As AFC launch their consultation with fans to relocate the family section to the Richard Donald Stand Lower and the singing section to the Merkland, DST member Lewis Walker examines the fans’ relationship with club, and whether the ‘product’ on the park is enough to sustain it.:
“This time last year, in the hope of maintaining some sanity, I decided to combine my degree of International Business with my interest in football and write my dissertation on ticket prices in Scotland. The primary objective of my study was to discover whether fans in Scotland perceived ticket prices here to be ‘fair and reasonable’. On top of this I aimed to learn what other aspects drove attendances in Scotland and, to add an international facet, how our game compared to other countries across Europe from a fans perspective.
Through an online survey, results were initially to be obtained through AFC supporters clubs but having little luck down that route, I opted for posting the link up on the ever-polarising Aberdeen Mad- thank you to those who filled it in. Having supported Aberdeen all my life but also experienced life in a few different countries throughout Europe, the results were of little surprise to me. Views on season ticket prices at Pittodrie were conflicting but most stated they were content with them. Match-day tickets are regarded as too expensive, the food’s rubbish, the pre-match entertainment is rubbish, not being able to have a lager with your pals is rubbish and not being able to safely stand is also rubbish!
You’ll not be surprised to hear that the majority of respondents who’d attended a match abroad paid far less for their ticket, while also enjoying a far better match-day experience. The results that triggered my interest most though were those obtained from asking supporters whether price was an afterthought and if they would attend Aberdeen matches regardless of price. Although many emphasised ‘within reason’, 70% and 55% agreed with those statements, respectively. While that may come as no surprise to most, when you actually think about it, it’s really quite bizarre.
Week in, week out, thousands of us will pay our hard-earned cash and make our way to a crumbling stadium (God love her though) which is ideally located for those who love sub-zero temperatures and shitting seagulls. On the way to our seat we’ll most likely decline the not-so-tempting advances of an overpriced, stuck-to-the-foil pie before sitting on a creaky plastic chair and preparing to call the referee an arsehole for 90 minutes.
Then we’ll head out and do it all over again as soon as we can.
In what other spectacle do people pay over-the-top prices to witness something they don’t even enjoy that much? And why do we do it? Providing an answer, one survey respondent simply stated: ‘mug loyal customers we are’. Ignoring the Yoda-esque syntax, they’re very much correct.
How long can this be sustained though? We’re lucky in that we have an older generation who became hooked when not only we as a club were very good, but the sport in general was a lot better too. Rewind thirty years and provincial clubs like ourselves and soon to-go-down United could not only compete in Scotland, but compete on the continent too against genuine European heavyweights. Not only that, supporters were supporters, not customers, and could enjoy attending matches. Like proper bona fide enjoyment.
Standing and swaying with fellow fans in full voice knowing you’re not being watched and criminalised by stewards, officials and the media. Knowing you didn’t have to go home and risk seeing Jim White on the TV talking about the net-spend of football clubs funded by dirty money. When these fans who have experienced the idealistic days become our oldest supporting generation, it’ll be solely down to the youngsters who have grown up on the present day match-day experience to fill our ground.
They’re the lifeblood and the future of the football club. Can the club, and the Scottish game as a whole, honestly say they’re doing enough to encourage new supporters to the sport? You’ll always get fans who attend the big games; Celtic at home, United away for example. But we need to do more to enhance the match-day experience for every game at every ground so fan attendance can grow in the future, rather than slowly peter out.
Monday night was a prime example of what’s often so wrong in football. Who, in their right mind, believes it to be acceptable for Aberdeen fans to travel to Inverness on a Monday night in Wintery conditions? The easy answer is of course the following in any order: TV deal, BT, money, dictated. But people, including myself, booked time off work, paid petrol, paid the price of a ticket and more than likely had to pay for food and drink too. We’re also out in the freezing cold in a stadium which facilities’ include portaloo’s as toilets, with the match officiated by the most incompetent man ever known in Scottish football.
Then, incredibly, we’re asked to do the same just 4 days later.
There’s an apathy amongst supporters, a resignation that this is just how it is and will continue to be. Maybe it’s an Aberdonian thing, one respondent joked that other than winning trophies, the only thing that could improve Pittodrie attendances is ‘free lap dancers’. Another stated that ‘only delivering the goods on the park’ will rise crowds. And this is partly proven. Even when our season ticket prices grew at the rate Mark McGhee’s ego continues to, our average attendance grew with it… thank you Derek McInnes. I say only partly proven because we haven’t done enough in attempt to raise attendances in other ways.
If this lethargic attitude resonates amongst supporters in Scotland, you can be sure nothing will be done by those with the power to change. Yes, the euphoria of a last minute winner is unrivalled no matter what environment it’s in. No supporter could care less whether their pie’s burnt or their seat’s cracked if your idol cracks one in to the top corner against your rivals, but unfortunately this is a rare occurrence! Supporters should want to attend football matches no matter what their league position and form is. They should want to attend because, no matter what dross you can see on the park, it’s still an enjoyable way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
How long will it be before the aforementioned amount of fans who attend regardless of price, drops? When younger people who don’t have the disposable income to fork out hundreds per month find alternative ways to enjoy their weekends? In my eyes, it can’t be long. Positive steps need to be taken to enhance the match-day experience so an environment is created where more supporters can enjoy themselves again.
One can only wonder how long supporters in Scotland will continue to actively support their clubs through blind loyalty alone.”
If you’d like to know more about Lewis’ findings, you can contact him via Twitter, @lwalkrafc