Midweek fixture: Absolute State of Oxford United survey 2020 – the results (part 1 – who are you?)

The results are in for this year’s Absolute State of Oxford United survey. Big thanks to the 313 people who took part, a solid 5% increase on last year. 

As with last year, the plan is to look at the results in blocks – in the next couple of weeks I’ll look at the ratings of the club and then predictions for next season. First though, it’s useful to get some context. So in part one, I’m looking at the profile of who responded.

The big question is whether the result is representative, difficult to say, it’s likely to be bias towards younger people given that most of the traffic to the survey comes from Twitter. That said, the demographics aren’t alien to what you might typically see on a normal match day.

Whereas in the coming weeks we’ll look at movements over a year. You wouldn’t expect the fan profile to shift dramatically, but it’s useful to keep tabs on these things. 7% of respondents were female, a rise of 1% on last year. This is good news, but though it’s not possible to say whether it’s a sustainable trend. This will only become clearer in 5-10 years time.

For the first time I asked about ethnicity. I wasn’t sure whether this was a good idea in the context of Black Lives Matter and all that. I could have predicted the result – 98% consider themselves white (including those claiming their ethnicity to be English, Irish and Jewish). In short, there are more black players in our current first team squad than in the 313 who responded to the survey. 

Diversity is not simply some kind of ‘woke’ crusade as it’s often cast. One day I’ll try to cover why a diverse fanbase leads to a more effective club, but let’s look at an even simpler reason to diversify. On average there are 130,000 vacant seats at home League games a season meaning which represents around £3 million pounds a year in ticket revenue. How do you fill those seats? We could keep trying to find white males – the core market – though many of the unconverted will already be invested in their chosen club. Alternatively we could mine for fans amongst the 350,000 women in the county, or the 60,000 non-white people. In simple economic terms, a wider engagement will lead to a healthier club. Understanding the barriers that prevent women and BAME people from attending games should produce financial benefits.

There’s a mixed picture when it comes to the age profile – there was a 2% increase in respondents for both under-16 and 16-25 years old suggesting that last year’s successes could be bringing in some much needed younger fans. However, there was also a 4% increase in those aged 56-65, implying there’s an ageing fanbase. All this is at the expense of the 36-54 age range; as the group most likely to introduce their children to the club, this isn’t could imply a problem further down the line.

If you want to feel old, then look at the statistics around when people felt they became an Oxford fan. There’s been a 7% increase in people who say they started following the club in 2010. Around a third of our fans will never have been to The Manor and there was one respondent who said they started following the club in the 2020s – there’s not many, but they walk amongst us.

42% of respondents attend more than 21 home games a season, a 5% increase, suggesting growing loyalty, presumably drawn in by the on-field success of last year. This is mostly at the expense of the casual fan who attends 1-10 games which has dropped 8%. This is a good sign, though casual fans are still important.

Half of respondents consider the East Stand their home with 28% the South Stand. This shows a bit of a migration with a 6% increase in East Stand mirrored in a 6% drop in the South Stand. Perhaps an impact of pricing differentiation? Those in the North Stand and those who move around stayed around the same.

The profile of our away following hasn’t changed at all with 67% making 1-10 away games and 4% more than 21. In both cases a shift of less than 1% from last year.  

Last year I was surprised to see that 35% of fans live more than 50 miles from the stadium, by far the biggest proportion. That’s dropped very slightly with a 3% increase in people living under 10 miles from the ground and 2% between 11-20 miles. It still represents something of a challenge. If you’ve got a couple of hours of driving to get to a home game, it wouldn’t take much to stop you from doing that. Local engagement seems to be a priority for the club.

This stuff is a slow burner, change is likely to come over long periods won’t necessarily be reflected in the data for years to come. As I see it, there are opportunities, not just to change for the sake of it, but to broaden our appeal and increase chances of future success. In reality, this is the context, it gives us a base to work with over the next couple of weeks. Next week will look at how you rate the club, manager, players and your favourite moments from last season.

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