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Impact of TV broadcasting on match day attendance

TV broadcasting

Authored by Graeme Taylor and Kevin McCluskie


Over the past two decades the number of European football matches that have been broadcast live, to both domestic and international markets, has risen dramatically.  Likewise, the value of broadcasting rights for European football has also soared, with Deloitte reporting that  the total value of European football broadcast rights in 2014 would hit the £6.5billion mark; the English Premier League (EPL) alone representing a staggering £1.9billion of that total.

The number of top-flight Scottish games broadcast has also risen over the same time period, as has the value of broadcasting rights to Scottish football.  Although not quite in the same league as the EPL, broadcast rights for Scottish football are currently worth circa £15million per season and, according to Neil Doncaster at the start of the 2013/14 season, account for 80-90% of the SPFL’s income (Grahame, 2013).  In addition to this, a further 10-year rights deal worth £20million was struck in November 2013 to stream live SPFL games in China; thus further increasing the reach and exposure of Scottish football on a global scale.

As a result, the live broadcasting of football, and the revenue and exposure that it can generate, therefore makes broadcasters a powerful and important stakeholder in the running of the beautiful game. One of the biggest powers afforded to broadcasters is the ability to change fixture scheduling to suit their own broadcasting schedules, often with no regard for the fans.  Scottish football has witnessed numerous examples of fixture re-scheduling for TV broadcasting that has resulted in fans, especially away supporters, being unable to attend the game, therefore resulting in reduced attendance at the games; the knock on effect being reduced match day income for the home club.  With Scottish football being heavily reliant upon ticket money as its main source of revenue (PwC, 2011 and 2013), this represents a potentially unhealthy scenario.

It is also important to note that it is not only TV broadcasting of games within Scotland which can have an adverse effect on stadium attendance.  The ever increasing levels of exposure to the Europe’s most lucrative football leagues via TV broadcasting, has resulted in a real threat that Scottish clubs could struggle to attract potential spectators away from watching games in other, high-profile, leagues (Allan and Roy, 2008). However, the research carried out for this paper only assesses the impact on match attendance of live broadcast SPFL Premiership games and begs the question: what impact does TV broadcasting have on attendance at Scottish football matches?

Impact of live television broadcasting on match day attendances

As is to be expected, the majority of academic literature surrounding the impact of TV broadcasting on match day attendance focuses on the major European football leagues and, specifically, the English Premier League.  A wide variety of methodologies have been adopted for these studies, however, they have all returned a similar judgement; namely that, despite the regulations in place prohibiting the live screening of matches at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon (Sale, 2013), the live television broadcasting of matches has a significant and negative impact on match attendance (Allan and Roy, 2008; Allan, 2004; Baimbridge et al, 1996; Buraimo, 2008; Forrest and Simmons 2006; Forrest, Simmons and Szymanski, 2004); the knock on effect being reduced revenue through traditional means, such as gate receipts. 

As Scottish clubs rely so heavily on gate receipts as a main source of income, then if the trend of lower attendances at televised fixtures continues in Scottish football, then it possible calls into question the validity of having a broadcasting contract; or at least one which demands that games are played on days and times where attendance is likely to be adversely affected.

The remainder of the paper will consider the impact that live broadcasts have had on match day attendance in top flight Scottish football over the previous two seasons (2012/13 and 2013/14) and assess whether or not attendance has been affected.

Club by Club

Several factors have been considered when approaching this paper and the affect live broadcasting can have on match attendance.  The first is to compare how the average attendance at televised games for each club compares to their average attendance overall the entire season.

The tables below would indicate that live broadcasting does not have a negative impact on match attendance over the two seasons considered.  In both 2012/13 and 2013/14, only one club per season recorded an average attendance at TV games that was below their total season average (Aberdeen in 2012/13 and Hearts in 2013/14); in fact, when combining the data for the two season, only Hearts returned a negative average attendance at TV games compared to their overall average attendance.

This would therefore appear to be in contrast to the academic reporting on the impact of live TV broadcasting on match attendance and suggest that, in Scotland, TV broadcasting has very little negative impact on match attendance.

