ALTHOUGH the English Football League’s Championship is characterised by overspending, with wage bills outstripping income, the appeal of the division appears to have grown in recent years.
Perhaps it is the competitive nature of the Championship or because it represents football away from the hubris and excesses of the Premier, but increasingly, people find the second tier of the English game very attractive.
The average attendance of the Championship is around 19,600 in 2018-19, which represents 51% of the average Premier gate. This ratio is pretty consistent with historical crowd figures over the past 50 years. A decade ago, the figure was more than 53% but it does depend on the composition of the division as much as general spectator interest. Stadium utilisation in the Championship is a very healthy 71% this season, with Norwich City enjoying a 93% take-up and Nottingham Forest and Swansea City hitting more than 90%.
There’s no denying the 2018-19 line-up has some of football’s great old names from the heartland of the game’s history: Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Derby County, Ipswich Town, Leeds United, Nottingham Forest, Preston North End, Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday and Stoke City are all current members of the division. There’s more than one club among the present constitution that could be tagged as a “sleeping giant” and clubs like Villa, Derby, Leeds and Forest are all former champions. There’s a big North and Midlands contingent in the division, with 16 of the 24 coming from these regions. There’s also three from London.
There’s some big stadiums to go with these names – Villa Park (43,000), Middlesbrough’s Riverside (35,000 and Hillsborough (40,000) to list but a few.
Although there are more than a dozen grounds among the 24 that would fall into the category of old fashioned venues situation among chimney pots, there are 10 relatively new grounds, although Millwall’s New Den is no less an inner-city stadium than the old version.
But there’s some good new football homes among the Championship, such as Hull’s KCOM stadium, Swansea’s Liberty and of course, Middlesbrough. Brentford are one of the clubs aiming to move from their current ground – they are hoping to shift to the Brentford Community Stadium in 2020.
Overall, there’s great diversity in the division, with characterful old-school and atmospheric grounds like Griffin Park, Portman Road and the Hawthorns, to the modern, functional multi-purpose new builds at Swansea City, Stoke City and Bolton Wanderers.
The Championship has a very high percentage of club-owned stadiums, with only Ipswich Town playing in a council-owned ground. Hull’s KCOM is partly-owned by the local authority. This means that many are sitting on facilities that could easily be sold for redevelopment, which may be tantamount to heresy among older fans, but this does represent a way for clubs to make modern football pay and for them to have an ambitious eye on the Premier League.
There are other reasons why the Championship is a popular league – it is certainly easier to buy tickets and they’re invariably cheaper. At the moment, it is also a league where there’s some unpredictability, although parachute payments mean that relegated clubs have a decent chance of winning promotion before a ball has even been kicked.