By Evin Grant
With the FAI in the midst of its biggest ever crisis, and Limerick FC becoming the 14th club to cease existence since the association took control of the league in 2006, it’s safe to say that the current state of affairs in Irish football is bleak. A total of 14 clubs have disappeared into dust in 13 years under the FAI’s reign.
In that period, the nation’s historic football clubs have essentially been left to their own devices, with little to no help from their governing body. As the riches of the English Premier League grasp the attention of most Irish football lovers, these clubs have had to fight tooth and nail to stay afloat and attempt to resurrect our own league.
Over the last four years, a series of great marketing strategies, namely Bohemian FC’s Terraces Not TV campaign, have gone a long way to attracting more people to support their local club and Irish football as a whole. The average attendance in the Premier Division in 2016 was 1,471. In 2019, it has risen to 2,159.
2019 saw 467,283 people attend 315 league games, as reported by ExtraTime.ie, resulting in an average attendance of 1,483, an increase of 82 on 2018.
TheCity.ie took a look at the average home attendance for each Premier Division club in 2019. Attendance figures have been compiled from official club-released figures via websites.
Shamrock Rovers took the title of the best-supported club from Cork city with their impressive figure of 3,445. The only clubs who witnessed a decrease in their average home attendance from 2018 were Dundalk, Cork and Waterford. The rest of the league’s clubs managed to attract more fans to their grounds.
The match with the highest attendance of the season was unsurprisingly, a Dublin derby between Shamrock Rovers and Bohemians at Tallaght Stadium in August, where 7,021 people turned out to watch the Hoops emerge victorious.
Bohemians witnessed an increase of 742 in their average attendance from 2018 following a fantastic season where the Gypsies qualified for the Europa League and made it to the FAI Cup semi-final under the guidance of Keith Long and Trevor Croly.
One of the league’s only part-time clubs, Bohemians have led the way in encouraging young Irish football fans to get out and support their local side. Daniel Lambert, the club’s Commercial and Marketing Director, is keen to see the club’s progress continue, looking ahead to the forthcoming league campaign.
“The numbers of new members signing up for the coming season is just astonishing. We’re on track for record member figures in 2020,” he said.
“We set ourselves a number of goals back in 2015 to be achieved by 2020 and we’ve ticked off every one of them. Work is now underway on our key goals for the next five years to 2025.
“Leadership from the FAI is needed. We need full transparency of past gross mismanagement and a thorough change process to inspire confidence,” he continued.
The emphasis over the last few years has been to ditch the TVs and go to terraces instead. Irish football fans have been widely encouraged to support locally and buy season tickets for a League of Ireland club. So, are we witnessing a shift in support for our nation’s league?
TheCity.ie conducted an online survey of 200 people to try and attain some insight into whether or not Irish football can continue to progress in the future. Of the 200 people surveyed, 34 said they have no interest in football, whether it’s in England or here in Ireland.
Of the 164 people who claimed to have an interest in the sport, we asked whether they’d be more likely to watch an English match on TV or go and watch a League of Ireland match in a local stadium.
65.2% of those surveyed indicated that they would be more likely to watch and support an English club on television rather than choose terraces and support an Irish team.
Of those that indicated a shift towards television and English games, 32 claimed they would be interested in attending an Airtricity League fixture next season to see what it is all about.
If the league’s clubs can continue to fight their own battles and develop clever marketing campaigns perhaps we will continue to see a steady rise in attendance throughout the league, despite the controversy surrounding its governors at the FAI.