Attendances rebound in Ulster but still well shy of recent highs
EVEN with a significant rebound from last year and a sellout 29,000 crowd due in a reduced-capacity Clones for Sunday's Ulster SFC final, attendance figures for this year's provincial championship are still below average for the decade.
General sale tickets for this weekend's decider are all gone and with big followings from Donegal and Cavan expected to eat up the clubs' allocation, there are highly unlikely to be any tickets for sale on the day.
St Tiernach's Park had its capacity cut from almost 36,000 to just 29,000 before last year's final after a health and safety inspection saw almost 20 per cent chopped off the number of tickets available.
That restriction has remained in place at the ground since and will mean areas of the terraces will remain empty. At 29,000, it still remains the largest GAA stadium capacity in Ulster.
Ulster Council will have been pleased to see attendance figures on the whole bounce back after a disastrous 2018 in which they were heavily criticised for an increase in ticket prices.
That led to a reduction of 17.5 per cent in the provincial body's income from gate receipts last year compared to 2017.
That price increase was largely reversed again for 2019, with tickets for quarter-final and semi-final games coming in cheaper, while Ulster GAA also reduced the cost of entry to the Cavan-Armagh replay despite the fact that it was paired with the Monaghan-Fermanagh qualifier in Clones.
Ticket prices for the Ulster final, though, remain as they were in 2018, with a ticket for the Gerry Arthurs Stand costing £30 (€35).
The return to a more moderate pricing structure has no doubt helped attendance figures recover, with the total number of supporters through the gate set to hit 135,000 – compared to 88,845 last year.
That figure does, however, include an extra game on last year, and the attendance at the Cavan-Armagh replay will have been boosted by being a double-header with a Monaghan side playing at home.
If you exclude all replays from the last decade, this year's attendance figures will still come in third lowest behind the 2011 and 2018 campaigns, which both coincided with ticket price rises.
The average attendance per game (minus replays) will come in around 13,250 with Sunday's sellout, well shy of the decade high of 17,526 four years ago.
The 5,409 attendance at Tyrone's win over Antrim stands out as a factor this summer, with the game played in the neutral Athletic Grounds. It was the smallest crowd at an Ulster Championship game this decade.
But in a time when the four provinces are all struggling to overcome dwindling numbers coming through the gates, Ulster Council will be pleased to have recovered some of the losses from last year.
Leinster Council seem almost certain to take a big hit in their overall numbers this year following the disappointing crowd at their semi-final double-header at Croke Park, while the repeat of last year's Saturday evening billing for this weekend's big-two clash in Munster could see a similar attendance at Pairc Úi Chaoimh as the 27,764 last summer.
The absence of a Mayo-Galway clash in Connacht put a dent in their figures, with the 9,000 fewer at this year's Mayo-Roscommon tie accounting for almost all of the almost 12,000 drop overall out west.
It will be interesting to see how qualifier attendances hold up given the significant price increase imposed on them by the GAA, including a decision to charge U16s £5/€5 into games that aren't all-ticket.