros to 16.9 billion euros.
That is almost a 600% increase, and an average of 9.3% a year.
The nearly straight line of increase is interesting as this tends to reflect a real growth – when growth is jerky it tends to mean it is affected by (often artificial) outside influences, which when turned off, stop the growth.
So without any other evidence one might conclude that this growth will keep going, at least for a while longer. But it doesn’t mean that it will continue forever. Ultimately there will be a slowdown – and I suspect it will come from one silly Uefa/Fifa trick too many. An expansion of competitions too far, a restriction of competition too much.
Nothing grows naturally for ever. The Premier League average attendance figure is fairly static at around 35,000 to 36,000 because a lot of grounds are more or less full for each game. But if we look back to before 1994 we get a different picture and this is interesting because the grounds had lots of spare capacity at that time.
|League average||Div 1 average||Div 2 average|
(No 1942 figure of course as football was suspended during the second world war).
So yes, football is seemingly more popular than at any time in the past.
But the league average attendance now is just a few hundred above what it was in 1922. What football has done is dragged itself back to the levels of interest found in the 1950s. What it has to do is stop the cycle repeating itself – for if it doesn’t there is an awful lot of debt that is going to have to be financed by a declining number of visitors.
It is great that football is so popular, but we can’t assume this will go on forever.
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