Anyone remember this?
I can still recall a couple of things as we walked away from our shiny new stadium that day:
- It was as big as it was impressive.
- It was a fair walk for those who were used to the short maze of Moss Side and Maine Road.
- Ronaldinho was the best footballer I had ever seen live.
The stadium, converted for football following the 2002 commonwealth games, opened in time for the 2003/04 season with a seating capacity of 47805. That capacity was a big jump up from the 34000 or so that Maine Road held and there were concerns about how Man City could fill the stadium.
The new location for Man City's ground was some distance from the previous stadium, Maine Road, and it was also some distance from the city center of Manchester.
We needn't have worried about the distance and the effect that may have on attendances, not in the first couple of years anyway:
Attendance Average (Premier League Only)
Man City's average attendance in the first year at Eastlands/CoMS/The Etihad was strong and has only been surpassed in the last 3 seasons.
That strong start wasn't to last though and as Man City's league placing declined, at first under Keegan and then under the austere, and staggeringly dull reign, of Pearce, Man City's attendance numbers began to fall sharply. City posted an average attendance of under 40000 in the 2006/07 season and that decline was only halted after the Shinawatra takeover and the influx of new players.
City improved under Eriksson and attendances did too. Sheik Mansour then purchased the club in late September of the 2008/09 season and since that point attendances improved as did the quality of the squad and, ultimately, the league placing City posted.
There may well be many reasons for City's dip in attendance numbers between 2006 and 2009, some of the economic, some of them due to marketing and pricing, but the main reason, in my mind at least, was the quality, or lack thereof, of the football on display.
Man City's Premier League attendance, which includes season ticket holders who, at times, do not attend, has been pretty much at its absolute maximum for the last 3 seasons and it is pretty clear, despite United fans' protestations, that City sell out their stadium for league competition. Expansion is planned in two stages which would eventually take the capacity of The Etihad to 62000.
It may well be a challenge, if we are honest, to fill the stadium to its capacity in the first couple of years but if the quality of the football is of the same high standard and Man City continue with it's excellent pricing plan for season tickets (lowest ticket in the PL) then there is no realistic reason to think that The Etihad can be filled to capacity in a few short years.