Monday, 1 October 2012

Is Stadium Expansion REALLY a Necessity?

We've all heard them, the boring dull lines about empty seats at City.  Whether it be referring to the ground as the Emptihad or some other equally 'hilarious' and 'witty' retort, we have heard them all, but now the jokes are looking more and more irrelevant.  Last year we managed to sell out for more or less every home game in the Premier League, and for some of those we could probably have shifted a further 10,000 - 15,000 tickets.

This is a relatively new situation; although the stories and claims about attendances at City are well wide of the mark in years gone past we have seen our average attendance drop to around the 40,000 mark, which is still impressive compared to many teams in the top flight but it was well below the levels we are now reaching.

Our success in recent times has brought people back to the club, and regrettably we probably also attract a new breed of football fan as well, people that may not even have considered themselves City fans in the past are now coming to be part of it, and although we may not be overly enthusiastic about these 'new fans' they will play a vital role in us increasing our income and therefore getting closer to the figure we need to reach in order to meet the incoming financial fairplay guidelines.  There has therefore been a clamour for us to increase our capacity, and many have claimed it is vital to our development, I personally am not so sure.

Even though we continually sell out for league games, cup attendances have been pretty poor across the board and I think it is definitely something that needs looking at before we start worrying about increasing the capacity.  We all know that the League Cup is hardly an attractive prospect, but last season just 25,070 saw us in the 3rd round against Birmingham, even the first leg of the semi final against Liverpool failed to ignite the interest of some of our fans with just 36,017 spectators present.  This year hasn't really been any better with our dismal defeat at the hands of Aston Villa watched by just 28,015.

I suppose you could argue that these figures are typical of the League Cup, a competition which is hardly treated as a particularly high priority but these lower attendances spread to European competition as well.  Our first ever appearance in Europe's elite competition was watched by around 44,000, a few thousand short of capacity, these got even worse with 42,000 watching Villareal, we did however finish on somewhat of a high with 46,000 at our meeting with Bayern Munich, probably close to capacity when you consider the amount of seats unavailable on a European night.  Attendances in the Europa League were even lower with neither games with Porto or Sporting managing to break the 40,000 barrier.  With just 2 days to go before our meeting with Borussia Dortmund there are many tickets still available and on a night where we really need a good win that is unfortunate.

So what causes these lower attendances in the cup competitions?  Clearly the League Cup just isn't overly appealing, I also feel the clubs decision to charge between £17 and £22 for adult tickets last week was somewhat farcical.  If they had capped them at £10 we could have got the stadium much nearer to capacity and I feel that was a missed opportunity.  Why though do we struggle for European games?  I suppose the extra expense on top of season tickets may put some people off, but considering we have always dreamt of sitting at footballs top table it seems a shame that uptake isn't higher.  Some say that evening kick offs are more difficult for people that come with children, but that doesn't entirely wash with me, we aren't talking about a post 11 o' clock finish.

Whatever the reason is, I think it demonstrates that there is no urgent need for stadium expansion.  Interestingly we are still to hit capacity for the Sunderland game this coming weekend, previous home games in the league have sold out weeks before hand, whether this is an impact of our less than stellar performances so far this season isn't entirely clear but I suspect it is a big part of it.  In my mind there is nothing worse than watching a game in a stadium that is too big, where there are just as many empty seats as there are occupied ones.  It is clear that we could sell maybe 3 or 4 thousand more tickets for a standard league game but with European games and domestic cup games not managing to entirely captivate our support I don't see the need for an additional 15,000 seats at this stage in our development.

Clearly there will be a time when this may be a more pressing matter, if our recent success continues I am sure attendances and clamour for tickets will continue to increase, but until that happens I think we are much better hanging fire and enjoying what we already have.

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