However, the tables and results do not consider factors such as match opponents, importance of the fixture, derbies, or when the games were played. Naturally, broadcasters will want to show the biggest games in order to attract viewers and advertising; therefore, there is a possibility that this could skew the above results.  For example, Dundee’s three home broadcast fixtures in 2012/13 included two derbies against Dundee United and one games against Celtic; all fixtures which would attract a large attendance in almost all circumstances.  Had a fixture against Inverness, for example, been broadcast live, then it is doubtful whether their average attendance at live broadcast games would have exceeded their overall season average attendance.  Therefore, the results in Tables 1-3 may not tell the whole story re the impact of live broadcasting on match attendance.

Table 1: Average Attendance at Live TV Games vs. Season Average 2012/13
Club Average Attendance: TV Games Average Attendance: Season Difference
Aberdeen 9,380 9,611 -231
Celtic 49,283 46,917 2,366
Dundee 11,411 5,943 5,468
Dundee United 7,983 7,547 436
Hearts 13,992 13,163 829
Hibernian 11,704 10,489 1,215
Inverness 5,064 4,038 1,026
Kilmarnock 5,265 4,647 618
Motherwell 5,848 5,362 486
Ross County 5,992 4,430 1,562
St.Johnstone 3,745 3,745 0
St.Mirren 6,037 4,389 1,648


Table 2: Average Attendance at Live TV Games vs. Season Average 2013/14
Club Average Attendance: TV Games Average Attendance: Season Difference
Aberdeen 16589 12918 3671
Celtic 47899 47079 820
Dundee United 9031 7547 1484
Hearts 12561 14123 -1562
Hibs 13420 11027 2393
Inverness 4310 3558 752
Kilmarnock 6822 4250 2572
Motherwell 6207 5175 1032
Partick 6774 5001 1773
Ross 4299 3787 512
St Johnstone 4624 3806 818
St Mirren 4915 4511 404


Table 3: Combined Attendance at Live TV Games 2012/13 and 2013/14
Club Average Attendance: TV Games Average Attendance: Season Difference
Aberdeen 12984.5 11264.5 1720
Celtic 48591 46998 1593
Dundee 11,411 5,943 5,468
Dundee United 8507 7547 960
Hearts 26,553 27,286 -733
Hibernian 25,124 21,516 3,608
Inverness 9,374 7,596 1,778
Kilmarnock 12,087 8,897 3,190
Motherwell 12,055 10,537 1,518
Partick 6,774 5,001 1,773
Ross 5,146 4,109 1,037
St Johnstone 4,185 3,776 409
St Mirren 5,476 4,450 1,026


When games are played

Due to the potential unreliability of the data above, it is therefore necessary to consider attendance at each televised game on a match by match basis, and to consider the day that a game is broadcast to see the impact that this has on attendance.


As shown in Fig.1, there were four matches played on a Monday over the two season’s covered with all of the games recording an attendance lower than the home clubs season average.  This would indicate that live broadcasts on a Monday night have a detrimental impact on attendance at the game.

Team No. of TV Games Average Attendance at TV Games Average Attendance Season Difference
Hibs 1 8,326 10,489 -2,163
Hibs 1 9,321 11,027 -1706
Partick 1 4,521 5,000 -479
St Mirren 1 4,051 4,510 -459

Fig.1: Matches Broadcast live on a Monday, 2012/13 and 2013.14



One match was played on a Tuesday in both 2012/13 and 2013/14.  On both occasions the matches involved Aberdeen and Ross County, with each side hosting one game apiece.  Attendance at both games was below that of the season average for the respective home side, however, the attendance for Ross County’s home fixture was only negligibly below average.  Attendance at Aberdeen’s home fixture was, however, approximately 1/3 lower than their season average in 2012/13.  While this may not entirely be down to the game being broadcast live, it is certainly a contributory factor.

