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The best way to hide empty seats? Fill them

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The Spanish top flight is reportedly going to punish clubs responsible for broadcasting images of empty seats at their grounds next season. The unprecedented measure, spurred by a wish to rival the English Premier League’s galactic television deal, signals a conviction among Spanish Football authorities that a perceived lack of domestic support damages their league’s marketability.

The move should smack Scottish Football authorities square between the eyes. League bosses could have fined every Scottish Premiership side under such a rule for harming our game in the 2015/16 season as glaring chunks of empty stadium frequently polluted TV screens during match coverage. Empty stadiums make for uncomfortable viewing; when even our own supporters stay away. Why should a neutral television audience, a television company, or a potential sponsor buy into Scottish Football?

An alarming 42% of seats sat empty at SPFL matches over last season and the consequences of this are rampant. Empty seats don’t pay to watch the game; they don’t bring their friends along to future games; they don’t buy pies, drinks, scarves or jerseys; they do not help conjure that intoxicating atmosphere which rouses season ticket holders and TV spectators alike.

As the La Liga chiefs have realised, they are a startling deterrent to anyone with an ember of interest in investing in football. It’s vital that we stop tolerating half-full stadiums as part of the status-quo.

Bayern Munich’s cheapest adult seat costs a quarter the price of Celtic’s £416 ticket; Bayern’s average attendance in 2014-15 was a staggering 97% of the Allianz Arena’s capacity, while 28% of the bright green seats at Celtic Park were left empty to stare-down TV cameras this season.

Elsewhere in Europe, Bohemians 1905 of Prague – comparable in size to Glasgow – play in a league similar in stature to the SPFL. They charge £65 for their cheapest adult season ticket. Their average attendance this season was an astounding 90% of Ďolíček Stadium’s capacity and the place is rocking on game day. In contrast, Partick Thistle charged the questionable sum of £308 for a season ticket over a campaign in which they drew an average attendance comprising 38% of Firhill Stadium’s capacity. Although Thistle, along with other SPFL sides, boast a freeze in season ticket prices, not even a Leicester City fan would stick a punt on attendances rising.

Celtic have spun a freeze in season ticket price as a move to ‘thank fans again for their continued backing of the club’, but a more transparent version is that attending Celtic matches will remain over-priced for at least one more season.

Logic is absent from the price of football in Scotland and it’s choking the life from our game. The benefits of lively and crowded stadiums are immeasurable. After all, football without fans is nothing.

In Germany, Uli Hoeness’ mantra that ‘fans are not like cows, who you milk’ is adhered to and the reward is there for all to see. Clubs elsewhere like Bohemians 1905 recognise a loyal following as a privilege and their fans reward them with a sizeable raucous backing every week.

Now, though late to the party, La Liga is acting to contain the blighting effect of sparsely populated stadiums, will the issue reach the Scottish Football agenda?

Written by Scott McLean

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