The impact of poor crowds

IPSWICH Town’s dwindling number of home supporters could cost them in the transfer market next month.

IPSWICH Town’s dwindling number of home supporters could cost them in the transfer market next month.

The alarming drop in Portman Road attendances is hitting Town hard, with a loss of up to �100,000 per game. This could ultimately lead to a shortfall of more than �2m over the course of a season.

And that might just prove to be the difference between retaining, or having to sell, the club’s chief asset Connor Wickham, while also having a knock-on effect on future transfer activity.

Struggling Town, down in 17th spot in the Championship after a rotten recent run of eight defeats in 10 league games, are currently attracting their smallest gates for 11 years.

Over the course of this season, crowds have dipped from just over 20,000 to under 17,000, a worrying trend.

The paltry figure of 16,978 for Town’s last home game, a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Swansea City last Saturday, was the smallest home league crowd since December, 1999.

Most Read

Chief executive Simon Clegg confirmed that this drop in attendances was a big cause for concern, while addressing the club’s shareholders at the annual plc AGM at Portman Road on Tuesday evening.

Clegg went on to explain that most other Championship clubs were experiencing a similar decrease in crowd figures this season, although in Town’s case this has been brought into sharp focus over the last half-dozen games.

In fact, the last seven home attendances have all been under 20,000.

Clegg said: “I’m very concerned with the lack of numbers (reference to home crowd figures), but it is consistent with the Championship.

“Attendances are 5% down on average in the Championship, while we are only 2% down. And our average away attendances are up 17% on last year.

“I recognise that we are going through a difficult period at the moment. But I’m confident for the future that we can come through this brighter.”

Former Town chairman, David Sheepshanks, who remains the chairman of Ipswich Town plc, referred to the wider issue blighting the sport at this level.

“The amount of money it takes to run a Championship club is obscene,” explained Sheepshanks.

“In the Championship, 22 of the clubs are losing money in seven figures (ie at least �1m per year), with most of them losing �3m-�4m-�5m-�6m and upwards.”

Marcus Evans Group spokesman, Martin Pitcher, explained that the club was currently running with an annual shortfall of between �5m and �6m, with relation to the money coming in and going out.

Of course a large chunk of the club’s income is derived from ticket sales, while the chief outlay is players’ wages and the day-to-day cost of running the club.

Mr Pitcher confirmed: “The loss is not surprising, as many Championship clubs make a loss.

“Marcus Evans funds that �5m-�6m each year, on top of any player purchases. I can’t see how that �5m-�6m can come down, and it is a battle to keep that deficit under control.”

Falling attendances, then, only compound the problem.

Ultimately, of course, it is results on the pitch that will determine whether Town’s attendance levels can return to the levels of the previous 11 years.

Ironically, those disappointing pre-Christmas crowds of the 1999-2000 campaign were soon forgotten as manager George Burley propelled Town to promotion during the second half of that season.

Town finished third in the table and went on to beat Barnsley in the play-off final at Wembley, to return to the Premier League.

There then followed almost a decade of encouraging crowd numbers, with an average of above the 20,000 mark, due to healthy season-ticket sales, until the downward trend kicked in last season.

Roy Keane’s first season in charge coincided with average crowds dropping to just above 20,000, and matters have grown steadily worse this year, although the recent fall has been more dramatic.

If crowds of 16,000 were to become normal, then that would equate to a loss of �100,000 per game (as opposed to crowds of 20,000), culminating in a deficit of �2.3m over a full season.

If that were the case, then one of three responses would be needed.

Either owner Mr Evans must foot the bill for an extra �2m from his own pocket, or else he must make sacrifices within the squad.

A sum of �2m could support four Championship players, working on the basis that they each earned �10,000 a week in wages, amounting to �500,000 a year, and so totalling �2m a year.

The only other alternative would be to sell a player of Wickham’s value – in the region of �10m – to one of his many Premier League admirers, who are currently headed by Liverpool.

None of these are good options.

Of course the current global recession is not helping football clubs, up-and-down the land, while Town’s recent poor home crowd for the Swansea fixture can be attributed in part to live coverage of the game on Sky TV, freezing temperatures and the annual pre-Christmas lull.

But it goes deeper than that.

Only an upturn in results, with Town returning to winning ways and pushing for promotion, will bring those lost fans back to Portman Road.

Keane, Clegg and of course Evans will be hoping that the results change fast.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter