The 2019 SSE Airtricity League Of Ireland Premier Division kicks off tonight with reigning champions Dundalk's game at home to Sligo Rovers broadcast on free-to-air television. State broadcaster RTE have so far announced plans to screen 18 live games from the domestic league, with further games inevitable as the season progresses.
As the national league recommences, talk turns to which teams are likely to be successful. The currently stability within the Premier Division is something this has never happened before in the near 100 year history of the league. Many are predicting that Dundalk will continue their dominance at domestic level, which has been broken just once since 2014. The current champions are odds on to retain their crown in 2019.
Whether the reduction in competition witnessed over the past 5 seasons (thanks to the success of Dundalk and Cork City), has caused a negative impact on interest is debateable. In fact, some may argue the opposite.
Since the emergence of the Dundalk-Cork "duopoly" in 2014 demand for attendance at games does not seem to have been dramatically effected. Figures from last season (2018) show attendance levels of almost 36%, relative to stadium capacity. This is higher than any of the four season previous.
The figure below chart this, and also presents total ticket sales, as a fraction of stadium capacity, for the six clubs that have appeared constantly in the Premier Division from 2014 to 2019.
It is interesting to observe the drop in 2016 to 25.04%. What might be causing this? It seems to be largely driven be declines in attendance demand at the top clubs; Dundalk, Cork City and Shamrock Rovers.
There are a number of possible explanations. The first is that Dundalk's domination was viewed as a reason not to go to games. The club won their third league title in a row in 2016. The Louth club also performed remarkably well in the Europa League that season, reaching the group stages. Maybe supporters became less attracted to the domestic game after being treated to Maccabi Tel Aviv, Zenit Saint Petersburg and AZ Alkmaar in Oriel Park?
The upside is that demand has risen in 2017 and again in 2018. Let's hope interest in the domestic game can continue to build . This can only be good news for Irish football and its domestic clubs.