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The League of Ireland season is almost complete – a final place in the Premier Division is still up for grabs and the FAI Cup awaits a newly inscribed name at its base. It also means some well-earned respite for the various members of the 20 football clubs who have been subjected to my sometimes daily badgering emails seeking club attendance figures.
It shouldn’t really be that hard to get these figures but it is and so I’d like to thank every single person who took the time to reply. Your efforts were greatly appreciated. Before any analysis of the 2016 attendances can take place, it is important to make clear the percentage of estimates contained in the totals. Our estimates are drawn from the best guesses from Extratime.ie reporters / officials / other journalists and must be taken with a healthy margin of error.
310 games took place in the 2016 season. Well, 309 did. Athlone Town’s game against Waterford United in June was awarded to the Blues without a ball being kicked or a bum in a seat. Of the 309 fixtures, 40 of our attendance figures (13%) are estimated from eight different clubs – Derry City (16), UCD (10), Athlone Town (5), St Pats (3), Shamrock Rovers (2), Limerick (2), Wexford Youths (1) and Waterford United (1). If we manage to acquire any of these figures in the meantime, we will update this article.
The 2016 League of Ireland attendance total comes in at 344,245. This is an average gate of 1,114 across the two divisions. Breaking it down per division, the Premier has an average gate of 1,471 with the First coming in with an average of 477. How does this rate to previous seasons? The only figures to compare to is in a press release by the FAI (FAI Press Release 1st December 2015 – SSE Airtricity League attendances increase in 2015) from last season. The only figures in the release were Cork City and Dundalk’s average attendance being ‘over 3,000’ with ‘almost 375,000’ attending games across the League. This was a ‘6.9% boost’ on the 2014 figures.
Comparing the only figures we can with this season, Dundalk’s average home gate this season came in at 2,738. Cork City’s turnstile turned on average 2,533 times per game this season. The overall total we have (includes 42 estimates so there is a margin of error to consider) is 8.2% less than 2015’s approximate total provided by the FAI.
Looking back to the 2014 season, the release stated a 6.9% boost which puts 2014 total at approximately 349,125 which is just a few thousand more than the 2016 total. But totals don’t tell the full story and so below is a comprehensive breakdown of the facts and figures surrounding the games and their attendances.
Highlights and Lowlights – The Facts and Figures
The total League of Ireland audience for 2016 was 344,245 across 309 games (269 official attendance figures and 40 estimates) with an average match crowd of 1,114.
In terms of overall crowds, Dundalk managed to pip Cork City to register the largest crowds across the season. Dundalk’s home gate represented 12.7% of the total League attendance, with Cork City coming in with 12.5%. Shamrock Rovers (9.5%), Sligo Rovers (8.7%) and Bohemians (7.6%) complete the top five.
Athlone Town sit at the bottom of the table with a total crowd of 2,025 attending Athlone Town Stadium this season. That represented 0.6% of the overall league crowd.
As teams played a different number of home games, the average per game is a better measure and once again Dundalk top the charts. The league winning side averaged 2,738 per game compared to Cork City’s 2,533. Shamrock Rovers are the only other club with an average over 2,000. (2,041).
Premier Division sides St Patrick’s Athletic (957), Bray Wanderers (933), Wexford Youths (480) and Longford Town (483) all failed to break an average of 1,000, something First Division side Limerick (1,332) did manage. Athlone Town once again loiter at the foot with an average attendance of 156. Waterford United come in second from bottom with 277.
Cork City’s home game against Dundalk before the midseason break was the league’s top attended fixture. 5,453 fans packed into Turner’s Cross to watch Stephen Dooley move the Rebel Army to within a point of the eventual league winners.
Dundalk’s game to seal the league title against Bohemians came in second with 4,637 in attendance as the Louth side made it three-in-a-row. The opening day clash of Finn Harps and Derry City was the third most watched league game in 2016. 4,195 fans filled Finn Park on the opening Friday in March.
The lowest attended game was Athlone Town’s August encounter with Cabinteely which we estimated 100 people attended. Athlone feature in the lowest 14 fixtures of the season. 11 home games and three away games - Waterford United, Cabinteely and UCD.
Total number of games played: 310 (309 plus a walkover)
Total League of Ireland 2016 Attendance: 344,245
Average gate for the 2016 season: 1,114
Average gate for Premier Division: 1,471
Average gate for the First Division: 477
Largest Attendance: 5,453 – Cork City 1-0 Dundalk
Lowest Attendance: 100 (est) – Athlone Town v Cabinteely
Does showing games on TV impact attendances?
There were 22 televised games this season, 21 of which were Premier Division games; the sole First Division game featuring Limerick’s league victory away to UCD which was actually streamed on FAI TV. Throughout the season and for many previous seasons, TV coverage has often been considered a damaging factor to a club’s gate. So is that really the case?
The 22 games played featured nine clubs playing at home: Dundalk (6), Cork City (4), Shamrock Rovers (4), St Pats (2), Galway United (2), Derry City (1), UCD (1), Sligo Rovers (1) and Bohemians (1). The question here is has TV damaged their potential home gate.
