Crowd trouble as Town hit by poor gates

DESPITE a 14-match unbeaten home run stretching back to last March, attendances at Portman Road appear to be falling. Elvin King investigates whyIPSWICH Town are losing £90,000 every home game compared to the season they returned to Division One.

By Elvin King

DESPITE a 14-match unbeaten home run stretching back to last March, attendances at Portman Road appear to be falling. Elvin King investigates why

IPSWICH Town are losing £90,000 every home game compared to the season they returned to Division One.

Their average attendance figure at Portman Road has dropped by around 4,500 over the last six seasons.

Where have all the disappearing fans gone and it is as big a mystery as to why the Blues are currently playing so well at home and so poorly away.

Why have Portman Road attendances dropped so dramatically when the entertainment value has soared?

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Tuesday's gate for the Coca-Cola Championship 3-1 victory over Leicester City was the lowest for an Ipswich home league match since they drew 1-1 with Sheffield United in the old Division One on Saturday January 29 2000.

Despite winning 13 and drawing one of their last 14 home games the Blues could only attract 17,938 for their game against Ian Holloway's Foxes.

The figure for the Blades game in the campaign when George Burley led the Tractor Boys into the Premiership via the play-offs was 17,350.

Jim Magilton's side has found the net a stunning 41 times in the last 14 matches at Portman Road, and no one can complain at the entertainment offered.

In the last six seasons, Ipswich's average home crowd figures have dropped from 25,455 to the level so far this season of 20,889.

At an average of £20 a ticket this represents a loss of around £90,000 every home game.

With two games against unattractive sides coming up against Scunthorpe and Burnley in the traditionally slow period prior to Christmas, Tuesday's figure could be reduced even further before an expected bumper New Year's Day attendance against Tony Mowbray's West Bromwich Albion.

Blues chief executive Derek Bowden admits that budget figures are going to be reduced based on recent home gates, but he said that there will be no financial concerns caused by the drop.

“Even without the planned investment from Marcus Evans, the drop in attendances would not have a detrimental affect on our finances,” said Bowden.

“We are conscious that we are not alone in this downward trend, and I don't believe it is about price.

“The mix of matches we have had so far have been less attractive than in the first half of last season - and there have been reduced numbers of visiting fans coming to Portman Road.

“At this time of year the extra expense caused by Christmas plays a part, and we have been allocated six home games in just over a month starting with the Leicester fixture.”

By this time in 2006/07, Ipswich had already entertained Norwich City, West Brom and Sunderland, which helped to swell attendance figures.

Only Colchester this season have brought more than 2,000 fans with them with Barnsley only bringing 331, Coventry 403, Preston 406 and Southampton 414.

Compare this with the 3,080 Town supporters who travelled to Charlton last Saturday with over a 1,000 making their way to Bristol City midweek and it is evident Ipswich's rivals enjoy the visits of the Tractor Boys.

Bowden confirmed that Ipswich season ticket sales were up to budget with over 14,000 sold and he added: “We have recently sold 300 half-yearly season tickets.

“There are big demands on people's wallets at this time of year, and we have not budgeted high returns for our next two matches.

“But with the games we have still to come, we are looking for the average figure to be similar to last season.

“If we get into the top six for the final months of the campaign it will see an increase in interest.

“No one can deny our home form, and we are confident we will continue to play football that will draw in the crowds in the weeks ahead.”

The Leicester game saw the first bite of winter weather and a big live Champions League game on TV. It also came on the back of two pretty dreadful away displays.

Coupled with a run of home matches and Christmas expenditure the drop could have been predicted.

But it is still a worrying trend, and one that might only be altered by a return to the Premier League with Town's gates on their return to Division One in 2002 - helped by an increase in ground capacity - producing much higher attendances than now.

Ipswich are reducing prices for their FA Cup third round match against Portsmouth on January 5 - with adult admission £20, concessions £10 and children £5.

AVERAGE HOME ATTENDANCES

Ipswich Town's average home attendances from the season they last won promotion to Premier League.

1999/00 (Div 1): 18,524

2000/01 (Premiership): 22,532

2001/02 (Premiership): 24,426

2002/03 (Div 1): 25,455

2003/04 (Div 1): 24,520

2004/05 (Championship): 25,651

2005/06 (Championship): 24,253

2006/07 (Championship): 22, 445

2007/08 (Championship - so far): 20,889

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