Are we Dying in the Stands?

This post first appeared on forums on the Tuesday 6th January following the Celtic home match on the Monday night. It was posted by the forum user Punkit, otherwise known as Gary Torbett, who is a member of the Trust board.

It raised some interesting debate about the future of Killie and Scottish football in general so we have posted it here too for those who have missed it.

Buy a brick at Rugby ParkThe highest league crowd at RP this season has been, as we would expect, against Celtic. However, it was 5,329 – or under 30% of the stadium capacity, even allowing for seats their fans have previously ripped out to help us reduce our capacity.

Now, I’m not looking for a debate about the folly 20 years ago of building a stadium which was significantly larger than our average gates – even in 1964/65 when there were no distractions we only got about 10/12k. We have, from time to time, seen crowds over 15k, and sometimes not involving the Old Firm. We have to work with what we have got. Sadly, that is a stadium which could house about 40% of the population of the town and is therefore, somewhat unsurprisingly, never very full. But the percentage is interesting when we look at the two sports teams in the west who are, it seems, thriving.

Braehead Clan and Glasgow Warriors featured in the press on a few occasions pre Christmas as bucking the trend on increasing crowds while football is experiencing a fall in gates. Their crowds are, on the face of it small at averaging just under 4k and 6k respectively (give or take). However, when you consider that these teams have backsides on 95%+ of their seats every home game, it seems clear that they could both perhaps get bigger gates in bigger stadia and, perhaps more significantly, are doing something right that football isn’t. These are what we call minority sports remember.
Bear in mind that given the nature of the leagues these teams play in the vast majority of punters are home fans we can see that both have now got larger home supports than many SPL clubs, including our own. I believe less than 2k home fans were at RP last night.

So, is it price driven? To an extent yes, but I would suggest it is more a value for money issue. Clan’s match day tickets vary from £19 down to £15 with under 16s able to get in for £9. Warriors vary from £30 to £20 with all under 18 tickets £5 and there are over 60s and student concessions. You can also get £5 off adult tickets if you buy them online up to midnight before game day.

Perhaps not a huge difference from football overall. So why can these organisations be more successful at filling their grounds ?

I have never been to The Clan so it wouldn’t be fair to make comparisons, but my mate who is a die-hard Morton fan has had a season ticket for a few years now and enjoys it so much he goes to away games throughout the UK. He will always follow the ‘Ton but says he turns up, watches the game and goes home. There is no thrill to it all and his blind loyalty to attending Cappielow is what keeps that going for him. He loves football, supports the ‘Ton – end of. However, he ENJOYS fallowing The Clan and finds supporting them to be a pleasure rather than an obligation, dare I say a chore. He wonders how long the chore will survive.

I do, however, follow Warriors and can comment more on what they do- good and bad.

When rugby was amateur, and you harboured dreams to play for Scotland, you had to play for a suitably good club to pit your skills against top players. From there you could be selected for your district. So, if you were a good enough Killie player you would hope to get picked for Glasgow District. From there you would hope to get a Scotland B cap and then a full cap. Glasgow District are now the pro team we know as Glasgow Warriors which is why Ayrshire folk follow them. This is important because Glasgow played in front of fairly small crowds as an amateur team and this did not significantly change until about 5 years ago. So how have they moved from a small but loyal support to appeal to a whole new audience and effectively treble their crowds?

Matchday experience. This is in the main good. Bad points are that the prices could be a fiver less IMO and hospitality does not represent good value. That said, they are 95%+ full and hospitality is heaving. Market forces and all that. The majority of players in both teams are also full international caps so I suppose you are definitely watching a high standard of game at that price.

Contrary to belief, it is not just the availability of alcohol that makes the experience good. Cold lager in January is not always appealing ! However, the atmosphere in the compact stadium is excellent and people generally arrive a good hour before ko. Why?

Well, ok, beer. But also a varied choice of food; Junior tournaments (final played at HT on main pitch); coaches and a couple of non-selected players mingling and talking to supporters in the bar pre match and with man of the match post match; Head Coach and players mingling and talking to hospitality guests and business club members pre and post match (They stay until the guests leave !); Kids Zone for pre and post match activities and where players are obliged to sign autographs and get photos taken straight after the match for as many kids as are there.

All in all it’s an experience designed to satisfy adults and families alike with loads going on in the stadium before and after the game. It’s not about just turning up, watching the game and going home.

Community involvement. I think the fact that the Community section of their website extends to 6 pages of initiatives explains what they are doing right there. Have a look

Have Warriors outgrown Scotstoun? Not yet, but the recent derby in Edinburgh attracted just under 16k so maybe soon. I would suggest they have a winning formula there and would want to stay.

Of course, this is all helped by a successful team who challenge at the top of an international league and with a young, enthusiastic coach who appreciates what the support means to the club and vice versa. Gregor Townsend will tell you in no uncertain terms that he believes the players perform well not just because they are good and have a good coaching team, but because of the feeling of belonging they get being part of the whole set up in a forward thinking environment.

Now…Nicola (Sturgeon) knows all this. I wonder what the stumbling blocks are to getting these sort of initiatives in place are ? What are we waiting for ? Wil it be too late ?

We can no longer say ‘Aye, but that’s Football – it’s always been that way’.