An important caveat before looking into this is that TV games will usually be the most popular games; the clashes with the most to play for. To that end, the games should expect healthy attendances, the question here is whether TV hurts them.
Shamrock Rovers, Cork City, Galway United and Dundalk (see graphic below) all registered their biggest crowds of the season whilst the TV cameras filmed. Cork City and Dundalk also had cameras present for their 2nd best attended games. Overall many of the games played in front of the cameras were some of the best attended games for the clubs in question.
Whilst we can’t predict what the crowds would have been without the cameras, we can look at times the visiting teams came a-calling. Let’s focus on the lowest ranked TV games. Cork City hosted Longford Town after the midseason break – a time when many clubs attendances were down – and they got a crowd of 2,046. The second game of the season saw the Rebels host the Town. 2,302 folks turned up. Dundalk entertained Galway United in May with 2,170 fans turning up. It was very much in line with the crowd totals at the time. Galway’s return was the last day of the season with 3,635 there to see the Louth side finish out the season.
Bohemians hosted Derry City in July to a viewing audience of 1,177 inside Dalymount. We have no comparable figures from 2016 but in 2015 Derry City came and 1,354 viewed. In 2014, a season close to this season’s overall total, Derry visited twice with 1,144 and 1,155 in attendance.
Having further analysed trends and attendances of the other fixtures, it would seem that overall TV cameras really don’t have a huge impact on the expected crowds that turn up. There may be talking points around the monetary reward for clubs that do feature on TV but that is for another day. The argument that crowds suffer however doesn’t, on the whole, seem to be one that has much leverage when you look at the figures.
The effect of Midweek games
Midweek games, and by that I mean games not played on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, have been a bit more common this season. Cup replays, weather postponements, floodlight issues, and European commitments have all contributed to rescheduling of matches. In all however, 46 (15%) games were played between Monday and Thursday this season.
The First Division only featured in three of those games and render any analysis pointless. Of the 20 games on a Monday the average attendance was 1,303. The average for the 21 games on Tuesday was 1,428. The overall average for the Premier Division was 1,471. Interestingly there was only a single game played on Wednesday and one on Thursday all season. However, looking at the averages doesn’t really give an accurate picture of the true effect of the midweek match.
When you look at each Premier Division club and where the midweek games rank, you start to see that they all come in at the tail end of the attendance figures. Midweek figures, with only a minuscule amount of exceptions result in a weakened gate. When you are a club in the League of Ireland, every gate is vital for survival so midweek games can turn a profitable fixture into quite a loss of revenue.
An example is Bohemians played Sligo Rovers on a Saturday in Dalymount – 2,115 attended. The next time Sligo Rovers visited Dalymount Park was a Monday and the attendance amounted to 1,121. The solution to avoid these midweek fixtures would be to plan better around European competition and perhaps stretch the season out to allow space for manoeuvre.
Gameweek by Gameweek
For the purpose of this article I’ve created Gameweeks based on date ranges that try to cover a series of matches. The date ranges are included in the graphic.
Working off average attendances due to the changes in the number of games per Gameweek, the opening Gameweek remains top of the charts with an average gate of 1,912. That total has never really been threatened. The closing weeks of the season rallied to try and compete with the opening week average but to no avail.
There was a definite decrease in the average attendances after the summer break. It’s important to point out that it may have little to do with the break and more to do with the fact European games began to play havoc with fixtures and midweek games started to mess with attendances.
There is also a case to be made with the volume of games in a short space of time. Paying customers may have started to pick and choose games due to finances. Other factors, such as the start of foreign leagues, summer holidays or a teams lack of anything to play for could be contributing factors, but without any evidence, that is just speculation.
Club by Club
The 2016 season is not one Athlone Town fans will look back fondly on. The club finished bottom of the First Division and only registered three wins in a season mired by issues. The club’s home ground suffered a power outage leading to the postponement of one game and a walkover was given to Waterford United when the Midlands side failed to field a team. It is not surprising that they registered the lowest of the league’s average attendance figures. With five of their 13 attendance figures estimated, they ended the season with an average of 156 per home gate. A total of 2,025 people visited Athlone Town Stadium over the course of the season. To put that into perspective, Bohemians opening game of the season surpassed Athlone’s season total by 90.
Bohemians finished 8th this season and has a solid showing attendance wise. Only twice this season did the club drop below 1,000. Games against Galway United and Wexford Youths resulted in sub 1,000 attendances. One of those games fell on a Monday and the other was played during Euro 2016. The clubs best crowds came from the visits of Shamrock Rovers. April’s game had 3,627 in Dalymount, while 3,287 turned up for the October clash. The club’s average attendance was 1,627 and ranked 5th highest in the 2016 season.
Bray Wanderers didn’t have the best of starts to the season but the came strong as the league progressed and went on a tremendous run of form. That form also helped improve crowds with four of the last seven games registering over 1000. Prior to that, the Seagulls only broke 1,000 on the opening day. The late season crowd improvement wasn’t enough for the club to have an above 1,000 average (957). Their best attendance remained the season opener against Dundalk (1,704). Sligo Rovers’ Saturday visit in March ranks their lowest (623).
