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The Scudamore years: Match attendances and the fan

Richard Scudamore summarised his measures of success for the Premier League in an interview in 2015: “Attendance No1. Global audience No2. That’s it. How many people are turning up and how many people are watching,” he said.

To protect match attendances and reduce oversaturation of the media product, he made no attempt to overturn the blackout which prohibits the broadcasting of EPL matches in England between 2.45pm and 5.15pm on a Saturday. His former media advisor Phil Lines says the sanctity of the 3pm kick-off was one of the few areas he disagreed with the outgoing chief executive in the time they worked together.

“When I sold the matches internationally, I was selling all 380, and I was a firm campaigner that we should get rid of it,” he says. “It always seemed wrong to me that an English fan could go on holiday to Asia and watch all ten matches across a weekend. I don’t understand why we don’t change that and let everyone watch the matches they want to see.

Scudamore’s adherence to the blackout rules had the desired result where attendances were concerned. The latest figures from the Deloitte Annual Review of football reveal that the Premier League had the highest stadium utilisation of any of the ‘big 5’ European leagues at 96%, up 7% on the previous season, giving an average match attendance of 35, 838. The report said the continued appeal of the Premier League was evidenced by the attendances of three clubs promoted for the 2017/18 season. Attendances increased 18% for Huddersfield Town, 9% for Brighton & Hove Albion and 2% at Newcastle United after they came up into the league with all three clubs effectively filling their stadiums for every match.

Source: Deloitte Annual Review of Football

Peter Daire thinks the decision to keep the 3pm blackout also helped to protect the Premier League TV product. He points to the example of Serie A where the decision to televise every single game has led, among other things, to a decrease in attendances which has in turn damaged the league’s media rights sales.

Former Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry says it was exactly the right thing to do, to protect the lower-tiers of the game, especially given that 3pm kick-offs would not represent prime-time viewing. “You also have to respect the other competitions, not just football league but grassroots. 3pm is traditionally the time when non-league and amateur is played and respecting that as a window when you’re not going to be enticing people on TV is exactly the right approach to take,” he says.

The increased matchday revenues, and arguably the increased media revenues, generated by Scudamore’s philosophy of scarcity led to what the chief executive referred to as the ‘virtuous circle’ of investment in players and the matchday experience that continued to burnish the product. In the latest set of accounts, total Premier League club capital expenditure in 2016/17 amounted to £395m as clubs like Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City and Arsenal continued to invest significant amounts of money upgrading their stadiums or building new ones. The fact that only five clubs spent less than £1m indicated that Premier League clubs were still committed to improving their facilities and the matchday experience.

“The positive thing to say is we’ve now got the best stadiums in the world in this country,” says Peter Daire. “Talking about the bricks and mortar of the stadium and what’s within the stadium, what’s around them, it’s a good experience. Although it’s my personal view that ticket prices at certain clubs are still too high.”

However, Scudamore won plaudits from fan groups and proved that the Premier League wasn’t driven entirely by commercialism when clubs took the opportunity provided by the last television deal to vote for a £30 cap on away ticket prices.

Part 1: Media rights sales

Part 2: Sponsorship

Part 3: International expansion and the 39th game

Part 5: Scudamore’s successor

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