by Ryan Hubbard –
Whilst browsing Twitter last week, I stumbled across a tweet from Gazeta Wyborcza journalist Przemysław Zych, which claimed that attendances during this year’s Ekstraklasa campaign were so far the lowest since the 2009/10 season. With the average of 7152-per-game after Matchday 16 still some way short of the 8319-per-game registered last season, it is also the first time in five years that the number has dipped below the 8000-mark.
During that 2009/10 season, the landscape of Polish football was very, very different.
Kraków rivals Wisła and Cracovia were dividing their time between Hutnik’s Stadion Suche Stawy and the Stadion Miejski in Sosnowiec, while the renovations on their own homes were being completed; and with Lech Poznań’s home at Ulica Bułgarska also under construction in readiness for Euro 2012, the Kolejorz were forced to play a number of their home games in Wronki. Silesian side Piast Gliwice were another side made to play miles away from their home town, tenants in Wodzisław Śląski while their new ground was being built.
Elsewhere, the relatively tiny grounds of Oporowska and Stadion MOSiR were still the homes of Śląsk Wrocław and Lechia Gdańsk respectively; while the capital’s biggest club Legia were still playing at Łazienkowska 3, however in a stadium which mostly resembled a building site. Now, all of the above have their modern stadia completed, with many more also either completed, or well on their way to being.
While the figures quoted are accurate, and indeed this season is seeing a lower average than the last, there are many things that need to be taken into account before reading into these figures as black-and-white.
Firstly, only part of the season has been played, with some clubs still to play their “most attractive” home fixtures. The large stadiums of Śląsk, Lechia and Lech are all still to host Legia, while the former two are also still to see the visit of their high-flying friends Wisła – all of which will likely add five-figure numbers onto their average attendance.
Secondly, there are two new clubs in the Ekstraklasa this season – two relatively small clubs who have replaced multiple Championship winners. Zagłębie Lubin and Widzew Łódź, whose combined stadium capacity edges over 26 thousand, went down to the Pierwsza Liga; with Górnik Łęczna and GKS Bełchatow, whose total fails to reach 12,500, promoted in their place.
With those factors in mind, the following table compares only the fixtures which have been played so far this season, with the same game last season; and therefore excludes the any games involving GKS Bełchatów and Górnik Łęczna, Zagłębie Lubin and Widzew Łódź. (All attendance figures taken from 90minut.pl)
CLUB BY CLUB
At first glance, Legia’s total attendance has dropped slightly this season, from 111,426 to 110,796 – a total of just 630. However, given the fact that Legia’s game with Ruch last season came directly after their game against Jagiellonia was abandoned due to crowd trouble, a more accurate figure would suggest that attendances are down by around 13,500 over just six games – an average drop of approximately 2,250 per game.
However Legia are still to host 2nd-placed Wisła, in a game which usually attracts a high number.
Considering that Wisła ‘s season is going much better than their last one, a total drop of over 17,000 supporters is, on paper, a large amount. However it must be taken into account that ultras in Wisła’s C-Sektor had boycotted their games this season against Piast, Lechia and Ruch; while last season, only the Podbeskidzie game is taken into account.
Disregarding the anomaly games above, attendances are down by close to 1000 per game; but with Lech and Cracovia still to visit, as well as the fans all back at Ul. Reymonta, this number could well move in the right direction.
Śląsk are currently the highest-ranked team to see an increase in total attendances so far this season. But while the games against Lech, Piast, Pogoń and Cracovia all saw rises of various amounts, they have actually seen just as many games with attendance decreases.
Three of the current top-four are also still to visit Wrocław, which will likely see numbers crawl up, especially if Śląsk maintain their position near the top of the table.
Consistent, and not by their own choice. The limited capacity due to ongoing building works at the Stadion Ernesta Pohla has seen 3000 people make their way through the gates for every game.
Failing to sell out with such a small capacity would be embarrassing, so at least there is a positive for Górnik. However, while not saying much about attendances, these figures paint a bigger picture of how long the building works in Zabrze are actually taking.
The biggest total increase this season, with close-to 27,500 extra people going to watch football in Białystok compared to last season. This is massively helped by the fact that over 21,000 were there to support Jaga for the opening of their new stadium against a Pogoń – 15,000 more than the same fixture last year. However this weekend’s game with bottom-of-the-table Zawisza didn’t see a massive rise from last season.
Removing these anomalies from the data though, and Jagiellonia have still managed an increase of close-to 11,000 over six games. This is in no-doubt due to the fact that they are flying high in the Ekstraklasa this season. In fact, they are the only club in the Ekstraklasa to see an increase for every game. With the extra capacity, they should see that through to the end of the season.
While Jagiellonia’s numbers have gone up by the highest amount, 7th-placed Lech’s have gone down by an equally jaw-dropping figure. Attendances against the two Kraków clubs may have risen, but it is the huge drops against lower sides Pogoń, Podbeskidzie and Zawisza which have cost them.
