Young people's sport panel.
Having endured a long and tedious summer of turmoil, the Olympic Games has been a welcome distraction from Scottish Football. The lasting images of Chris Hoy, Andy Murray and Katherine Grainger amongst others have rejuvenated a nation often found guilty of fixating solely on our national game, and the feel-good factor created by our athletes should snowball through to the build up to the Commonwealth Games.
Whilst I’ve read on in envy as some of my fellow sport panel members report back from their various London experiences, I’ve had to make do with watching on from home. However I was lucky enough to attend two of the football matches at Hampden Park, catching the Men’s group match between Egypt and Belarus and France defeat Sweden in the Women’s quarter-finals. As a football obsessive and weekly attendee at matches around the country, I found the contrast between' regular' football and these matches to be quite interesting, and noted a few things Scottish football could learn from our taste of the Olympics.
- Attracting more families to games
The most noticeable difference between the two was the atmosphere. Despite the majority of attendees bearing no real affiliation for a particular side there was still a decent buzz around the games, predominantly down to the number of families filling the stands. Kids were running around with painted faces and draped in flags having adopted a nation for 90 minutes, and were quick to vocalise their support for their country of choice. With football clubs around Scotland now looking for ways of increasing attendances, they could do worse than really focussing energy on attracting a younger generation to games. Without wanting to sanitise the passionate atmosphere our game is known for, there is scope to increase the dedicated family areas in grounds, with more effort made in creating the kind of carnival feel that marked the Olympics matches and would appeal to families (face-paint on a 40 year old doesn’t quite have the same effect!). For that to happen though, there is one main obstacle to overcome
- Ticket prices
Obviously the attendances were boosted by the number of free tickets distributed to schools and other organisations. However the decent crowds showed that the appetite for football is still there, and if ticket prices could become more affordable we could start to see fuller stadia and inspire the future generation by allowing them regular access to live sport. As an illustration, the recent Edinburgh derby would have cost a family of four £84 to attend, before factoring in transport, food etc. Bringing prices down may pose short-term revenue risk, but would allow the clubs to build a future fanbase by exposing them to regular live events. Coupled with the more enjoyable match day experience suggested above, we could start to see the feel-good factor from the Games transfer through to the terraces of our domestic games.
- A game of four halves
If there is little scope for budging on price, then they’ll have to offer more value for money. One way to do that would be to have more than one game played on the same day. Hampden successfully hosted 3 double-headers, giving a full day of entertainment which could perhaps justify a higher ticket price. For Scottish football to achieve this they could schedule the new under 20 league games to correspond to first team fixtures, played before the main game (the Olympics also showed the entertainment value in watching young teams play, with Men’s squads capped at u23s), or indeed capitalise on another positive aspect of the Olympics...
- Women’s football
Interest in the women’s game has never been higher. Attendances at Hampden showed an appetite exists for spectators, and the quality on show in the game I was at exceeded my expectations. With several SPL sides having an equivalent women’s team, an opportunity exists to showcase matches before the first team fixtures, raising the profile and perhaps attracting new fans to the game. Scotland have produced some excellent talent in recent years such as Julie Fleeting, Ifeoma Dieke and Kim Little, and promoting more role models like them can only have a positive effect on sport in the country.I think it’s fair to say there was not much excitement over hosting Olympic football at Hampden. However those who attended matches over the 2 weeks of action would have thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
With football and its perceived primadonna players coming in for a bit of criticism following the overwhelming performances at London 2012, it’s time for our national game to step up and show why it’s the most popular sport in the world. And it could do worse than learn a thing or two from what has been an outstandingly successful Olympic Games.