In the Scottish Premiership these days, chairman look forward to televised games, and Celtic coming to town. It’s a difficult climate to live in, but it’s the fans that can make all the difference to their clubs.
Take St Johnstone for example. The Perthshire club achieved a record equalling high 3rd place finish in the league, and although eliminated, enjoyed a UEFA Europa League qualifying double header with Turkish side Eskesehirspor SK. However today the club announced that they had made a £200k loss on last season, and that was including the £50k compensation package received from Millwall for manager Steve Lomas.
It means the playing budget at McDiarmid Park has been slashed, and offers for most of their star players will surely be accepted come January to balance the books.
The easiest most efficient way to get out of these troubles, is European football. Celtic last season made over £15m from Champions League revenue and put many of their star names in the shop window, allowing them to make a further £21m from player sales. St Johnstone were the only Scottish side to make it through more than one qualifying round of the Europa League, with Hibs and Motherwell both being seen off comfortably by Malmö & Kuban Krasnodar respectively. Scottish clubs simply aren’t playing at a standard that will allow then to progress in Europe.
So we then turn to other money making ventures for Scottish clubs, namely getting fans through the gates and it instantly identifies the problem clubs like St Johnstone have. Adding Inverness, St Johnstone (Perth), St Mirren’s (Paisley) average attendance figures for last season sees it fall just under Hearts’ (Edinburgh) by a just under thousand spectators. Hearts saw on average 12 959 to the three aforementioned clubs joint total of 12 142.
Despite being two of the most attractive, enjoyable sides to watch of the league, St Johnstone and Inverness cannot get fans through the gates. Even a European adventure fails to get bums on seats, and it will see a continuous decrease in profitability until the clubs can increase fans watching their teams.
Hibs, are a prime example of this. They have not surpassed the first qualifying round of a European tournament in 10 years, haven’t achieved a top half finish since 2010, haven’t won the Scottish cup since 1902 and have won a trophy just once in the last 21 years. Yet they consistently achieve five figure average attendances and their financial figures saw a £100k profit, as well as writing off debt for their newly built training complex and east stand. Proof that consistently high attendance figures and profitability go hand in hand. If only they could get their team firing all cylinders on the park they’d be all set!
It’s common knowledge that with a tiny bit of investment, any Scottish club would easily finish second every year, and thus participate in European competition every year. Whether fans would turn up to watch this is generally disregarded, but you have to feel that it would be imperative to a club’s financial well being and success – perhaps a gamble that puts many investors off.
And until the fans return to stadiums, clubs like St Johnstone and the like will have to endure tough periods of uncertainty and belt-tightening, regardless of their domestic and European success on the pitch.