Does Wigan deserve Premeirship Football?
The latest debate has been ignited due to the fact that only 18,000 fans were at the JJB to see Wigan narrowly lose to Chelsea in the first Premier League game of the 2008/9 season.
Mr Whelan, the Wigan chairman and benefactor who has brought the club from the lowly fourth tier of Englsih football to the Premier League in ten years was quoted in the Daily Mirror at the end of August as saying the poor attendances are draining his spirit and finances. He is also quoted as saying,' that it is not a football town.'
So is he correct? On the face of it he seems to have a point. 25,000 saw Wigan's first ever Premier League game at the JJB a mere four seasons ago so a 7,000 drop in attendance is on the face of it strong evidence to his case.
However, when you look deeper there are other reasons for our small crowds that are out of Mr Whelan's hands and anyone elses for that matter.
The first is that Wigan is the youngest club in the Premier League in terms of number of years in the footabll league a mere thirty years this year.
Many football fans who grew up in Wigan in the 60'S , 70's and 80's would go and watch one of the Manchester or Liverpool teams with some even watching Bolton. Growing up as a teenager in the late 70's I could count the number of Latics fans in my school in single figures. compared to the other five clubs mentioned.
These fans are not going to come back to Wigan, as football loyalty is not something to be traded.
What is happening in Wigan and something which is acknowledged by the club, is that we have the largest number of under 16 year old season ticket holders in the Premier League. This is a combination of cheap season tickets for the children and a committed campaign to build links with the schools . As these children grow, the next generation will hopefully follow suit and build the fan base but it is not an overnight sucess and requires patience.
Another issue is the social-economic area in which we live. Wigan is not an affluent town, it has some of the poorest wards in the country and and has very little industry to speak of. People do not have a great deal of disposable income and as a result will either pick their games or stay away. I can name six season ticket holders who have not renewed their season tickets this season due to the credit crunch .
The next factor agaisnt big crowds is the catchment area. Three miles east of Wigan and you are in Bolton territory, five miles west, Liverpool /Everton territory, five miles north Preston/Blackburn territory. The only area surrounding Wigan that isn't directly linked to a Premier league team is Leigh and having spent many years working there, the vast majority are either Bolton or Man Utd fans.
This leave us with a basic catchment area of around 150,000 people of which ten percent attend home games. I wonder what percentage of people who live within the same catchment area arond Anfield. Old Trafford or the Emirates attend their home games? I suspect less.
The difference with the above clubs and Wigan is the attraction of people outside this catchment area. Last season at Anfield I counted over two hundred coaches from all over the UK and Ireland for the game agaisnt the Latics. That is 10,000 fans coming from far and wide to watch Liverpool. You only have to listen to the 606 phone in on radio 5 on the BBC to realise how many fans of the big clubs live all over the UK .
It is no coincidence that the three teams with the lowest premier league average attendances are Bolton, Blackburn and Wigan who all have the smallest catchment areas
Latics are attracting fans thorughout the world as attested by the membership of this site, This week I have arranged to meet up with one of the 75 strong Norweigan supporters club who is coming over for the Sunderland game.
As to whether Wigan is a football town depends on how you define the parameters. If it is on particpation football beats Rugby hands down with thousands of children and adults playing indoors and outdoors during the week and at weekends. However there are probably more people who fish or play darts or snooker, so may be we are a darts town?
If you are talking about attendances at games, then again Wigan Athletic has a higher average gate than the Warriors. Our average gate last season was just over 18,000 this season the Warriors have averaged just over 14,000.
So what can be done to increase the crowds?
Wigan Atheltic must be congratulated for its cheap season tickets but more can be done. An aggressive marketing campaign in Scandanavia and the Benelux countries where the Premier League is massive covering flights, hotel accomodation and match tickets would increase the number of fans.
Targeting the schools in St Helens and Warrington offering free tickets to all the children in the schools as they do to Wigan schools on a periodical basis would offer children in those areas the opportuntiy to see Premier League football soemthing they couldn't do otherwise.
A concerted effort to build supporters club network worldwide. This is where sites like ourselves with our large numbers of overseas memebers could help publicise the club if the club would only develop links with us.
Latics has come a long way in a short time and still has a long way to go. Does Wigan deserve a Premier League football club? Yes