Like many clubs, the opening day was Cabinteely’s best showing. 902 showed up for the arrival of Athlone Town, the team that eventually finished below Cabo at the foot of the table. The South Dublin side are the new boys in the league and they are just finding their feet (and a fan base) so not too much can be read into their figures. They rank better than Athlone Town, Waterford United and UCD at present on average. Time will tell if the club can build and improve crowds. The season average was 352 with the visit of Athlone Town later in the season proving to be the clubs’ lowest crowd (148).
Cobh Ramblers dreams of promotion to the Premier Division ended at the hands of Drogheda United in a play-off but Stephen Henderson’s charges can be proud of the season they had. The First Division isn’t a place where crowds are drawn to and whilst Cobh’s average of 403 is low in the eyes of the casual observer, it is superior to four other First Division sides. If Henderson can maintain his sides progress on the pitch next season, the club will hope the people will come. Their final day of the season gate was their best with 760 coming into St Coleman’s Park, well above their average.
Cork City didn’t quite hit the high gates of 2015 but they still had crowds other clubs dream of. Regularly producing above 2,500 plus crowds, they managed over 4,000 on two occasions. Their average crowd of 2,533 was only surpassed by league champions Dundalk. The visit of the Louth side to Turner’s Cross was the largest attendance of the season.
Derry City, well, I’m going to write nothing about Derry’s attendance figures. We spent the entire season requesting figures from the Candystripes but at the time of writing we have yet to get a single official crowd from the 2016 season. Derry City attendance figures make up 38% of our estimated figures. We live in hope of getting the official counts.
Drogheda United’s season has reached a final home game against Wexford Youths – a place in the Premier Division awaits if the Drogs can overturn a 2-0 defeat from the first leg. Crowd wise, the season trundled along with a stable gate but they surged beyond their norm in the final league game with 1,087 coming to watch them play UCD. Their season average was 583.
Dundalk’s season has been one of the best in league history, retaking the league title, a cup final to play and blazing a trail in the Europa League. Their crowds reflect their progress and they top all the charts. Their average attendance of 2,738 is the best in the league and only twice this season did their crowd numbers dip below 2,000 and on both occasions they were only under a 100 from the two thousand.
Harps season started with a bang, and for a large part of the season their opening gate was the best attendance in the league. Their crowds fluctuated all season but they finished the season on a final day 1,008 which the club will hope to build on next sesason. Their average over the 2016 season was 1,210.
Galway United had a steady enough season and a steady enough crowd. Like most clubs, attendances dropped coming to the end of the season but picked up for the final few games. The Tribesman will be looking to capture the 1,627 of the opening day of the season or the 2,578 for the visit of Dundalk and less of the 652 that came out to watch Harps play next season.
Limerick destroyed the First Division and with it drove up the average attendance figures with regularly hosting 1,000 plus crowds in Markets Field. They will hope to keep up the crowds and build on them next season but they will need more of the same on the pitch to do so. Their average of 1,133 surpassed all First Division clubs and some Premier Division ones.
Longford Town’s season resulted in relegation and their crowds unfortunately matched their situation on the pitch. Floating below 500 for most of the season, they had brief highlights with 1,006 present for the visit of Sligo Rovers. Their lowest showing was 294 against Wexford Youths.
Shamrock Rovers had the third best average in the league and only one of three clubs to surpass 2,000. Nevertheless the Tallaght based side will feel they can do better and improve on those numbers.
Shels had a so-so season attendance wise with crowds never dropping or growing much beyond their average of 552. Their final game showing against Waterford United saw 910 turn up. That game featured a number of initiatives to attract young fans from various quarters and the numbers reflect a successful venture.
Sligo Rovers crowds were strong throughout the campaign with all games registering above 1,000. Their season average was 1,752. Like so many clubs their best showing was the opening day with 3,068 turning up for the clash of the Rovers.
ST PATRICK’S ATHLETIC
The Saints crowds trended mostly downwards all season from a strong start. Their worst crowd of the season surprisingly came with the visit of Cork City (369) as the season drew to a close. Pats will hope for a better league campaign and a better showing attendance wise for 2017. They averaged 1,097 for the season.
UCD, like Derry City, failed to provide many official figures. Four in total were given with the rest estimated. For that reason I won’t be talking much about them but hope that we will get the attendances in the future.
Waterford United had a tough year financially and their crowds didn’t help ease that. An average attendance of 277 was the second lowest in the league. Their best crowd was the visit of Limerick on the opening day (720) with Athlone Town registering their worst with only 167 turning up.
Wexford Youths will have loved to have broken 1,000 once this season but you’d suspect they’d will settle with the chance to try break that next season as they face a play-off to ensure they do that in the Premier Division. They ended up with an average crowd of 569.
If you have made it this far, congratulations. If you have any comments or issues with facts and figures, you can reach me on @garethpenrose. I would ask you to forgive any errors made, as there was a mountain of constantly arriving figures. I'd like to thank again all the clubs and volunteers that continue to provide figures. If you do use these figures found here further afield, I'd appreciate if you would also give Extratime.ie credit as it has taken a lot of effort to source and compile this info.