The Matthew Tipton Column this week takes a look at ways in which Irish League clubs can enhance attendances.
How do we get more fans through the gates?
This question is often asked in boardrooms, on the terraces and even in dressing rooms up and down the country.
Is summer football the answer? Yes.
Should Irish League teams play on Friday nights? Yes.
Could Amateur League and youth football move to Sundays? Yes.
Yes is the simple answer (but that wouldn’t make for good reading if I left it there!).
Firstly, I’ll look at why I think summer football is worth considering as a way of attracting more fans - as well as potentially improving the standard of football.
I had a brief taste of summer football during my spell at Dundalk in the League of Ireland and, as a player, it was brilliant to be playing matches when you knew the weather was going to be great in the evenings.
As a fan, the upside of summer football surely has to be the fact of going to the match in short sleeves for the majority of the season as opposed to having to wrap up in layers of clothes just to stave off hyperthermia?
During the summer months there is more opportunity to make a day of it for clubs to attract more families, with barbecues and fun days a lot easier to sell to lapsed fans or family members when the weather is going to be good.
As a manager, the chance to work on technical and tactical detail on the training pitch would be a lot better to do during the warmer months as the pace of training could be dropped due to the warmer weather.
We often don’t spend as much time as we would like as coaches on these aspects of the game as getting players to repeat techniques and skills in blowing gales or lashing rain is neither conducive to improving the players’ technical skills or the psychological state of mind for the players when they are soaked to the bone and the balls are blowing all over the pitch!
If we managed to improve the technical and tactical skill of the players that would show in better performances on the field during matches which would hopefully attract more fans who wouldn’t have the lure of the English or Scottish Premier League for a good chunk of the summer season.
As a parent of two boys I know I would much prefer to take them out to a football match during the warmer sunnier days or evenings with a bottle of sunscreen rather than now where packing a flask of hot drink is a priority.
If we can’t go down the route of trying summer football then trying different kick-off times is something that my own club, Warrenpoint Town, will be looking at for next season if we get promoted.
My preferred option would be Friday nights as there is something special about playing football under floodlights.
Another reason for Friday nights is the fact we are a predominantly part-time league with players having jobs away from football.
I know many people will feel the idea of playing a game of football after a hard week at work is crazy thinking on my behalf but my thought process is that the players won’t be (or shouldn’t be) doing anything on a Friday night anyway so getting the game on a Friday would leave them free to spend the weekend to have time with their families.
As a manager, if we played on a Friday night it would then leave my Saturday free to go to watch matches in the amateur leagues and get to scout players who are currently playing at the same time as ourselves (which is a problem I spoke about recently in my column about transfer windows).
Saturday kick-offs at 5:30 in the evening is also an option that appeals as that time will attract players from the amateur leagues.
My old club Portadown had a great day earlier in the season where they ran an Oktoberfest beer festival prior to a 5:30 kick-off. I managed to get up for the second half of that game and, from speaking to the organisers, it was a massive success with many new fans coming through the gates.
It’s something they are trying to plan again in the near future. Any such initiatives should be well-supported and promoted by all the clubs as it’s such a small league that every little bit of extra revenue helps the clubs.
The issue of Sunday football is one that is way above my pay grade and I understand the argument against it. However, strictly from a football point of view, there is wall-to-wall football on the TV on Sundays so letting youngsters or amateur league players use the plethora of facilities that are stood empty on Sundays is a better way of spending a Sunday as opposed to being in a pub watching the football or stuck in the house.
From a logistical point of view, the catchment age of paying fans through the gates of Irish League grounds would be between the ages of 16-40- which so happens to be the same age range of players in the amateur leagues. Therefore, if the games were on separate days then hopefully the attendances of Irish League clubs would increase.
Obviously these are only my opinions and nothing is guaranteed but as a man a lot wiser than me once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.