Cardiff City: Why have crowds dwindled despite steady results?

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Wales Sport
Cardiff's Aron Gunnarson (centre) and Fabio (right) challenge Bristol City's Luke Freeman (left)
Even Cardiff City's derby against Bristol City saw swathes of empty seats

Controversy has been a constant at Cardiff City in recent years but, this season, it seems to be apathy which reigns.

After a turbulent few campaigns of rebrands and relegation, the Bluebirds have stabilised on the pitch and currently sit eighth in the Championship table.

Despite a steady start to this term, however, Cardiff City Stadium crowds are dwindling.

Only 13,371 watched Cardiff beat Middlesbrough in October, the lowest league attendance at the ground since it opened in 2009.

That was no one-off. Instead, it was symptomatic of a malaise which had seen the previous three games attract gates of 13,980, 13,763 and 13,715.

Cardiff had an average crowd of 21,123 last season, while the figure was 27,429 when they were in the Premier League for the 2013-14 campaign.

So why, with the team enjoying on-field consistency, are the fans staying away?

'Fair-weather fans'

A large part of supporters' disillusionment can be traced back to the controversial change to a red kit in 2012.

Although Cardiff returned to their traditional blue shirts in January, some fans have boycotted the club since the initial rebrand while others followed suit later.

Cardiff players line up
Cardiff City marked their return to blue with a 1-0 win against Fulham in January 2015

"The red kit had a delayed reaction," says Ben James, a blogger who runs the 'View From The Ninian' podcast.

"Most fans were happy to put up with it as long as success was coming with it but, as soon as that started fading away, most fans lost interest.

"Most fans would admit, even when we were in Ninian Park, we've always had floating fans. Fans have always been a bit fair-weather.

"When the price freeze [on season tickets] went, a lot of fans took the decision alongside the terrible football and the overriding anger towards [owner] Vincent Tan over the red kit.

"It culminated in a perfect storm of two or three seasons which meant a lot of fans turned away from it."

Slade sure of fans' return

If a residual disdain for the rebrand may be difficult to remedy, Cardiff will at least feel they can lure fans back with success.

Having lost only once at home this season, promotion remains a realistic aim, with the hope of strengthening in the January transfer window.

Asked about the falling attendances in September, manager Russell Slade was upbeat.

"Fans want to see a winning team," he said.

"Of course you want more and more numbers to come and watch your team and I'm sure in time, if we continue to progress, they will be there.

Cardiff City Stadium
Cardiff's FA Cup win against Colchester in January was watched by 4,194 at Cardiff City Stadium

"I think we're playing a decent brand of football. I'm sure they'll come back if we can maintain it."

Cardiff have the third best home record in the Championship this season, but have scored only eight goals in their seven games.

As James argues, the lack of entertainment on the pitch has compounded the disenchantment originally caused by off-field issues.

For other supporters, the problem lies with the diminishing atmosphere in the stands.

'It's like a school trip to the library'

Cardiff City Stadium was expanded to a capacity of 33,280 in 2014 but, as attendances dropped towards the end of last season, the Bluebirds decided to close the new section for this campaign, reducing the capacity to 27,978.

It was hoped the move would help condense the atmosphere, but some fans claim overly zealous staff at the stadium are spoiling their match-day experience.

As part of the Bluebirds Unite group, Sian Branson played a prominent role in the campaign for Cardiff to return to their blue kit.

"It's almost like a school trip to the library. You're constantly being monitored and told what you can and can't do," she says.

Sian Branson (left) with Ken Choo (centre) and Mehmet Dalman
Sian Branson (left) with Cardiff chief executive Ken Choo (centre) and chairman Mehmet Dalman when the club announced their return to a blue kit in January 2015

"That's not down to Vincent Tan," she added. "He and his representatives seem interested in what we have to say.

"The people involved in the day-to-day running don't seem to get it.

"The stewards need better training. They're constantly telling people to sit down."

Even a Severnside derby against Bristol City failed to rekindle the passion.

A crowd of 15,287 watched a dour 0-0 draw, in stark contrast to the 25,586 present when the teams last met at Cardiff City Stadium in 2013.

"We really don't understand why they can't let Cardiff City fans express themselves," adds Branson.

"Even people who've renewed their season tickets don't want to go down there and be treated the way fans are being treated. It's stifling.

"I work in Bristol and Bristol City fans at work were asking me 'What's happened to Cardiff City? The atmosphere's gone'.

The BBC has asked Cardiff City if they would like to respond to Branson's comments.

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