Three-quarters (74.8%) of fans intend to return to stadiums from the first fixture in August, with two-thirds of supporters (65.2%) describing themselves as ‘excited’ and four in ten (41.7%) ‘optimistic’ about a return to grounds next season according to the results of an FSA survey.
On the other side, one in 30 fans (3.3%) said they will definitely not be back this season, while one in 20 (5.2%) say they expect to wait at least six months before they are likely to return.
The survey conducted online earlier this month asked fans at all levels of the men’s and women’s game a range of questions regarding their attitudes around returning to games in 2021.
While the response was largely positive, almost a quarter (23.3%) said they felt ‘apprehensive’ about returning, while just 3% were ‘fearful’.
Almost half of those surveyed (45.5%) had attended games or pilot fixtures last season.
Why fans are returning
Of those who said they’d be back from the word go, the major reason given for wanting to return to grounds was that being a football fan was part of their identity (71.6%), along with an expressed desire of wanting things to get back to normal (70.2%).
More than half (56.2%) said that they wanted to get out and about again having experienced lockdowns and restrictions on activities, while just less than half (45.1%) cited a desire to financially support their club and local businesses again.
What did fans miss the most?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the matchday atmosphere was a big draw, with three quarters (77.2%) of fans saying it’s what they had missed most about the live matchday experience.
Just over half (53%) said they had missed celebrating moments in the game with others, while for just less than half (45.3%) it was the opportunity football provided to socialise with family and friends.
Why are some fans are delaying their return?
Just over one in five fans (22%) will not be returning to matches straight away.
Half of these (50.3%) said they wanted to see that things were being safely managed by clubs before they would return to grounds.
Beyond clubs demonstrating that football grounds are safe, however, the wider effects of the pandemic will have more of a bearing on when fans return.
Four in ten (40.1%) said that they would wait for a drop in the wider incidence of COVID-19 in the population before returning, and a quarter (23.8%) wanted to see a greater uptake of vaccines in society before heading back.
Just over a quarter (27.3%) said that they wanted to avoid crowded spaces, and just under one in six (15.7%) said they didn’t want to rely on public transport while COVID-19 is still in circulation.
A similar number (15.5%) have personal health concerns, for example they had been shielding from COVID-19, while just under one in ten (8.4%) regularly attend matches with someone who has health concerns.
The return of fans is unlikely to see a huge drop-off in away match attendance. Of those in our sample who attended away fixtures pre-COVID 16.1% say they will attend more away fixtures than previously, compared with 17% who say they will attend fewer.
Supporters are not in favour of limiting capacities next season – more than one-third (37.6%) said they were much more likely to attend a fixture in full stadiums versus just 18.8% who were more likely to if stadiums were at half capacity.
Of those fans who intend on returning straight away, the main safety features that would make them feel more comfortable about returning include (in order of level of support):
- The availability of hand sanitizer within stadiums;
- Contactless payments;
- Clubs publishing their risk assessments and hygiene procedures;
- Social distancing in queues.
More fans would feel uncomfortable about returning if masks were made compulsory for fans (38.7%) than would feel comfortable about masks being mandatory (30.6%).
Who completed the survey?
- 36.8% of respondents were fans of Premier League clubs, 21.4% from the Championship, 19.7% from League One and 12.1% from League Two;
- Non-league fans made up 7.7% of respondents, with a further 2.2% fans of teams in the Women’s Game;
- Two-thirds (66.4%) of fans surveyed identified as season ticket holders, with 15.5% saying they typically attended at least 10 games a season, pre-COVID;
- One in ten (10.1%) said they went to between 1 and 5 games a season;
- 83.9% attended at least one away game per season, while 12.3% attended at least half their club’s away games;
- One in ten (9%) were away regulars, who travelled away 20 times a season;
- 83.9% of respondents were Male, while 14.9% were Female;
- One in six (16.5%) fans were 18-34 years old; a third (34.2%) were between 35 and 54, while almost half (47.5%) were aged 55 and over.