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Baltic football attendance: Premium Liiga lags behind

Angelo PalmeriComment

Thanks to our network we came across an interesting table showing the average attendance at football venues in the three Baltic countries when comes to top-flight football (A-Lyga in green for Lithuania, Virsliga in red for Latvia and Premium Liiga in blue for Estonia - click to enlarge)

Infograph by @anjo_lv via www.onenilup.com

The figures are up to the 29th of April 2014 and are clearly showing how Premium Liiga clubs lag behind in this all-Baltic table.

The only Estonian club in the top 10 is Nõmme Kalju (8th place with the average of 734 people attending the home games).
Lithuanian A-Lyga clubs are asserting themselves with 8 clubs in the top 10 (top club for attendance is Zalgiris Vilnius, 1,800).
The only Latvian club is quite surprisingly not from the capital, Riga, but from Liepaja (about 83,000 people), FK Liepaja with 1,188 of average attendance.

The bottom 5 places are occupied solely by Estonian clubs: Narva Trans, Lokomotiv Jõhvi, Kalev Tallinn, Paide Linnameeskond and FC Infonet.

Levadia, a top Estonian club, second most-titled, is just a couple of places over the 'drop-zone'.

What about Tartu Tammeka? The best average home attendance in Estonia is confirmed in the overall table with being the second best Estonian club (12th in the overall table).

Flora, the most-titled Estonian club, is third (15th in the overall table)

A dire picture for Estonian club football attendance which seems to recall the idea of the necessity of creating a Baltic Premier League

Both the Estonian FA and the majority of the clubs are doing their best efforts to market and promote the Premium Liiga, however several reasons are preventing attendance to take off.

Obviously demographic reasons cannot be ignored (Estonia accounts for 1,3 million people against almost 3 million in Lithuania and 2 million in Latvia). Additionally, football has been coming from behind in the competition with other sports having to challenge the popularity (in terms of crowd) of basketball (football is still the most practiced sport in the country according to registered footballers at the Estonian FA).

Is the weather playing a role? This is accounted several times, however it is quite hard to believe being Estonians outdoor people even with the coldest temperatures. Tickets cost cannot be taken as an issue considering stadium going is one of the cheapest thing you can do in Tallinn and elsewhere (for more insight, check my previous comment on the topic).

Estonians, except when comes to the national team, have been traditionally 'cold' towards the domestic league. If a Premier League game is on Viasat Sport Baltic at the same time as a Premium Liiga game, they will still prefer one hour and a half of 'couch football' than to go to the pitch, even on a sunny day. There is not such a concept as 'supporting your own league' and averagely judgements over the quality of the game are quite harsh. Obviously we are not dealing with top European game, however the vicious circle of 'low quality -> low attendance' will never be broken. Playing in front of thousands of people can certainly play a role as a stimulating factor for the hundreds of Estonian players.

The attendance in Estonia grows with tiny numbers year by year, but it is well far from reaching the thousand of average.
At the moment the Premium Liiga average attendance according to the Premium Liiga website is 257 people. So far not a significant improvement compared to last season final 213.

Additionally, there are always controversies among clubs, Estonian FA and fans on how these figures are calculated. Criticism from the latters has been addressed to the formers when comparing the tv pictures with the actual figures released officially by the clubs and the Estonian FA.

A picture of attendance at Saturday big clash Flora-Sillamäe that created a stir regarding the actual number of people in the eastern stand of A.LeCoq Arena, the picture was taken in first half (source: FC Flora - click to enlarge)

A picture of attendance at Saturday big clash Flora-Sillamäe that created a stir regarding the actual number of people in the eastern stand of A.LeCoq Arena, the picture was taken in first half (source: FC Flora - click to enlarge)

The main accusation from fans and football followers is that those figures are inflated to make attendances bigger than they actually are.

The ticketing system is not automated as in the case of the national team games, leaving space to further speculations.

A picture from RdS in first half. The official number of Flora-Sillamäe attendance was 847 people, the most visited game in the weekend (click to enlarge)

A picture from RdS in first half. The official number of Flora-Sillamäe attendance was 847 people, the most visited game in the weekend (click to enlarge)

Whether the accusation is founded or not, the growth is at snail speed and seems to come from the most active clubs only (Kalju, Tammeka and Flora).

Even if the idea of a 'Baltic Premier League' is unpopular in Estonia (European spots and political weight the main reasons behind) it will probably be the only resource, once day, to grow attendance in the Estonian venues.