Friday Night Lights – Influence of Premier Division structure, midweek matches and form on LOI attendances

Bohemians supporters celebrate during their recent Dublin Derby win over Shamrock Rovers in Dalymount Park

Bohemians supporters celebrate during their recent Dublin Derby win over Shamrock Rovers in Dalymount Park Credit: Conor Ryan (ETPhotos)

The influence of the format of the League of Ireland’s Premier Division on attendances has been investigated in a new paper published by The Economic and Social Review. 

‘Changing Competition Design and Spectator Turnout: Evidence from the League of Ireland’ (David Butler, Robert Butler and Ewan Mullan – UCC) looks at attendances across a four year range (2016 to 2019) and compares the 33-game / 12 team format (with 2016 and 2017 data) against the current quadruple round robin 36-game / 10 team format (2018 and 2019).

The structural change in 2018 to the top flight format was one of the recommendations from the Conroy Report commissioned by the FAI. The intention was to increase attendances by having an increased number of games for each team and “more occasions”.

The quadruple round robin format is the second most popular design among UEFA members with 13 leagues adopting this structure.

The paper’s results suggests that other factors – namely scheduling of matches (avoiding midweek games), home team form and spectator habit – have a much greater influence on attendances than the format of the Premier Division.

Attendance data

Amongst all the data that complies and makes available including results, scorers and player appearances, we work hard to compile attendance figures.

Our annual attendance results article is usually in our top three most read articles for each year but with the pandemic shuttering football for five months last season and the fact that we are only now gradually returning to full capacities around the League of Ireland there will be little useful attendance data being complied for the league in 2020 and 2021.

However, the data from 2016 to 2019 has been put to good use in this academic paper discussing the factors that influence the numbers of supporters coming through the turnstyles in the top flight of the League of Ireland.

The authors noted that across the four seasons of data used, only 12 League of Ireland matches had attendances that reached the full capacity of the host stadium (just 1.5% of matches). Six of those dozen games involved Bohemians and Shamrock Rovers.


The papers’ authors used a large suite of factors that affect attendances in their detailed analysis.

These included the league format, involvement in title race, habit of fans (based on average attendance of home supporters from the previous season), home form (points won in the last three home games, weekday games (Monday to Thursday fixtures), derby matches, overlapping fixtures with English Premier League and EURO 2016 matches and weather data (min. temperature at kick off, wet or dry day).


The authors found that the format of the league is not statistically significant on the overall attendance figures whereas, unsurprisingly, the championship uncertainty for the home team (where they are involved in the title race) was highly significant and that home form is an important factor in higher attendances.

Midweek matches (played between Monday and Thursday) show a significant drop in attendances.

Midweek match madness

The authors noted “The significant and negative weekday effect is restricting matchday revenue generation for clubs. While the scheduling of some midweek fixtures is likely unavoidable, due to clashes with international/European competitions and player welfare considerations, the need to minimise the number of weekday fixtures emerges as clear recommendation from the results.”

This week there is only one Premier Division match (Dundalk v Shamrock Rovers) and three games in the First Division due to international call-ups mostly at Republic of Ireland under-21 level. 

This will result in even more mid-week matches that will inevitably affect attendances and indeed player welfare (for example Bohemians have recently played seven games in a 23 day period).

When drawing up the fixture schedule for next season, this reporter believes that the FAI and the clubs should prioritise minimising the number mid-week games and build some redundancy into the schedule to allow for international call ups so that they do not result in even more mid-week matches.