Should the capacity of The Britannia Stadium be increased?


Ever since Stoke’s promotion to the coveted Premier League in 2008, fans of the football club have suggested that it was time to increase the capacity of the stadium. Although there are many “pros” and “cons” to this argument, I’ll examine why, in my opinion, it is against the interests of the club to expand the Britannia Stadium.

The Britannia Stadium; Home to Stoke City since 1997

A recent newspaper article (click here) purported a claim that all Stoke fans were against the expansion of the stadium. That, firstly, is clearly not true. On the face of it, the article published in the newspaper seems to be an apparent attempt by the club to influence public opinion. However, despite these efforts, there is considerable support from Stoke fans for the capacity at the Britannia Stadium to be expanded. To quote one supporter, “Every season in the Premier League is a measure of continued success and if you don’t increase the capacity then you’ll never know what sort of crowds you’ll be able to attract” (See more opinions here).

I can understand the opinions of supporters who support the expansion. A selection of the reasons include;

  1. The Britannia Stadium would, most definitately, be more aesthetically pleasing.
  2. The expansion of the stadium is the only way to grow the fan-base.
  3. The idea of “speculate-to-accumulate”; the cost (approximately £3 million pounds) would be recoupped in extra ticket-sales.

In light of these reasons, there is evidence which supports these claims. Since our promotion in 2008, Stoke’s season-ticket sales have increased year-on-year. The ground, literally, is at bursting point. Success on the pitch will only lead to an increase in demand for tickets. The table below highlights that the average attendance in relation to the total capacity of the Britannia Stadium has always been greater than 97%. That, in the economic climate we are living in, is nothing short of brilliant.

As much as I can relate to the arguments from the “pro” camp, I still believe the expansion of the stadium is against the vital interests of the football club as a whole. The “no” camp state that there are many disadvantages to increasing the capacity at the stadium;

  1. We don’t fill the stadium week-in, week-out at present. So why the need for a capacity expansion?
  2. Expanding the stadium will only see benefits in a handful of games.
  3. Peter Coates, Stoke City Chairman, is a businessman. As such, the decision must have been based on finance and whether it is economically right to increase the capacity.
  4. The wind and rain at the Britannia Stadium are important “players” in winning games. (I must add; I really do not buy this argument, so I’m not even going to contemplate it).

 

Although season-ticket sales have increased year-on-year, demand for single match-day tickets has actually decreased. As you can see from the table above, our average attendance is the lowest since we were promoted to the Premier League in 2008. It only seems sensible to expand the stadium when, and only when, demand for tickets exceed the amount of available seats. There is no point in spending £3 million pounds on expanding the stadium if the seats are not going to be taken up. That is basic economics; why supply if there is no demand? Our highest attendance in the 2010 – 2011 season was against Wigan Athletic; one of the relatively “smaller” clubs in the Premier League. If we cannot fill out against teams such as Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, what hope have we got at filling in the extra seats if Stoke did decide to expand the capacity of the stadium? In essence, very little.

In recent seasons, two Midlands clubs have stated their intentions to increase the capacity of their stadiums; with West Bromwich Albion increasing their stadium capacity to 30,000, and Wolverhamton Wanderers, by 2014, increasing their stadium capacity to 36,000. Although I admire both their ambition and enthusiasm, it is painfully obvious that both will struggle to fill the capacity. We’ll take West Bromwich Albion as the example. Their modern all-seater record attendance was 27,751 (against Portsmouth) in 2005. The last time they averaged over 30,000 was in the 1958 – 1959 season, and furthermore, only on 9 occassions in their 133-year history have their averaged over 30,000 in a season (click here). Statistically speaking, 93% of the time, they have never averaged more than 30,000. As I have highlighted, I admire their ambition and attempts to increase their fan-base, however, common sense should prevail. Many Stoke fans in the “pro” camp have used these two examples as reasons for stadium expansion. Stoke should make a decision based on finance and whether the expansion is economically viable. The decision should be based on what is right for Stoke, and not what others are doing. I believe that Stoke have carefully considered the options, and have deemed the expansion as not in their interests.

I accept that there are arguments from both camps, and these arguments need to be rigorously debated in a transparent and positive way. The decision by the football club to ‘team-up’ with a local newspaper in an attempt to sway public opinion is nothing short of a disgrace, and furthermore, insults the intelligence of its supporters. This attempt by the club will only fuel anger and suspicion. The easiest solution to this debate is surely engaging with the supporters, and futhermore, setting out clear reasons why this expansion should not take place.

By James Weston – Stoke City fan – @jamesweston1991

 

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