Club talk

National One attendances – the winners and losers

I thought it might be interesting to have a look in today’s post at the average attendance records of the 16 clubs in National One this season and compare them to those of last season, just to get a feel of how clubs are faring generally in terms of numbers attending games over the last 18 months or so..

In the case of those teams either relegated or promoted at the end of last season, namely  Birmingham Moseley, Macclesfield,  Old Albanian and Cambridge, I’ve taken the figures for last season from either the Championship (Moseley), National Two – North (Macclesfield) and National Two – South ( Old Albanian and Cambridge).

I’ve used Statbunker for the information and, as far a I can work out, figures given include last weekend’s fixtures, so it all should be up-to-date and if if it isn’t, then it’s not going to be too far wide of the mark.

I’ve deliberately used average attendances rather than total attendances because some clubs, like Coventry, have played an extra game at home, so using the average figure won’t skew results.

As far as looking at the information is concerned, there are plenty of inconsistencies.

For instance, newly-promoted Macclesfield has the greatest percentage increase on last season at 24%, which is probably what one might expect given they are going up a league. However, Old Albanian, also promoted last season, shows no increase whatsoever and Cambridge’s average attendance has actually fallen by almost a fifth since joining National One last September.

The decline in the Cambridge gate is an odd one for me.

Whilst Cambridge only lost three games all season and successful teams will almost always enjoy increased attendances, you would expect most of those attending last season to continue watching their team play in a higher tier of national rugby, as well as the club attracting additional supporters, especially in an area where there aren’t many top teams? Clearly, though, that is not happening so far even though they haven’t had too bad a start to their National One campaign.

Hopefully, the return of Rowland Winter to his alma mater will put a few extra on the gate .

I, for one, have got than one pencilled in the diary!

And then Hartpury’s situation is different again. If I’m right about successful teams attracting greater support, then you’d expect Hartpury’s attendance to be vastly  increased, given their record of 20 games played, 20 games won. Not only that, but they are scoring tries for fun, have a points difference already of +642 and have a crop of talented youngsters playing for them, many of whom are going to be stars of the future…

…but despite all that, a paltry 16 additional supporters on average have attended their home games this season.

That just wouldn’t happen at Coventry. Gates would double at the very least if we were in Hartpury’s position.

Is it right that to almost every  other club in the league, bums on seats is of massive significance, a huge source of revenue that clubs rely on to survive and yet Hartpury …?

The argument is an old one and too easy to fall back on, so I’ll move on.

 

National League One 2016/17 Average % Diff. on 2015/16
Macclesfield 384 24
Rosslyn Park 632 17
Ampthill 373 8
Coventry 1234 7
Hartpury College 335 5
Esher 384 1
Old Albanian 337 0
Blaydon 267 0
Fylde 592 -2
Blackheath 612 -12
Hull Ionians 239 -17
Cambridge 411 -17
Loughborough St 279 -18
B’ham Moseley 860 -18
Plymouth Albion 941 -20
Darlington MP 807 -20

Moseley have probably suffered two-fold.

The attraction of National One rugby just won’t be as great for some of those who attended Billesley Common last year and, discounting Coventry of course, the amount of travelling support in the Championship will have been far greater than the club will have enjoyed this season.

The departure of Kevin Maggs shows just what a struggle it is for Moseley to survive financially at this level and they are rightly cutting their cloth according to their needs, although losing Maggs must have been a difficult decision. Just what the long-term effects of a prolonged stay in National One might be for them is a big unknown, but I genuinely hope that they fair better than the likes of the Bees and Rugby, neither of which lasted too long.

Hopefully, we’ll see a resurgent Moseley in the not too distant future – provided it’s the season after Coventry are promoted.

Plymouth and Darlington are both also well down on last year’s figures and one can only guess at the effect that might be having on the balance sheets for both this season and next. Both clubs are rumoured to be finding things tough going financially, so the last thing they’ll want is such a dramatic decrease in numbers coming through the turnstiles. If the BPA is expensive to maintain, goodness knows what the costs involved in running Northern Echo Arena are.

Part of the reason for having a look at the current attendance figures for National 1 was as a result of Coventry’s much improved home gate last weekend  of  1397. It wasn’t the club’s biggest of course, that was achieved just before Christmas when we welcomed Moseley back to the BPA after a six year absence; their visit was always going to set a National 1 home record…

But in many respects, last weekend’s attendance is more pleasing. There were no promotions running to entice folk in and it comes on the back of a pretty heavy defeat at Hartpury. I’ve always believed Cov has a core of very faithful supporters, probably around the 1000 mark, and on top of that are another 700 or 800 hundred who I am convinced would, indeed will, return when results improve and Coventry begin to be competitive at the top of this league. If and when…sorry, just when, Cov are heading the league, then attendances will be well up on that.

