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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers News » Attendances on the up: Why Wanderers are bucking the trend

Attendances on the up: Why Wanderers are bucking the trend

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Business has been brisk at the Macron Stadium’s offices since the club launched their new season ticket prices for next season.

It is little wonder, as you would often struggle to find a corner of the club which has been kept on their toes quite like the hardly few manning the phones and kiosks next to Bolton Central.

This season’s average attendance of 15,887 might not have turned many heads in the Championship, ranking as it did 17th among the 24 clubs in the division.

But from a purely Boltonian perspective, the figure represented the highest return for four years and the 10th largest average league gate ever recorded outside the top flight in the town.

Opinions may have been split on the style of football played by Phil Parkinson’s side at times and a campaign spent toiling at the foot of the table definitely tested the patience of the hardiest fan. But to have chalked up such numbers in testing financial times shows the folk of Bolton are backing their club in impressive style.

Wanderers have spent 46 seasons outside the top flight of English football, 33 of which have been in the Championship or second-tier equivalent. If you take attendances in each of those seasons, the average figure is 13,697.

But only twice have they ever topped more than 20,000 at this level of football – in successive campaigns under Ian Greaves between 1976 and 1978, which ended in promotion.

The late seventies was a golden era for Bolton support at Burnden Park. And that may go some way to explaining the antipathy towards match-day atmosphere at the new stadium but only on five occasions did the average gate top this season’s total – indicating the club is at least getting something right in both the product they offer and the prices they are charging.

Even in 1996/97 – widely regarded as one of the most entertaining seasons in memory as Colin Todd’s side racked up 100 goals and (nearly) 100 points and waved goodbye to their old home – fewer fans came through the turnstiles than they did this term.

Not everyone is faring so well. According to Hull City averaged 15,622 supporters this season following their relegation from the Premier League, filling their 25,400 capacity KCOM Stadium by just over 60 per cent.

It was the Tigers’ lowest return in 15 years, when they were playing football in the Fourth Division, and an indication perhaps of the current discord between ownership and supporters in that neck of the woods.

Ipswich also suffered as fans hit back against the brand of football employed by Mick McCarthy. The Tractor Boys attracted an average of 16,271 – slightly higher than Bolton – but still their lowest figures since 1998.

QPR’s 13,928 was their worst since 2010 and Reading’s 16,656 were as low as they have been since 2004.

Bolton’s position may be positively booming by comparison, yet there is a clear ambition from within the club – led chiefly by chairman Ken Anderson – to do more.

“Improving crowds is the key,” he said, speaking earlier this year. “Our away followings have been fantastic but I think if we’re going to compete with the big clubs in this division we need to make the stadium as intimidating as humanly possible.

“It certainly isn’t easy. But if we could get the crowds up to the levels they were at the end of last season, around that 20,000 mark, then you’re talking about £3-4million extra, which if you invest wisely on the right players could make a huge difference.”

Response to the season ticket prices on social media has been favourable. Wanderers continue to walk the tightrope between keeping their prices among the lowest in the division and pacifying the need to remain financially stable.

Anderson was wary of creating an unsustainable economy.

“At the moment we are struggling to make this club self-sufficient financially and if we start reducing prices it’s going to make it even more difficult,” he said in March.

“Even if you manage to bring in another 10,000, if you actually managed to get them in and I don’t think we would every week anyway, it doesn’t cover what the costs are. It’s a balancing act.”



Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
That we had more fans coming last season than the amazing 96/97 season was a shock to me, what a season that was!

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