FOOTBALL supporters have come out firmly in favour of bigger leagues, run by a single governing body, in a survey carried out by the Scottish Football Association.
• To view the survey in full on the Scottish FA website, click here
Almost 7,000 fans took part in the first-ever National Football Survey, which also produced a consensus in favour of more even distribution of income from broadcasting rights and sponsorship deals.
The survey was carried out before the Scottish Premier League released its proposals for a three-division, 12-12-18 set-up. The vote in favour of bigger leagues represents another setback for those proposals, which are due to be voted on by the SPL later this month before being debated by the Scottish Football League. But the SPL can take some consolation from the fact that its preference for three divisions, as opposed to the current four, found favour with fans.
A total of 6,755 supporters completed the survey, 95 per cent of whom were male. Asked to describe their club allegiances, 1,366 said they were Celtic fans and 1,069 said they supported Rangers. Hearts were the third best-represented with 553 respondents, followed by Dundee United (458), Aberdeen (415) and Hibernian (393). Berwick Rangers and Annan had the smallest representation with just four fans each.
Asked what size of top division they preferred, a majority – 51 per cent – opted for 16 clubs. Eighteen per cent preferred 18, and 3 per cent wanted more than 18. A further 15 per cent wanted a 14-club top flight,
2 per cent said they did not know, and another 2 per cent opted for ten clubs. A mere 9 per cent were in agreement with SPL plans to have a top division of 12 clubs.
Asked how many divisions Scottish league football should consist of, only 8 per cent voted in favour of the present set-up of four. A clear majority of 62 per cent opted for three, while 24 per cent wanted only two.
Asked their main reason for choosing a certain size of top division, almost half the fans said they wanted a reduction in the number of games against each team per season. Just under a quarter said their primary motive was to make the league more competitive, while 13 per cent said there was no difference in standard between the bottom of the SPL and the top of the First Division.
Supporters were also asked a number of questions about their matchday experiences, from how and with whom they travelled to games, to what deterred them from going to more home matches. Ticket cost was cited as a barrier to more regular attendance by 54 per cent of fans. Work commitments was mentioned by 43 per cent, kick-off times 38 per cent, family commitments 31 per cent and transport costs 24 per cent. The lack of standing areas at SPL games was another reason
SFA chief executive Stewart Regan welcomed the survey and said its findings were broadly in line with his organisation’s opinions on the state of the game. “We believe the National Football Survey will be an essential tool year-on-year to gauge the mood of Scottish football’s fans and measure the progress of our own targets,” he said. “Naturally, league reconstruction is the hot topic among the supporters at the moment, and while the numbers remain subjective, the overwhelming majority of fans believe a single league body, fairer financial distribution and pyramid [structure] are essential in any reconstruction process.
“While ultimately it is a matter for the league bodies to decide on, the feedback from supporters is in line with the Scottish FA’s view and I am sure the results of the report will be taken on board by the respective bodies.
“In general, the National Football Survey has provided us in the first year with some excellent baseline data from which the Scottish FA, the league bodies and Supporters Direct Scotland can shape future objectives and measure the success of our existing and ongoing strategic goals. I would like to thank all who participated in what will become an annual survey.”
SPL chief executive Neil Doncaster did not directly address the finding that most fans preferred a bigger top division than his own model proposed, but welcomed the fact that most supporters approved of their matchday experience within grounds. “The response to the National Football Survey has been excellent,” he said. “The fact that more than three quarters of those responding considered football as an important part of their families’ lives is an incredibly powerful sentiment, and supporters have once again proved that they care deeply about their club and indeed the wider game in Scotland.
Encouragingly, the results show that match day in the SPL is
now considered a very family-friendly experience, and this is credit to the hard work being carried out at each club under the Family Champions programme. We recognise that, among other barriers to attending, supporters would like safe-standing areas to be introduced. A change to the SPL rules now allows for safe-standing pilot schemes. We will continue to strive to improve the SPL matchday experience.”
SFL chief executive David Longmuir said that his body along with the SPL and the SFA would take note of the views expressed and act on them where they could. “Scottish football supporters are the most passionate in the world,” he said. “They have demonstrated by this response how much they care about Scottish football’s future. All three football bodies will take these views seriously and where possible deliver against them.
“The SFL is particularly proud of the role we are playing in helping clubs do more in their communities, which brings fans closer to their clubs and makes them aware of the important role their club plays in a wide range of areas. The principles which are helping us shape the future structure of the game seem to be shared by the views of the fans who responded to the survey. That in itself is very significant and encouraging.”