WITH the twin objectives of saving costs and improving the atmosphere at Pittodrie, Aberdeen have announced that they will be closing part of the stadium from next season.
The upper tier of the Richard Donald Stand will be closed to spectators, with the club saying via a statement on their website that the section will likely be opened for ‘selected fixtures throughout the season’.
Pittodrie can seat up to 22,199 spectators – in Scotland, only Celtic Park, Murrayfield, Hampden and Ibrox are larger – but Aberdeen’s average attendance for the 2012/13 season so far stands at a disappointing 10,503, which is less than half the stadium’s capacity. The attendance at their most recent home game, a 2-0 win over Hearts at the end of last month, was 10,175.
Asked if the decision to close part of the ground was for financial reasons or simply to improve the matchday experience for supporters, an Aberdeen spokesman last night told The Scotsman: “A bit of both.” He added: “We want to create a better atmosphere in the ground rather than having people dotted around the stadium.”
A statement on the club website added: “The club recently conducted a supporters’ survey aimed at identifying the various initiatives and changes needed to create a better matchday atmosphere at Pittodrie, with one of the main outcomes being to try and ensure greater numbers of supporters in fewer areas around the stadium.
“The club also attempted to contact all season-ticket holders currently seated in the upper section of the Richard Donald Stand to ascertain their views on whether they would be willing to relocate next season to a different part of the stadium. The overall response from the vast majority of supporters contacted was that they would be willing to relocate and as a result – in addition to the feedback from our recent fans survey on the match-day experience at Pittodrie – the club has taken the decision to close the RDS Upper Deck for the 2013/2014 season.
“With almost three-quarters of Aberdeen fans stating they would like to sit in the more heavily populated areas of Pittodrie Stadium, we hope this move will encourage the migration of our supporters to areas of the stadium which are less concentrated. Aberdeen is committed to making the match-day experience a memorable one for our dedicated supporters. We want Pittodrie to become a ‘fortress’ again and for the Red Army to be united in voice as they back the team on a match-day.”
To compensate for the inconvenience, supporters who currently hold season tickets for the upper tier of the Richard Donald Stand are being given priority when seats are made available for the new campaign and a 15 per cent discount on the cost.
The club have invited fans to fill the empty space in the Richard Donald Stand with banners and flags but have stressed that the upper tier will be reopened “for selected fixtures” – in other words, if there is demand for extra seats. When Celtic visited Pittodrie in November, the crowd figure was 18,083.
The Richard Donald Stand – named after former club chairman Dick Donald and opened in 1993 at a cost of £4.5 million – is at the east end of Pittodrie and replaced the Beach End. In total, it houses 6,000 fans and famously dwarfs the rest of the stadium.
Next season won’t be the first time that the upper deck of the stand has been closed to boost the atmosphere. It was also shut when 6,918 fans turned up to see Aberdeen beat East Fife 6-0 in a Scottish Cup tie in January 2011.
And Aberdeen are not the first club to close part of their ground as a cost-cutting measure. Also in 2011, Dunfermline, then a SPL club, decided to close the North Stand at East End Park to reduce costs. The Fife club’s chairman, John Yorkston, said at the time he expected the move would save them “well over £20,000 per season”. Last night, the Dons didn’t put a figure on how much they hoped to claw back.