Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan has admitted the Scottish game is not “in the best of places in terms of customer experience” as concern grows over the issue of falling attendances.
Regan attended the SFA’s inaugural convention on Wednesday when the issue of modernising the game and improving the customer experience was one of the key issues up for debate. The event was held the morning after a Scottish Cup replay between Inverness Caledonian Thistle and St Mirren attracted only 1,326 spectators.
Attendances were poor throughout the series of fourth-round fixtures played over the last weekend in November. This is the third season in which a new fixtures calendar adopted by the clubs has been in place. Top-tier sides are now introduced to the fourth round of the competition towards the end of the year rather than in January, as was previously the case.
Clubs complained that playing cup games so soon after Christmas impacted on attendances. However, poor turn-outs at games last weekend means the fixture schedule could be reviewed again. A return to the old format is one of the options to be considered. A fixtures working party will meet after Christmas and the Scottish Cup schedule is to be one of the issues under discussion. Some clubs are now concerned by the impact being out of the Scottish Cup by the end of the year can have on attendances.
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“It’s difficult to sit down and knee jerk into saying ‘that’s a problem’ and ‘that’s a problem’,” said Regan. “In terms of the Scottish Cup we’ve got to review the quality of the product. There’s been talk of teams being out of the Scottish Cup before Christmas and what it means. Equally, there’s been talk of fixture congestions at the back part of the season. Any change to competition rules would be considered by the members and approved through our agm. We have a fixture working party and that’s the sort of topic that will be debated. They will meet after Christmas and start planning next season so I’m sure a review of this season will be part of what they do.”
Regan’s own organisation, the SFA, was the target of criticism after setting high ticket prices for the recent international matches against Georgia, Republic of Ireland and England, the last of which was a friendly. Top band tickets sold for as much as £60 for the matches against Republic of Ireland and England at Celtic Park.
Regan suggested the pricing system was vindicated by the healthy attendance at both games but admitted the trick is to constantly assess the situation.
“Price is a key part of the marketing mix but your product has to be right as well,” he said. “What we did with our pricing strategy was balance the product, high-profile matches, with the price we thought was capable of being sold and we delivered two very well attended matches.
“We’re reviewing the next few months when we’ve got friendly matches and the next wave of qualifiers. But that whole marketing mix is important and we must learn from some of the lessons.”
Regan is still being asked to revisit the “Armageddon” claim he made in 2012 when Rangers faced the prospect of liquidation and being forced to begin again in the last tier of Scottish football. Some of the speakers at Wednesday’s convention succeeded in painting a similarly bleak picture for Scottish football’s future – part-time clubs in the Scottish Premiership was described as a distinct possibility given that eight of the league’s 12 clubs currently average attendances of below 5,000.
“What was said two years ago [Armageddon] was said at the time,” said Regan. “We’ve moved on now and we’re in a different place. We’re trying collectively to try and turn Scottish football around. We know there are still a huge amount of challenges but there are some positive stories and a number of clubs who have got rid of their debt and are self sufficient and, Dundee United and Hamilton have been mentioned, clubs developing players and selling them on.
“There is still a long way to go. We are not in the best of places financially. That has been made clear. We’re not in the best of places in terms of customer experience and we must listen and learn.
“The low attendances isn’t new news,” added Regan. “We all read the statistics every weekend. It makes you realise you can do one of two things. You can accept we’re in terminal decline – the phrase used on Wednesday – or draw a line in the sand and say ‘What do we do about it?’ We’re too good at beating ourselves up but we’ve got to actually create the plan and take the good things and put them into a joint plan and try and sell stories. We’ve got to sell a vision.”
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