New Stadia’s Impact on Attendances in the RFPL

The Zenit Arena on Krestosky Island looking resplendent at night with Sergei Kirov Statue overlooking it. Source: James Nickels/RFN

Low attendances in the RFPL have been the subject of much debate and despair. People have put forth many different reasons for the poor league attendance, which has hovered around 11,000 per match for the last few years. In comparison, the Bundesliga averages 41,000 per match, and the English Premier League averages 35,000 per match. Some say that the quality of the league is too low, while others, including then-Sbornaya coach Leonid Slutsky, claim that Russia is simply not a footballing country. Another common complaint was that the quality of the League’s stadiums was too low. While there are certainly a significant number of low-quality stadiums in the league, many clubs have made significant investments into new stadiums, so that 8 of the 16 teams in the league now have modern stadiums. This situation will only continue to improve as clubs like Rostov and Ural await the completion of their stadiums that have been built for the World Cup, and others like Dinamo Moscow await their own new stadium, not for the competition.  This improvement in footballing infrastructure is a good thing, however, the clubs that own these new stadiums often do not see the boost in attendance that they expect. Let’s take a look at how each stadium has fared since its completion.

Spartak Moscow: Otkrytiye Arena, Capacity: 45,500

Spartak’s new stadium, the Otkrytiye Arena, is by far the biggest success story of the new stadia that have been built in Russia. Before Otkrytiye, Spartak, Russia’s most popular club, played in the cavernous Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow which seated 81,000. Their attendance averaged around 19,000, and all of the empty seats put a serious damper on the atmosphere. After the move to Otkrytiye, however, things got much brighter for the club. The average attendance for Spartak games increased to 28,000, the highest in Russia. Spartak’s average attendance even reached as high as 32,760 last year during their title winning season. The high attendance coupled with the devotion of the club’s ultras group, Fratria, has led to some of the best gameday atmospheres the RFPL has seen in a long time.

Krasnodar: Krasnodar Stadium, Capacity: 34,000

Not to be outdone by Spartak’s Otkrytiye Arena, the Krasnodar Stadium has also seen a major boost in attendance for the club from the Southern Capital. In fact, since Krasnodar moved into their new stadium last year, attendance has almost doubled from 11,000 to the 20,000. This attendance boost made Krasnodar the second most attended club in the league last year, a feat that surely won’t be repeated with Zenit Arena finally ready to be the home of Zenit St. Petersburg.

Zenit St. Petersburg: Zenit Arena, Capacity: 67,000 (usually 55,000)

To call a stadium that has been surrounded with so much scandal a success seems foolish, but purely in terms of attendance numbers, Zenit Arena promises to be just that. The 67,000 seat stadium, which really only seats 55,000 in practice because of buffer zones and temporary seating, is currently the largest in the RFPL. Zenit’s sample size is very small at the new arena, having only played 3 games there. However, the two league games averaged to 45,000 in attendance, and the one Europa league encounter against minnows Bnei Yehuda mustered 45,000 in attendance as well. In comparison, Zenit’s attendance at their old stadium, Petrovsky, hovered around 18,000. Despite all of the scandal and corruption that surrounded the construction of Zenit Arena, it appears to be a very good thing for league attendance figures.

CSKA Moscow: VEB-Arena, Capacity: 30,000

CSKA Moscow’s VEB-Arena promised to be a marked improvement over their old stadium, Arena Khimki. Average attendance at Khimki was only around 9,500, a very low figure for a side which consistently challenged for the league title. Reasons for this low attendance were that Khimki was a long way from the center of Moscow city, and CSKA shared the stadium with fellow Moscow club Dinamo. VEB Arena is a fix to both of these problems. It is conveniently located in Moscow and is solely owned by CSKA. However, results have been inexplicably bad. Last season CSKA averaged only 14,000 in attendance, and the club has sold fewer season tickets this year than last. While 14,000 is a marked improvement on Arena Khimki, for a perennial title contender in a brand new stadium, this number is far too low.