Team No. of TV Games Average Attendance at TV Games Average Attendance Season Difference
Aberdeen 1 6,394 9,610 -3,216
Ross County 1 3,775 3,786 -11

Fig. 2: Matches Broadcast live on a Tuesday, 2012/13 and 2013/14


Wednesday is generally accepted as the traditional mid-week football night.  Over the course of the previous two seasons, 5 top flight fixtures have been broadcast on a Wednesday.  Of those fixtures only one had an attendance lower than the home clubs season average.  It would therefore appear that broadcasting Wednesday night fixtures does not affect match attendance.  However, the only fixture to return an attendance below the season average of the home team was also the only fixture that did not include Celtic.  Therefore a further inference that could be drawn from these results is that it was the presence of Celtic, and their large travelling support, that lead to the above average attendances.

Team No. of TV Games Average Attendance at TV Games Average Attendance Season Difference
Dundee 1 9,276 5,942 3,334
Hearts 1 15,264 13,163 2,101
Motherwell 1 8,641 5,362 3,279
St.Johnstone 1 2,167 3,712 -1,545
St Johnstone 1 4624 3806 818

Fig.3: Matches Broadcast Live on a Wednesday, 2012/13 and 2013/14


As with games on a Tuesday, both games broadcast on Thursday’s in the seasons covered featured the same teams; Hearts and Hibs, with both teams hosting an Edinburgh derby each.  Furthermore, both games were not only Edinburgh derbies but also New Year’s Derbies.  As a result, it is hardly surprising to see that both games recorded above average attendances for the home side.  With the games being derbies they would naturally draw a large turn-out of hardcore fans whose interest in attending the game would not be swayed by the fixture being broadcast live on TV.

Team No. of TV Games Avg Attendance at TV Games Avg Attendance Season Difference
Hearts 1 17,062 13,163 3,899
Hibs 1 20,106 11,027 9,079

Fig. 4: Matches Broadcast Live on a Thursday, 2012/13 and 2013/14


Friday night is not by any means a traditional football night, therefore the vast majority of games played on a Friday will be to accommodate TV scheduling.  2012/13’s Friday night fixtures appear to have had a neutral response from fans.  One match returned a higher than average attendance, and two others a below average attendance; however, one of the attendance at Motherwell’s Friday night fixture was only marginally below their average and therefore not of great concern.

2013/14 saw 9 games broadcast live on a Friday with 5 of them returning higher than average home attendances.  Celtic were involved in two of those fixtures with their travelling support possibly accounting for the higher attendances; however, they were also involved in Aberdeen’s home Friday night fixture which saw a below average attendance.  Therefore it could be argued that Friday night football has been a success in terms of match attendance not suffering as a result of live broadcasting.  The fact that fixtures that have not involved Celtic have returned above average attendances suggests that fans like attended Friday night fixtures.

Team No. of TV Games Avg Attendance at TV Games Avg Attendance Season Difference
Aberdeen 1 7,841 9,610 -1,769
Inverness 1 6,766 4,038 2,728
Motherwell 1 5,301 5,362 -61
Aberdeen 1 12,734 13,080 -346
Dundee United 1 7,029 7,555 -526
Hearts 1 11,528 14,123 -2,595
Hibs 1 9,608 11,027 -1,419
Inverness 1 4,224 3,557 667
Kilmarnock 1 7,495 4,249 3,246
Motherwell 1 9,117 5,087 4,030
Partick 1 7,822 5,000 2,822
Ross County 1 4,433 3,786 647

Fig 5: Matches Broadcast Live on a Friday, 2012/13 and 2013/14


Despite regulations prohibiting the live broadcasting of football matches at 3pm on a Saturday, 25 Saturday games were broadcast over the 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons with varying kick off times from early afternoon to evening.  As Saturday is the traditional football day, it would be reasonable to expect that attendance levels would be high, and this is indeed with the case with only a small minority of games achieving a less than average attendance for the home team.  Therefore, despite the variety of kick off times employed on a Saturday, attendances will generally not suffer even if the game is broadcast live.

