Fans warn Premiership clubs over falling crowds
The Football Supporters Federation have warned the elite game in England could implode unless more attention is paid to the fans.
The new Premiership season has thrown up some interesting results on the pitch - but also some concerning statistics off it.
Last night's Middlesbrough v Portsmouth game attracted only 24,834 fans to the Riverside while just 19,398 saw champions Chelsea take on Blackburn at Ewood Park.
Charlton have not sold out either of their homes games while Fulham are yet to hit 19,000 this season.
'We have certainly been warning the Premier League for some time we think the bubble is in danger of bursting because of continued price increases and messing people around with kick-off times,' said FSF chairman Malcolm Clarke.
'It is also an uncompetitive division so a lot of games are meaningless before the season has even started.
'We are going to do detailed work on this, comparing attendances on a game-by-game basis.
'We'll be watching closely and talking to the Premier League about it because once these trends start they can move very quickly.'
The demands of television meant Portsmouth supporters had to travel from the south coast to the north east on a Bank Holiday for an 8pm kick-off.
Last season, Middlesbrough had to wait until December 31 for a traditional 3pm kick-off on a Saturday afternoon. Their first seven home games were all live on television.
West Ham supporters will face similar scheduling upheaval if their side progress through to the group stage of the UEFA Cup.
Hammers supporters had to leave in the early hours of Saturday morning to get to Anfield in time for a noon kick-off against Liverpool.
Clarke added: 'The game at the top is at bigger risk of falling than has been recognised so far.
'The Premier League set up an attendance working party last season but we've heard nothing from it. When we meet them next time we'll be asking what they've found out.'
With television money rather than gate receipts now increasingly the main source of income for Premier League clubs, there is an argument which states ticket prices could be reduced to help fans.
The Premier League would certainly be a far more attractive television product when matches are played in front of full houses rather than banks of empty seats.
It is an idea the FSF believe has merit.
'That would be the common-sense and intelligent way for the Premier League to respond,' said Clarke.
But the Premier League insist there is no need to panic just a week into the new season, which is traditionally slow as fans come back from holiday or make the most of the final weeks of summer.
And they have assured supporters every effort is being taken to keep the game affordable.
'The working party was set up a year ago to look at issues in and around attendances and how to encourage new fans into stadiums and into supporting Premier League football teams,' a spokesman said.
'More broadly it is looking at attendance levels and ticketing issues. We are very keen to canvas the opinion of fans which we do every year in our fans' surverys.
'Attendances have grown 55% since the start of the Premier League. Last season we had 93% occupancy rate, but no club rests on its laurels and we are seeing some innovative ways of ensuring attendances stay healthy.
'This happens every year. We say the same things every year - you can't judge attendances this time of year, you have to take the broader picture.'
On the issue of kick-off times, the Premier League insist a number of factors have to be taken into account including the views of fans groups, police, the clubs and television companies.
The Football League have also suffered with some disappointing crowds over the opening weeks of their season.
But they will not draw any conclusions until the end of the month, when crowd figures can be analysed for the first time.
But a Football League spokesman added: 'The crowds are up 3.7% for the first round of the Carling Cup.'