Lokomotiv Moscow: RZD Arena, Capacity: 27,000

The newly renamed RZD Arena is the oldest of the modern stadiums in Russia, having opened in 2002. Despite its age, it has not been particularly effective in attracting fans to Lokomotiv games. Lokomotiv has the reputation of being one of the least supported Moscow teams in the RFPL, and it shows. Over the last few years, Lokomotiv has averaged a paltry attendance of around 10,000 fans per match. Unlike many clubs, however, Lokomotiv have made concerted efforts to improve attendance. One of those efforts included giving the stadium a facelift this offseason by replacing all of the old seats and improving facilities. Whether these changes have any significant effect remains to be seen.

Akhmat Grozny: Akhmat Arena, Capacity: 30,000

To judge the success or failure of Akhmat Arena is complicated, but then again, so are most things when evaluating the club effectively owned by Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. On the face of things, the numbers look good. Attendance at Akhmat Arena has been around 17,000 for the last few years, which is a marked improvement on the 8,500 the club managed at Sultana Bilimkhanova Stadium. However, these numbers may be deceiving. There have been a number of occasions where the reported attendance was obviously higher than the number of fans in the stands. Because of this misrepresentation typical of Kadyrov’s regime, it is difficult to get an accurate picture of the performance of this stadium.

Rubin Kazan: Kazan Arena, Capacity: 45,000

The Kazan Arena has been nothing short of a disaster since its opening in 2013. Initially, things weren’t so bad. In its maiden season, Rubin managed a respectable 22,000 fans per game in their new home. However, the good times wouldn’t last long. Kazan played host to the World Aquatic Games in 2015, and the new stadium was converted to hold a swimming pool, which prevented it from holding football matches. Since the aquatic games, the pitch at Kazan Arena has been changed several times due to poor field conditions. All of this change has meant that Rubin hasn’t played a full season at their new stadium, despite it being completed in 2013, which has hurt attendance. Since the strong debut season, Rubin has only averaged a poor 13,000 per game, which is only a modest improvement from the 9,000 the club averaged at the old Centralniy Stadium. The 3,000 person attendance against Krasnodar last season was a particular low point.

Anzhi Makhachkala: Anzhi Arena, Capacity: 30,000

Attendance at Anzhi Arena has risen and fallen with the fortunes of the Dagestani club. This pattern means that at the moment, attendance is rather bleak. In the free spending days of Suleyman Kerimov, fans flocked to the newly build Anzhi Arena, and attendance averaged 18,000. However, when the club’s president withdrew his financial support, fans disappeared along with the money. The club was relegated to the FNL and managed a respectable (for the FNL) 7,500, fans per game. Unfortunately, upon the club’s return to the top flight, attendance only hovered around 8,500, a far cry from the figures in the club’s glory days.

Conclusion

Clearly, Russia’s new modern stadiums have been a mixed bag of success and failure. For every Otkrytiye Arena, there has been a Kazan Arena. This inconsistency has meant that when examining the overall attendance of the league, the new stadia haven’t caused much of an increase. Attendance has continued to hover between 10,000-12,000 during the last four years, which is actually at a low when compared to previous years. While the construction of modern stadiums has undoubtedly been positive for Russian football, these new arena’s haven’t had the desired effect on attendance and have often looked like empty shells with vast sections of empty seats visible throughout the grounds. For many sides, these huge stadia are unnecessarily costly to run and their size vastly outweighs the size of the fanbase most teams in Russia actually have.

Part of this is due to ticket pricing in Russia, some, like Zenit Saint Petersburg, charge way too little and even give away thousands of tickets per match. Some fans don’t even take up the option and would rather miss out, but those who do often impede the atmosphere at the ground as they are not regulars, nor necessarily even football fans. CSKA Moscow, by comparison, set their ticket prices at a very high premium, with matches regularly costing ~3,000 Rb (£40). Roman Babaev recently blamed Muscovites for “everybody staying at their dacha” and blaming organizers placing matches on Wednesday, a “working day”. In reality, CSKA’s attendance is so low compared to their elite comrades due to the high ticket prices and the other team’s very low prices (~250 Rb, £2.50 at Zenit). Of course, Babaev does have genuine concerns, but it is chiefly his fault for setting such high prices.

Author: Will Baumgardner

College student in the United States and avid Krasnodar fan. Sergey Galitskiy is the man.

Comments

  1. Egor Tyupakov says:

    Hi! Its interesting to read this froms Sain-Petersburg, Russia. Thx for you work. Russian football and stadiums are getting interesting before World Cup 2018 (sorry for my english =) )

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