Manuel Veth –
Matchday 8 in the Russian Football National League is in the books, and once again the attendance numbers have been impressive. On average 11,236 spectators followed the ten matches last weekend.
The four World Cup stadiums in Nizhniy Novgorod and Volgograd did particularly well. 31,369 spectators came out to see FC Nizhniy Novgorod’s 0-1 defeat to Avangard Kursk, 29,673 spectators saw Rotor Volgograd lose 1-2 to Fakel Voronezh, 24,326 spectators witnessed Mordovia lose 1-2 to Chertanovo and 9,800 saw Baltika Kaliningrad beat Shinnik Yaroslav 1-0.
The four World Cup stadiums, however, were not the only one with good attendance figures. 7,135 spectators came out to see a 0-0 draw at the “Far East Derby” between SKA Khabarovsk and Luch-Energiya Vladivostok at the Lenin Stadium.
Аудитория 8-го тура @FNLeague стала рекордной за всю историю лиги: в среднем каждый матч посетило 11236 зрителей! Эффектное окончание самого яркого лета в истории нашего футбола!
— Stanislav Chudin (@StanislavChudin) August 29, 2018
Including the recent round of attendance numbers, the Russian Football National League has now seen an average attendance of around 6,000 over the last eight matchdays. That means the Russian second division currently ranks among France’s Ligue 2 (6,290 on average) and Italy’s Serie B (7,008 on average last season).
Only Spain’s Segunda División (10,063 on average), England’s Championship (19,855 on average) and Germany’s Bundesliga 2 (21,750 on average) have bigger attendance numbers among Europe’s second divisions this year. Being ranked among Italy and France is a significant achievement by a league that averaged just about 2,600 visitors per game last season.
Reserve sides stifle attendance numbers
Furthermore, attendance numbers in the second division have been up despite, the fact, that reserve sides Zenit-2, Spartak-2 and Krasnodar-2 fail to attract significant numbers. Those three clubs bring in anywhere between 200 and 600 spectators a game significantly reducing the average attendance in the FNL.
There is a significant discrepancy between the World Cup stadiums and the traditional stadiums in the league. The likes of Sibir Novosibirsk, for example, managed to sell just 2,200 of the 12,500 available tickets in their home defeat to Khimki at the Spartak Stadium. Tyumen, in the meantime, sold only 2,000 tickets at the Geolog against Tambov – 200 less then what Krasnodar-2 managed against Tom Tomsk at FC Krasnodar’s Academy Stadium.
The examples highlight that although on the surface the trend is heading in the right direction work remains to be done. Outside the World Cup arenas, many stadiums in Russia are in dire need of repair.
A fact that explains why only a few thousands turn out for a home match between Armavir and Sochi even though that game is technically a derby with both clubs located in the Krasnodar region. The state of stadiums outside the World Cup arenas also explains the discrepancy of attendance numbers in the Russian Premier Liga where last season’s average attendance of 13,956 has spiked to 19,197 this season.
Russia needs to continue to improve football infrastructure
Here top clubs Zenit (46,275 on average), Spartak (35,889 on average), Krylia Sovetov (31,240 on average), Rostov (26,937 on average), Rubin (21,418 on average) and Ural (17,474 on average) have all enjoyed strong attendance numbers in their World Cup stadiums. Add to that the newly build Krasnodar Arena (average attendance 34,302), CSKA’s new VEB Arena (17,516 on average), as well as Lokomotiv’s relative new RŽD Arena (18,636 on average) and a clear picture emerges that highlights that the creation of new football-specific stadiums has very much fueled the rise in attendance.
On the one hand, this is excellent news. One of the main concerns heading into the World Cup was that Russian stadia would become white elephants. There is, of course, still a danger that this might happen. The approaching Russian winter is notorious for bringing down average attendance numbers and will give a real test to the World Cup stadiums in both divisions.
Another worry is recent results. Volgograd and Kaliningrad have struggled in the FNL this season and are currently sitting in the relegation zone. Dropping to the third division would be disastrous to the growth of the game in both cities. More importantly, however, is the question of whether Russian football authorities will rest on those laurels.
The construction of new World Cup stadiums, as well as the discrepancy in attendance between non-World Cup stadiums and World Cup stadiums, highlights that many regions still require attention when it comes to lifting up the football infrastructure in Russia.
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.