There are 47,763 reasons why Mike Ashley is still at Newcastle United.
While fans at the match would have been commenting on the empty spaces at St. James’ Park on Sunday for the Stoke match, the fact is that we are just all so used to fifty thousand crowds that we don’t realise quite how mental it all is.
United posted the biggest crowd anywhere in English football over the weekend, yet in the pubs beforehand, all the people I spoke to were looking at it as a chore to go to the match.
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If they hadn’t already paid for it, I got the feeling them would have preferred to stay in the bar rather than trail up the hill to St. James’ Park.
Here are the Premier League attendances for Saturday and Sunday;
47,763 Newcastle v Stoke
45,233 Man City v Hull
39,621 Everton v Liverpool
35,969 Villa v Chelsea
35,659 Spurs v Arsenal
34,499 West Ham v Man Utd
31,695 Leicester v Crystal Palace
20,355 Swansea v Sunderland
18,082 QPR v Southampton
16,904 Burnley v West Brom
John Hall said that it had been made clear to him that the primary reason for Mike Ashley buying the club was to promote his brands, especially Sports Direct, both domestically via TV, but especially to help with expansion plans around the World, with the Premier League attracting a worldwide TV audience.
I don’t want to turn this into fans arguing about whether you are stupid for still going to games or a traitor if you no longer go. It isn’t any of our faults that we have been landed with an owner like Mike Ashley.
What is obvious to me though is that Ashley targeted Newcastle almost exclusively because of the fanbase. His plan of promoting Sports Direct and the rest through TV, only really works when there are lots of fans as a backdrop to his adverts.
If there were rows of empty seats behind the advertising hoardings then it devalues the brands/products being promoted. Companies want to be associate with success and while United never win trophies, in marketing terms having your products sitting alongside packed terraces does equal success, albeit a slightly different kind.
Trying to bully fans into a boycott will never work when the overwhelming number have season tickets. There is no magic answer.
However, with five thousand empty seats (mainly hidden higher up from the TV cameras) on Sunday, the cracks may be starting to appear, there were thousands of empty £20 (£5 for kids) seats so you can hardly claim fans were priced out of this one.
The situation can’t continue because of the lack of entertainment and longer term hope, Newcastle fans will eventually say enough is enough and stay away.
Then Mike Ashley will definitely go.
What happens to our club afterwards and whether supporters would come back after being so sickened, is anybody’s guess.
Once a habit, especially a bad one(!), is broken then people, even football fans, can get used to a different lifestyle.