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Sky Sports Johnny Phillips: It’s not the size that counts for Wolves or Aston Villa, it's what they do with it...

By Johnny Phillips | Wolves | Published:

A full stadium is an impressive sight, no matter what size it is.

There have been talks about expanding the size of Molineux once Wolves are established in the Premier League

Villa’s decision to launch a ‘Kids for a Quid’ ticket promotion for next month’s midweek home game against Sheffield United is to be applauded.

If it puts bums on seats, brings in new fans or those normally priced out, then it has been a success.

It also sparked a wider debate.

When one Wolves supporter challenged the news on Twitter, claiming the club would still not fill their ground, he probably did not expect whoever runs Villa’s Twitter account – with its one million followers – to rise to the bait.

The Villa account’s retort was that the club’s average home attendance at Villa Park this season is 34,692 compared to 30,989 at Molineux.

This, of course, just served to back up the Wolves fan’s point – Villa operate at just over 81 per cent capacity compared to Wolves selling almost 98 per cent of their tickets.

But aside from social media playground squabbling, there is an important discussion to be had.

Both Villa and Wolves have been looking at the possibility of increasing the size of their stadiums.

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Back in 2017, when Dr Tony Xia was at the helm, Villa revealed talks had taken place with Birmingham City Council about the possibility of redeveloping the ground once the club returned to the Premier League.

A full ground makes plenty of difference...

“We would be looking to take the stadium up to a 60,000 capacity,” said then chief executive Keith Wyness.

“We have groups working on the project right now to try and bring a whole different level of attraction here, and redeveloping the whole area around the whole vicinity of Villa Park to improve it.”

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Wolves are looking at an expansion of their own, with the South Bank and Steve Bull Stand earmarked for redevelopment.

“We wanted to be comfortable that we have the ability to go up to 45,000-47,000, or even the mid-50,000 or higher,” said managing director Laurie Dalrymple at a meeting of the Wolves Fans’ Parliament earlier this season.

When any club redevelops its ground or moves to a new stadium, supporters typically focus on how big the new arena should be and press for as high a capacity as possible.

This is not necessarily the best way of approaching the matter – instead of asking how many seats can potentially be filled, it is crucial to ask how many seats could be left empty.

While it can be frustrating to have supporters locked out, it is damaging for a stadium to have banks of empty seats every week.

Villa Park is currently the best of the Midlands grounds.

At 42,785, its capacity is plenty for the Championship and most Premier League games.

Of the four stands, only the North Stand is starting to look dated.

With space behind, where the car park is situated, it would be relatively straightforward to redevelop.

A 60,000 capacity Villa Park would look magnificent when full. But if 25,000 of those seats were empty, it would look awful.

Wolves are riding the crest of a wave, with their strongest team since the 1970s and full houses most weeks.

There is a 2,500 waiting list for season tickets and membership has trebled in the past 18 months.

The current capacity of 32,050 is inadequate at this time.

It is easy to get carried away and suggest another 10,000 fans, or even more, would want to get in every week – but it does not need a long memory to recall life in the Championship.

Atmosphere plays a major part - and a full ground helps massively.

On this January date three years ago, just 17,387 turned up to watch a home win over Fulham. That would leave a lot of empty seats in a 45,000 capacity stadium.

Striking a balance can be difficult. Both clubs want to show they are ambitious.

One argument in favour of aiming high would be for a ticketing policy that allowed more fans to attend.

When West Ham left Upton Park in 2016 for the 60,000 capacity London Stadium, there were fears vast swathes of empty seats would embarrass the club’s hierarchy, so they made ticket admissions affordable, especially when taking into account London prices.

At £289 for an adult season ticket and £99 for an under-16, they were able to sell 52,000 season tickets.

The adult prices were frozen for two seasons, only rising last summer, with the under-16s remaining at £99.

Tottenham Hotspur’s new ground cannot be ready soon enough, as far as the Spurs board are concerned, as supporters tire of Wembley.

Their fluctuating attendances serve as notice to any club’s board of the fickle nature of the turnstile business.

All was looking rosy when 80,188 turned up for the Liverpool game in September, but when just 33,012 walked through the turnstiles to watch the win against Southampton in November, the national stadium looked a sorry sight.

When fans have had enough, even when watching a team challenging for the Premier League title, they have had enough.

One of the most divisive issues to have come out of Everton’s proposed move from Goodison Park to Bramley Moore Dock has been the capacity of the new venue.

A half-empty ground doesn't look good.

When the club announced it will have a capacity of 52,000, with the potential to expand to 62,000, fans were up in arms.

The overwhelming majority had been pressing for a 60,000-plus capacity.

Not least because they wanted a figure higher than arch rivals Liverpool, whose Anfield has a capacity of 54,074.

That sort of thing matters to fans, but it should not be allowed to skew judgement.

Both Villa and Wolves have the fan bases to draw in many more fans if the circumstances are right.

Affordable tickets and a successful team are the two key components.

But the most important thing of all when it comes to capacity, for any club, is filling the stadium.

Johnny Phillips

By Johnny Phillips

Sky Sports Soccer Saturday pundit, giving his thoughts on football across the country

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