Team No. of TV Games Avg Attendance at TV Games Avg Attendance Season Difference
Aberdeen 2 13,141 9,610 3,531
Celtic 2 53,626 47,089 6,537
Hearts 1 10,456 13,163 -2,707
Inverness 3 5,202 4,038 1,164
Kilmarnock 1 6,501 4,646 1,855
Motherwell 1 4,147 5,362 -1,215
Ross County 1 6,110 4,429 1,681
St.Johnstone 2 4,534 3,712 822
St.Mirren 1 6,008 4,389 1,619
Aberdeen 1 20,017 13,080 6,937
Celtic 2 45,882 47,079 -1,197
Dundee United 1 11,003 7,555 3,448
Hearts 1 15,801 14,123 1,678
Hibs 1 14,220 11,027 3,193
Inverness 1 4,810 3,557 1,253
Kilmarnock 1 6,149 4,249 1,900
Motherwell 2 5,923 5,087 836
Ross County 1 5,982 3,786 2,196

Fig. 6: Matches Broadcast Live on a Saturday, 2012/13 and 2013/14


Sunday is by far and away the most popular day for broadcasting SPFL Premiership games, with 38 games having been broadcast on Sunday’s in the last two seasons.  As with Saturday’s, Sunday kick off times are vast and varied, and not always set to the convenience of the fans.  Despite that, the vast majority of games broadcast on a Sunday have returned higher than average attendances for the home team; only 9 games suffered below average attendances, suggesting that the live broadcasting of games on a Sunday does not adversely affect match attendance.

Team No. of TV Games Avg Attendance at TV Games Avg Attendance Season Difference
Aberdeen 2 7,881 9,610 -1,729
Celtic 3 47,054 47,089 -35
Dundee 2 12,479 5,942 6,537
Dundee United 3 7,983 7,547 436
Hearts 3 13,723 13,163 560
Hibernian 3 12,830 10,489 2,341
Inverness 1 2,948 4,038 -1,090
Kilmarnock 1 4,028 4,646 -618
Motherwell 2 5,576 5,362 214
Ross County 1 5,873 4,429 1,444
St.Mirren 1 6,066 4,389 1,677
Aberdeen 1 17,016 13,080 3,936
Celtic 2 48,820 47,079 1,741
Dundee United 1 5,808 7,555 -1,747
Hearts 2 16,747 14,123 2,624
Hibs 3 12,195 11,027 1,168
Inverness 3 4,173 3,557 616
Motherwell 1 3,864 5,087 -1,223
Partick 1 7,978 5,000 2,978
Ross 1 3,005 3,786 -781
St Mirren 1 5,778 4,510 1,268

Fig. 7: Matches Broadcast on a Sunday, 2012/13 and 2013/14



The data collated for the seasons concerned tends to suggest that when comparing average attendance at broadcast games against a clubs season average, there is no negative effect on attendance levels.  However, when analysing deeper, it becomes apparent that derbies, games against Celtic, and matches of high importance are regularly chosen for broadcast; in other words, games where attendance will naturally be high.  Further analysis identifies that games broadcast on Monday and Tuesday nights will see below average attendances, showing that fans do not want games to be played on those days and will stay at home to watch on TV.

Friday night football has been shown to be a moderate success in terms of maintaining attendance levels, however 50% of the games played on a Friday returned below average attendances for the respective home clubs.

The majority of games broadcast were played on a Saturday or Sunday with the majority seeing above average attendances.

Overall, it would appear that the live broadcasting of games in Scotland has a mixed impact on attendance.  Games broadcast at the start of the week will return poor attendance, whilst games played on the more traditional football days have been shown to have a greater chance of returning above average attendance.  However, the choice of game broadcast is also very important in this respect as derbies and games involving Celtic, and their large travelling support, will generally see high match attendance, irrespective of whether it is being broadcast or not.  Attendance at non derby, and non-Celtic games is not so assured, and therefore more likely to be adversely affected if the game is broadcast live.


About the Authors: Graeme is Data and Insight Manager at The London School of Economics and Political Science. Kevin is a Masters graduate from the University of Stirling. He has previously conducted research for Supporters Direct Scotland – focusing primarily on disability access in Scottish football.