Disregarding the figures for the game against Piast Gliwice, which saw the stands empty for this season’s clash, the drop is down to around 15,300. Yet this is still the second biggest drop in the Ekstraklasa.
This season’s games against Legia, Cracovia and Ruch all saw massive negative variances on last season’s attendances, helping to making Pogoń’s numbers around 6200 down. However there have been increases: the visits of Zawisza and Śląsk saw increases of over 2500, while Wisła and Piast played in front of larger crowds than before.
The Cracovia game in particular accounts for a bigger total decrease that Pogoń’s entire season combined.
Better performances on the pitch have so far not all translated to bigger crowds for the Silesian club, with only the surprise 3-1 win over Legia, and the defeat to Jagiellonia seeing larger numbers than last season. But although the numbers have dropped, it is only the second smallest drop in the league with all anomalies taken into account, down by around 4200 in total over eight games.
Piast also are still to see two of the current top-five visit Gliwice, including their big rivals Górnik Zabrze.
The southernmost side in the Ekstraklasa surprisingly saw a decrease for their home clash against Legia, but otherwise have seen small rises for every other one of their games so far. With building work on their stadium quickly progressing, it’s likely these numbers will only go upwards too.
Still though, the suppressed capacity can be seen in those attendance rises. Podbeskidzie have not yet managed to see an attendance variance of more than 500 on last season, with the visit of fellow Silesians Piast the highest increase at 469. This equates to a steady rise of 1806 over seven games.
More money invested into the team has seemingly translated to bigger crowds for the Baltic Coast club, with a total of over 18,000 more fans filing into the PGE Arena over eight games.
There have been decreases – the visits of Jagiellonia and a Cracovia spring out as the biggest – however, the 2-1 defeat to Lech Poznań back in August cancelled that out with a rise of over 10,000 on last season – the biggest rise in the league when comparing games with no mitigating factors.
In total, Lechia’s increase of 18,248 is only bettered by Jagiellonia and their new stadium.
Despite one of the lowest ticket prices in the league, the side from south of the Park Błonia have seen relatively huge drops in their seven games. The clash with Podbeskidzie this season was the only game at Ul. Kałuży to see an increase, and that was only down to the fact that their stadium was closed for the fixture last season.
With all anomalies taken into account, Cracovia’s drop of 17,000 over six games – 2,833 per game – is the largest decrease in the league this season.
While Korona’s biggest attendance has only been 2500 higher than their lowest, their total attendance this season is still over 6000 lower than last season. The only decrease of less than 1000 being the visit of Zawisza, while the increased numbers against Podbeskidzie amounted to the grand total of… 16 people!
While Legia and Śląsk still have to visit the Arena Kielc, three of their remaining five regular season home games come against sides around them in the table. Maybe hosting the likes of Ruch, Cracovia and Lechia will attract crowds for that very reason?
It’s a decrease for Ruch, but given the situation that the Niebiescy find themselves in as opposed to last season’s title challenge, the drop of just over 1300 over five games isn’t that bad compared to some. They also have more home games remaining that anyone else, after their ground was out of action at the start of the season due to the re-laying of the pitch.
Górnik may have already visited (albeit without their own fans), but Legia and Wisła will still both draw fans in. Fellow Silesians Piast and Podbeskidzie also are yet to visit Ul. Cicha this season.
Things are not well in Bydgoszcz. The fan boycott has now been rumbling on for what seems like an eternity, and their inevitable attendance drop was more than expected – a total of over 24,000 fewer fans entering the Zdzisław Krzyszkowiak Stadium compared to last season.
Of their eight home games, four of them had the fans boycotting during last season too. Numbers are still down however, but not by as much. Over those four games (Górnik, Lechia, Korona and Ruch) the attendance drop amounts to just three shy of three-thousand.
In total – taking all games with boycotts, bans and new stadia out of the equation – attendances are still down, by 32,000 over 90 games. However, that is just an average drop of 355 supporters per-game.
Interestingly, of those 90 games, 44 either saw increases or figures stayed the same, compared to 46 decreases. The new stadiums, the potential white elephants in Gdańsk and Wrocław, are both up on last year. Podbeskidzie and Jagiellonia, who have been undergoing expansion work, are also seeing numbers increase. Elsewhere, Górnik Zabrze have maintained their limited capacity, which bodes well for when their new home is completed.
But that does not change the fact that attendances are indeed down, and worryingly for the bigger clubs the problem seems to be worse. Legia and Lech are amongst the worst-off, while Wisła are also seeing drops.
There are promising signs spattered all over the board, with the odd increase in places like Chorzów, Szczecin and Kielce. Yet these are too cancelled out by significant drops in other games.
It seems the Ekstraklasa may still have a little way to go before these figures are all going in the right direction.