The pressure is on League clubs across the pyramid to survive this lockdown. With no fans in attendance and matches getting underway.
The club’s fear total collapse, bankruptcy or even the implications of what happens if the season doesn’t really getting going…financially. However, they also know that the hope of a percentage of fans returning isn’t going to be the saviour of their clubs. Only the return of full stands, full bars and the sound of the tills ringing will stop the bleeding.
The calls for financial support to the government will get heard (at some point), as too many clubs gambled on the financial return of fans for October. We’ve seen clubs invest heavily into their playing squads, with the idea that money will return sooner than later. This weekend saw the potential of National League clubs pulling out of the FA Cup, in order to ultimately save money, but really to highlight their cause with a bigger threat. The prize money involved with the FA Cup, although halved, is still one of the only incomes that can be achieved this side of Christmas. We’ve seen in the last two weeks clubs in Wales and the Channel Islands have to abandon their whole seasons to comply with the COVID19 guidance.
One thing clubs seemly seem to be overlooking is the fans themselves. We’ve seen it before or even been there ourselves, once a Season Ticket holder relinquishes their annual commitment they often go to very few games in the following season. Clubs should be very wary of this fact as they look to return with limited crowds. They maybe seeing 30% as a positive, but the other 70% is what they should be worried about.
Once a Season Ticket holder relinquishes their annual commitment they often go to very few games in the following season.
‘Innovative’ schemes such as ticket raffles or predetermined matches picked for fans, have all been mooted or even trialled a some levels. However these fans of league clubs without tickets could actually be the saviours of other clubs. Keeping those fans ‘warm’ for their return to their own club when called upon. It’s not very often a ‘tourist’ fan will become loyal to another club by visiting every other week. If you’ve been following a club for life and usually you are able to pick up a ticket without the fear of missing out, then the risk of fans going to other club games is actually quite minimal.
Then there’s the kids to consider, so many at this time not getting involved or having the chance to emulating their teams heroes. It’s definitely not the same watching football on the television regardless of the empty seats and fake crowd sounds. How do we not lose a generation of kids? Many will no longer wish to go to games, as their adventures on Minecraft or Fortnite take hold. The bonding between young fans and the players, as well as the clubs, will always be one of the key factors in falling in love with this real life game.
The league clubs should be reaching out to their local non-league sides. Taking the initiative to start building relationships to keep their fans engaged and watching live football. You only need to look at the attendance levels across Steps 3 and 4. Currently teams can have up to 600 or 400 fans, a quick look shows clubs aren’t not just selling out, but some still only getting 100 fans through the gate lower than pre-lockdown. The awareness of the possibility of getting to watch live football in your local areas, could see all these games safely sell out with the support of the bigger teams in each local area.
I’ve long been a champion, that clubs in each area should be working together in partnership off the field. The rivalries remain on the football field, but the bigger challenge is for the industry to keep football fans engaged during this uncertain time.