So, here we are again, another season creeps ever closer. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt quite so detached from the hullabaloo. Perhaps it’s the heat, the Euros or the pandemic. Maybe it’s the sneaking suspicion that this season won’t bring us back to the good old days, as some are hoping, but something in between those times and where we were last season.
Still, as usual, for the third year, I ran the Oxblogger Absolute State of Oxford United survey, an attempt to set some expectations and benchmarks for the season. My own detachment maybe be mirrored across other fans, if the response rate is anything to go by; less than half who took the survey last year responded this. Perhaps that was because of the distraction of the Euros – this is at the first survey done during a major tournament, or maybe it’s that people are simply bored of the survey.
Whether the lower response makes the results any more or less relevant is another question – from previous experience, the trends that you see from the first bout of responses, pretty much hold true regardless of the eventual turnout. So the 150 or so people who responded have probably given the views of the 300 that completed the survey in the past.
We start with the end of the survey; who are you? Why? Well, this is slow data, stuff which won’t change dramatically from one year to the next, so the results, in a sense are more a bedrock for the rest of the survey and, perhaps, not the most interesting bit. That comes in the next couple of weeks.
The most significant result for me in that section is result that produces the most boring graph; 100% of respondents were white. Now, this is Twitter, not real life and I know that not all Oxford fans are white, but maybe it illustrates that we’re failing to reach a reasonable chunk of our potential fanbase. You might write this off as wokey nonsense, and not believe that a diverse range of views will tend to produce better outcomes than everyone who thinks and acts the same. Maybe you’re not aware of the impact that a lack of diversity in the gene pool has had on our friends up the A420. The reality is that we have diverse owners and players, but not fans, which is a shame. Greater cohesion in relatively benign things like following a football club will have benefits more widely, I’m sure hardcore Brexiteers and Remainers have cheered together over the last five years despite their obvious differences. Why can’t this be true with mixing people with different cultural backgrounds? This isn’t something to ignore. On a purely practical level, we’re missing out on ticket sales and maybe even future players.
The gender split remains pretty static, 92% were male compared to 93% in 2019 when the survey first came out. We continue to get older; we had less responses in all age groups aged 35 and under, a massive 14% drop amongst 16-25 year olds, which may be a Euros effect, or perhaps I need to get myself on Tiktok. At the other end of the spectrum, there were nearly twice as many people aged over 56 than in 2019.
We appear to be getting more loyal; 47% said they go to more than 21 home games a year, up from 37% two years ago. Of course, none of us have been to 21 games in the last year and it might be that the perception of loyalty has grown given how we’ve all been stuck in front of our laptops all season. The number of away games people are getting to is gently falling – although two thirds of people get to 1-10 away games a season – pretty static since 2019 – the number not able to get to any away games has grown from 11% to 16% in the last two years. Again, who knows what the lockdown has done to our perceptions?
If you want to feel old, then as with last year, we have one fan who claims to have started watching us in the 2020s. That’s one person for whom Rob Duffy is a historical character, like Anne Boleyn or Jesus. Unsurprisingly, nearly half our fans started supporting during the 1980s and 1990s with another 21% from the 21st Century. Put another way, 2 in 10 Oxford fans never went to The Manor.
One of the most surprising statistics for me is that more than a third of our fans live more than 50 miles from the stadium. What’s more, there seems to be a gradual drift from the city and therefore the club. Simple things like house prices may be a factor, but it feels like a bit of a long term ticking timebomb. Either we work harder to recruit fans locally – those figures have crept up very slightly – or we have to invest in the club’s broad geographical spread to help ensure loyalty and connection is maintained when the visceral pleasures of attending a game are so far away.
So what conclusions can we draw? In truth, not many, these are trends to keep an eye on, in the micro-world of Oxblogger we’re getting older, we’re moving slightly further away and we’re less diverse, though success appears to be making us more loyal. Although the changes in the numbers are still small, overall, this isn’t healthy and if it is a reflection of the broader fanbase, then these aren’t figures to ignore.
Next week, we’ll reflect on the season just gone, how are you rating the squad, management and directors? Who are you favourite players? And what was your favourite moment of the season?