If Cov was presently a top three team and there was no run away leader, I am convinced we would be averaging over 1500 with gates of 2000 plus being achieved regularly in the run-in to the end of the season. Remember a couple of seasons ago when we were challenging Ealing for the top spot around Christmas time…? There were some big gates then and will be again if we can continue to make the progress we’ve made since last September..

Convinced of it…

The fact that we were 150 up on our average gate on Saturday, and with no disrespect intended whatsoever to Esher, against a side that perhaps isn’t one of the most attractive fixtures in the league¹ for most Cov supporters, is encouraging.

Maybe, just maybe, there is a growing belief amongst supporters that Coventry is beginning to turn a corner and we are witnessing the birth of a squad that in a couple of years time will be capable of something special…

Too early to really tell at the moment, I suppose. and with a couple of away games coming up to break the momentum, as well as the advent of the Six Nations, we might well see a drop in attendances…but I do think the size of last week’s crowd was really heartening and a huge step in the right direction.

And whilst Rowland Winter was extremely disappointed in the performance on the day, I can’t help but feel that most people left the BPA on Saturday having been thoroughly entertained.

Alright, Cov certainly put its supporters through the mill, ensuring they suffered a range of emotions, but there was plenty of exciting rugby to watch, from both sides, and if value for money is one of the key factors in persuading the ‘undecideds’ to return to the BPA, then most of those who came on Saturday will be back in three weekends’ time.

Coventry’s average gate for the season is somewhat at the moment inflated by the 2712 who came to watch Moseley. Take that away and replace it with a season’s average and actually the overall average would be less than that achieved last year, although the impact lessens with each home game and by the end of the season it would probably be much the same.

It does go to show just how beneficial Moseley’s presence in National 1 is, financially, for Cov. The gate was just about 1500 more than on average and, for the sake of argument, let’s say 1100 of them paid the equivalent of the full entry price of £15 (to allow for those under 16 and c0ncessions) – well that’s something approaching £16500 of additional takings on the gate alone, let alone profits from the bar and so on. Big money…

…Moseley’s loss is very much Coventry’s gain.

And whilst it’s a little off-piste, were Moseley still in the Championship, would Wasps have offered them first dibs when it came down to allocating Jack Willis, Tome Howe and Owain James experience at national level? Probably…

The attendance figures included also open up a whole new topic of discussion, namely the proposed salary cap to be placed on National One sides by the RFU  – £150,000 as of now.

The whole idea of salary caps is massively unfair on clubs like Coventry, clubs that have worked tirelessly to ensure financial stability and that are currently  striving to invest in their grounds and facilities to provide additional funding streams to build squads capable not just of achieving promotion from National One, but also competing competitively in the Championship.

That said, when there are clubs surviving on average gates of less than 300-400, maybe there is an argument to say that a salary cap might prevent overly ambitious chairmen from over-stretching themselves financially. Maybe all clubs at all levels should be made to open their books to the RFU annually to ensure that income doesn’t exceed expenditure…a sort of financial MOT? Every club would need a certificate of financial viability (?) in order to spend over and above the £150,000.

Maybe that happens already, but currently it just seems that the RFU get involved only when a club is about to go into administration or liquidation, by which time, of course, it’s far too late.

Coventry’s current gates of 1200 plus would ensure that they reach that figure of £150,000 comfortably, even before all the other extras such as drinks, hospitality and so on are included. Add on to that the income received from sponsors, conference and business events and so on and  despite the obvious outgoings involved in running a large stadium like the BPA, we could generate far more income over and above the £150000 that could then be directed to player salaries – I guess that’s hugely oversimplifying things, but I do believe the basic premise is correct.

Why should clubs like Coventry be prevented from deciding their own salary structure if it is within their means…?

Anyway, that’s a discussion best left to those in the know…and one I’m sure we’ll be hearing an awful lot more of in the not too distant future.

 

 

¹ Other than to see John Inverdale’s reaction to a heavy Esher defeat – always a classic moment in any season, sadly ruined this year by his absence and last by an Esher win. 😉

5 replies »

    • I’m shocked in that case…it was quite remiss of him. He sat in front of us a couple of seasons ago and after Esher had shipped 30 plus points by half-time, he failed to return for the second half. Will make a point of introducing myself to him next season…

      Like

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