For many years now the number of Ipswich fans that turn up at Portman Road has been in a steady decline. Fans who have turned up to see the team play recently have had to witness dwindling attendances and a declining atmosphere at home games.
Once the season gets to the later stages the only real excitement comes from either a promotion chase or a real relegation battle and Ipswich haven’t had either for a long time.
There really hasn’t been anything at Portman Road to bring the fans in, especially now there is no East Anglian derby game.
It doesn’t take a genius to predict how and why ticket sales drop every season but you need a shrewd plan to prevent the atmosphere from dying out completely. Attendances were always going to drop given the club’s transformation from a Premier League club to a stable Championship side but the club have done very little to combat this.
The club’s only strategy for improving the match day experience for next season so far seems to revolve around bringing back the cheerleaders for the half time entertainment. To the best of my knowledge, I do not know a single football fan who enjoyed the half time entertainment when the cheerleaders were around and it is easy to understand why.
First of all, cheerleading on the whole is not done as well in the UK as it is done in the States, mainly because we use 14 year old girls, awful music and poor choreography. Secondly, it is not part of our sporting culture and fans would much rather see something not so cheesy in terms of half time entertainment.
Personally, I enjoy it when fans are brought onto the pitch and given the chance to win a car or holiday if they can kick a ball through a target. It is a simple idea with no real thrills but still enjoyable because you know that the club is getting involved with the fans.
However, even if Ipswich had Diego Maradona doing back flips at half time it wouldn’t convince most fans to pay over the odds to see a game. The hard truth is that the atmosphere won’t improve no matter how good the half time entertainment is. The obvious suggestion for improving the atmosphere at Portman Road is lowering the ticket prices.
Fans do not get value for money in comparison to what some clubs offer. This season Ipswich secured themselves a mid table finish very early on, so for the final third of the season the team had nothing to play for and nothing to lose. This made a number of home games in the later stages of the season very unappealing but the club still charged a high price for tickets. Who in there right mind would pay to see two sides with nothing to play for but mid table mediocrity battle it out when they could sit at home and watch Premier League games on Sky Sports?
Only loyal Ipswich fans and season ticket holders turn up to these games. A half empty stadium is never exciting for the fans and it can’t be good for the players. The problem Ipswich have is that with their current structure they can’t afford to lower prices. If they reduced prices by 40% then attendances would only rise by around 20-30% which would mean they would lose a lot of their revenue. Whilst it would be great to see the club sacrifice some revenue in order to improve the atmosphere, risking the clubs financial stability wouldn’t be worth it.
Unfortunately many clubs as well as Ipswich have to over charge the hard core fans because it is the best way to get the maximum amount of revenue from their home games. Some fans will always turn up even if they are being over charged and clubs have to exploit that if they want to give themselves the best chance of competing financially.
The only real solution to combat the declining atmosphere is actually very simple, yet extremely difficult to achieve. Ipswich just need to win. The club could do a lot more to improve the match days and their strategies are at times boarding on incompetent but the reality is that attendances will only improve significantly if the team are playing well. Ipswich have gone past the point where they could be considered more than a mid table side and the harsh reality is that the club’s reputation has declined. Football is a temperamental game though and winning football matches solves everything. Hopefully next season a good run of form early on in the season will spark excitement at Portman Road and fans can turn the stadium into the fortress it once was.