The Premier League is a global force in football. Children from around the world watch on starry-eyed as the greatest talent on the planet make battle across England, hoping beyond belief that they will one day be able to play there. It is understandable that Manchester City, Chelsea and other super powers of the Premier League dominate their screens, but is this taking away from amazing moments that they could be having in stadia on their own doorsteps?
If this is the case then one country that would be impacted is surely Finland, where I visited in the summer and watched Helsinki-based club HJK. Though many of the locals opt to watch the biggest leagues in the world, as opposed to their domestic league, Veikkasuliiga.
Ari Virtanen, a sports journalist from the Helsinki-based newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat doesn’t feel this is a worry though: “I don’t consider the Premier League as a competing force against the domestic football league. There are always people who don’t follow domestic football and in my opinion, it is far easier to draw new fans to Veikkausliiga than to compete for the attention of football fans who follow the Premier League and Bundesliga.”
Virtanen does realise that Finland’s domestic league has competition for viewers, but feels that the league is doing well regardless: “Well-performing clubs with financial stability are having a pretty steady flow of supporters following them every season. For example, HJK’s average attendance in the past season was 5,101 and the year before it was 5,281.”
“This is a pretty good result considering that they only hosted one Helsinki derby this season and that it was also the year in which the Euro final tournament was played.”
However, HJK have a capacity of almost 11,000 and they only managed to get above 10,000 twice all season. A team that has been in the Champions League group stages, right near the centre of Helsinki, the country’s capital and who are arguably the biggest club in Finland, should be getting more fans coming to games.
The quality may not be on par with the Premier League, but the entertainment is definitely there. I’ve seen that for myself. When I watched them play PK-35 Vantaa there were four goals in the opening 20 minutes and a lot of exciting play from HJK attackers such as Odu, who is on loan from AC Milan and Japanese playmaker Atom, something which would be expected to help draw supporters to the Sonera Stadium.
The amount of empty seats is something that a spectator may find alarming, but Virtanen insists that this is not detrimental: “The match day revenues do not make a big difference to a single club’s financial situation. Other business models and partnerships are far more important. For example, HJK’s business model of providing training services for companies and their employees makes the money which helps to run the football club.”
The team nicknamed Klubi do have a keen supporters group who attend every game and create a brilliant atmosphere in the south end. The empty seats mean that the effect can be lost a little bit in the other stands and while it is true that the club’s main focus is to have success on the pitch, if they could get more people through their doors the club could create a real spectacle.
This may be the football romantic in me speaking, but for a second forget the financial benefits for the club or the quality on display for spectators. Imagine a full Sonera Stadium filled with supporters cheering on the biggest side in the country as they chase Champions League qualification and a league title, with Finnish chants rebounding from stand to stand as they watch quick exciting football.
Doesn’t that sound better than stadiums left half empty while everyone watches on the telly?