If you look at all the leagues around England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, one thing that stands out is the fans love for their clubs and the need to go week in and week out to support their heroes. Association Football is arguably the number one sport in the UK and the numbers that pile through the turnstiles on a yearly basis is a credit to the loyal fans. In the Republic of Ireland, football comes down the pecking order in the popularity stakes and certainly would not be our top sport, this accolade has to go to the GAA and fair play to that sport. But up and down this Emerald Isle every weekend , players pull on kit and get out and play at an amateur level in the local soccer leagues. It has always been a hard task to get these guys to go and watch an SSE Airtricity League game, in fact a lot of the time they prefer to cross the Irish Sea and attend a game either in the Barclays Premier League or the Championship when it is easier to jump on a bus and take a trip along to their local SSE Airtricity League side. So at the end of the season just finished, it is summer football after all, the seasons review and report were released and the news is quite promising.
The end of season report brought some reason for cheer for all those involved in the SSE Airtricity League. The Airtricity League attendance to all the games in both the Premier League and Division One were up by over 6% an amazing figure to be perfectly honest. Over 375,000 fans went through the turnstiles to support their clubs. The FAI Cup Final alone saw nearly 26,000 turn up at the Aviva Stadium to see Dundalk complete a League and Cup double with victory over Cork.
The news has to be the best thing that has happened to the league in many a long day. The men who run the Airtricity League, need now to push on with these figures and keep the momentum on an upward spiral again next season. The marketing needs to be correct and the National Television Stations need to do their bit as well by giving the games more air time. The highlights programme that covered the league during last season went out on air at eleven o clock on a Monday night, in my opinion this was a stupid time slot and needs to be changed. It is all about bringing the product to a younger audience and not to many of the kids are still up at the eleven o clock time.
The fact the national team has qualified for France next year could also be a help, if the league gets on the back of the publicity all this will bring. One interesting development over the past few days has been the announcement that from next season a lot of the live games will be streamed around Europe. This can only help and if clubs play their cards right it opens the door for better sponsorship deals and this in turn could lead to a better product on the pitch through investment. The 2016 season starts on the 4th of March and now is the time to be putting the building blocks in position. Well done on this season but more work needs to be done.