The Newcastle United sell-out, set to be Leeds United’s first capacity crowd in six years is an interesting case study in the effect televised fixtures have on gate receipts. I’ve long been of the opinion that if the football is good enough, the numbers take care of themselves. I’d argue that, far from being the effect of constantly televised fixtures, Leeds’ middling attendances have been as much a result of chaotic ownership, poor football, absurd pricing and twelve years outside the top flight.

Nowadays, sports fans can follow the latest games on the web. Even without a pay TV subscription, it isn’t difficult to find a live video stream for most games and while that might not be wholly legal, there’s no shortage of people doing it. Yet overall, attendances are on the up.

Massimo Cellino tried to argue Sky Sports’ coverage was having a negative effect on Leeds’ attendances, but he struggled to quantify It because what effect live coverage has is impossible to separate from poor scheduling (Tuesday nights for example), poor form, pricing and/or off-field troubles. If fans aren’t feeling particularly excited about their club’s prospects, it stands to reason that fewer will attend.

But elsewhere, attendances are booming, not least in the English Premier League – probably the most televised football league on earth – where several teams have increased their capacity in recent years to capitalise on demand and what that tells us is, more than ever before, people still want the live experience when you offer them something to be excited about. And that’s despite many of them subscribing to the channels their team is broadcast on.

In the same way that live coverage on BBC hasn’t affected Glastonbury ticket sales, live coverage of sport doesn’t provide the same experience that attending it in person does, and for that reason, there’ll always be demand for tickets. In many cases, people attend live events having seen it on TV first. Glastonbury is a good example of that, constantly increasing capacity, only to sell out in minutes, as more and more people see what’s on offer and want to experience it themselves. And the same thing is happening in the Premier League. The more exposure it gets, the more demand there is.

With improving football providing faint hope for our long-awaited resurgence and a match-up against a decent side in Newcastle United, I don’t think anyone was surprised to see tickets flying out of the door. But they did so despite TV coverage, high pricing and a rescheduled kick-off, because all of that is secondary to entertainment value.

Now I’m not going to argue that a fixture rescheduled for a night time, midweek kick-off after being chosen for live TV coverage isn’t going to take a hit (and nor would Sky, they compensate each team per game televised for that reason). But the problem is the rescheduling, not the live broadcast. The fact is, people have jobs to go to the next day and standing in Elland Road on a freezing cold, November night isn’t as easy to stomach as a 3pm fixture on a Saturday. There’s no denying that in this example, some people would choose to save their £30+ and sit at home watching the game with the central heating on. But those same people are easily swayed by other factors too. A decent run of form makes the Sky option less desirable, as does cheaper ticket prices and decent opposition.

If I had my way, EVERY game would be televised at 3pm on a Saturday. The club’s could sell TV season ticket packages to their fans, increasing revenues across the board. Plus as we’ve already established, people WANT the live experience, so even those who choose to buy a TV season ticket would undoubtedly go to a few games in person.

The point of all this is that Massimo Cellino was wrong. As was Ken Bates before him and every other chairman who’s chosen to lash out at TV companies for broadcasting their team when things aren’t going so well and they’re trying to charge extortionate amounts to fans.

What really effects attendance is the quality of entertainment on offer. Everything else is secondary to that. You don’t hear UEFA moaning about domestic fixtures forcing them to schedule their Champions League competition in midweek, because they could play it at 3am on a Tuesday morning and people would still attend. I’ve been beating the same drum for so many years now, I’m bored of saying it, but improving things on the pitch, improves everything else. A football club has to be about successful football above all else and while that seems (and is) incredibly obvious, it doesn’t seem to register with those who take ownership of Leeds United. Let’s hope the Newcastle sell-out is the slap in the face our latest owner required.

On and on…

  • Luke

    I hope those who brand fans as unwanted “part-time” supporters make note of this article. Not all fans are “loyal” to watching rubbish football, loosing most weeks and paying £37 for the privilege of doing so!

    Sometimes the only way owners listen and change things is when people vote with their feet and thus profits start falling. So rather than abusing the “part time” supporters thank them for giving the ownership a wake-up call and getting us playing well for the first time in years!

    • Wayne Wellwood

      Just get a season ticket works out at around £24 a game, winning or losing doesn’t matter you support or you don’t simple as that. Of course some fans can’t attend due to family or work commitments but they go when they can again win or lose. As for the article using the biggest draw in the championship as an example as to why Massimo (and all the other clubs who complain about fixture changes) is wrong, well it’s a load of bollocks. The point was at home our attendance (usually) drops and the compo of around 100k doesnt cover the shortfall and neither does the pitiful travelling support clubs bring to the re arranged fixtures whereas away the opposition get compo and Leeds fans filling their stadium.

      • TSS

        Top of the league and in-form, Saturday, Tuesday or Christmas Day, Elland Road sells out. The point was made that a better opposition naturally increases the crowd, so if Leeds are in sight of playing better opponents, people are interested. Sky is irrelevant, every Premier League game can be seen on Sky or online and they seem to be doing OK.

        And as for scheduling, I made that point!

        • Irving08

          I seriously doubt that we would sell out every game. You underestimate the number of children – and even adults – who only get to games courtesy of grandparents. And I’m pretty sure there are many unextended families that couldn’t afford it either. Our places – well theirs in my case – might be filled by richish students, but even then I doubt we’s fill the ground every match at current prices for adults in particular.

  • leeds mick

    I wouldn’t normally correct the grammar of fellow Leeds supporters,but there’s a glaring mistake in your headline mate. “affect”not “effect”. Anyway,I’m a firm believer that the lower the ticket prices,the more people will turn up and with gate receipts providing a smaller amount of income theres no need for Cellino to take the p–s out of working people. We could have full houses every week if we had sensible ticket prices for both home and away fans.

    • TSS

      Very weird. I wrote it in Word and used ‘affects’ (still have the document opened) I’m sure that’s been changed by a grammar plugin we use on the back-end. Very odd if that’s the case. Anyway, good spot. Totally missed it. MOT.

  • FRED

    Tickets prices have always been a problem since Leeds dropped out of the Premier League and some fans simply can’t afford to throw their money down the drain, by watching a Leeds team struggling, from October onwards, but thankfully this season is turning out to be a lot more value-for-money, even though Leeds fans are still being charged Premier League prices.
    Newcastle fans may have been saying derogatory things about Leeds fans this week, since the sold-out signs went up, but they haven’t been out of the top flight for twelve consecutive years and haven’t been charged Premier League prices, to watch some extremely poor Leeds teams in the Championship, which included the three seasons that Leeds were in League One.
    It’s hard to know just what the proper capacity is at Elland Road these days, with at least two thousand seats lost from the East Stand executive box redevelopment and other seats pulled out in other areas of the stadium, as well as the over-the-top segregation.
    Before Ken Bates set foot inside Elland Road, the ground capacity was 40,200 and I very much doubt weather Elland Road will ever see a capacity crowd any bigger than 36,000, until the stadium is expanded.

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  • leeds mick

    Great article. Wouldn’t it be great though,if Chairmen/owners could see the big picture and not just drastically reduce ticket prices but the cost of replica kits also? These reductions could be offset by the tv money and the money from shirt sponsors. Now that fans are scammed every season instead of every two seasons,clubs are just taking the p–s even more. Obviously the more shirts sold,the more a sponsors brand gets publicized. Its common knowledge now that match tickets make up an ever decreasing contribution to a a clubs revenue but who in England can take the first leap? Dortmund do it and their ground is rammed every home game.

  • markman

    Intelligent article
    cant agree with the Glastonbury analogy,that comes around once a year and is a sell out before they announce the headline acts.