Ann Budge: SPFL must look at improving attendances

The Hearts owner was elected to the SPFL board earlier today. Picture: Toby Williams
The Hearts owner was elected to the SPFL board earlier today. Picture: Toby Williams
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Ann Budge believes improved communication is the key to modernising Scottish football and attracting fans back to the game in increasing numbers.

The Hearts chairwoman, Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell and Partick Thistle managing director Ian Maxwell were voted on to the Scottish Professional Football League board at Hampden Park as the three new Premiership representatives.

Hibernian chief executive Leeann Dempster was voted on as Championship representative while Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson failed to get re-elected.

Asked what she thought was the big issue facing Scottish football, Budge said: “One of the things, clearly, is attendances. That said, attendances are actually on the up.

“Statistics say we must be doing something right.

“Attracting people back to football again is about improving the whole experience of going to a football game.

“Better engagement with the fans so that they know they are being listened to, all of these sorts of things.

“It is about how do we communicate, how do we make sure that almost everyone knows what is going on and what the thinking is behind some of these things.

“That’s my only frustration, understanding why we make certain decisions and it is a challenge.

“I will be focusing on making sure we communicate transparently and openly whenever we can.

“We have a number of new faces and hopefully that will bring some fresh thinking and a different approach to some things.”

Clubs voted through a resolution which puts more onus on them to tighten regulations on unacceptable conduct, although it falls short of the much-discussed strict liability.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson had said that the government could step in to tackle crowd disorder following last season’s William Hill Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park.

May’s final saw Hibernian lift the trophy for the first time since 1902 with a late win over Rangers, but it was marred by violence after fans spilled onto the pitch following the final whistle which led to the Scottish Football Association setting up an independent investigation.

SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster said: “Clubs approved changes to the rules in terms of liability in relation to unacceptable conduct and those mirror the changes that were agreed at the Scottish FA’s AGM earlier this year.

“These are positive changes. Clubs are to be commended on agreeing those changes.

“There will be more of an onus on the clubs to identify those engaging in unacceptable conduct at matches and to deal with them appropriately.

“They are not strict liability but we have seen that strict liability doesn’t work.

“Let’s see what the response is, we have a good relationship with the government, we are working with them to address the issues that are there.

“I am sure they will welcome the changes that have been made by the clubs today.”

Thompson quit the board last season on the same day he expressed “shock and anger” when his already-relegated club were fined and deducted three points for fielding unregistered players in May, before he performed a U-turn and sought election as a Championship representative.

He left Hampden saying: “Clubs vote for what they want to vote for so that’s fine.

“I can concentrate 100 per cent as I have been re-establishing my club and challenging for promotion this year.”

Eric Drysdale of Raith Rovers is the Championship’s second representative while Brechin City’s Ken Ferguson will represent League One and Two.

The board also contains Doncaster, SPFL chairman Ralph Topping and independent non-executive director Karyn McCluskey.

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