The author is a currently registered on the MSc in Research (Sports Economics) at University College Cork.
Last Wednesday the Republic of Ireland’s lacklustre 0-0 draw with Bulgaria in an empty Aviva Stadium, Dublin capped off a frustrating international break for the Boys in Green. This is the last we shall see of the team until March 2021. Some of us might be optimistic that with recent Covid-19 vaccine developments that the next game may come at a time it is safe for fans to return to the Aviva Stadium to shout on the home team.
The last time fans appeared in the Aviva was on the 18th of November 2019. Back then nobody would have predicted that this was the last time we would be allowed enter the Aviva for over a year. The game itself was a 1-1 draw with Denmark with 50,000 spectators. This was the highest attendance recorded in the Aviva for the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.
Academics have been studying the demand for sport for as long as the field has been in existence. The demand for sport is not like your average good. As described by Neale (1964) the demand for sport is peculiar. This is because when one fan attends a sporting contest, they improve the experience of other fan’s in attendance by improving atmosphere quality. The current experience of empty stadiums around the world demonstrates just how much fans at to the overall context of the match experience.
Most of the work done on the demand for football has indicated that match quality has a positive effect on football attendance, in particular away team quality. For example, in the table above, Denmark and Switzerland recorded higher attendance than Georgia and Gibraltar. One explanation of this is that home fans wish to watch talented visiting players. Stars like Xherdan Shaqiri and Christian Erikson were far more appealing for Irish soccer fans than the part-time post players that lined out for Gibraltar.
The other key difference between the games was what was at stake. Attendance was likely maximized against Denmark due to a concept known as seasonal competitive balance. This match was the penultimate game for the Group D Euro 2020 Qualifying Group. Denmark were poised to take second in the group and an automatic place at the Euro 2020. Irish fans filled the stadium in the hope that their team could secure 3 points that would seal a place amongst Europe’s elite.
However, when you look at competitive balance at the match level one might have said these fans were somewhat optimistic as Denmark were favourites to win the match at 153/100 compared to Ireland who were priced up at just over 3/1. Nevertheless, the Aviva filled out for the contest. Perhaps this is more evidence that competitive balance in the medium term has more of an effect on attendance than in the short run. I think I can speak for us all when I say the sooner we can all return to the Aviva the better.